Vick's role in avoiding sacks
Last week, I wrote about the 34 times that Michael Vick was sacked in 2010 and promised there would be a Part 2.
That comes today with a look at Vick's role in those sacks and some thoughts that tie everything together.
But first, let me respond to some Tweets, e-mails, comments I received on the initial post.
I broke down the 34 sacks through a few different factors, including number of Eagles blockers and number of opposing pass rushers. Some have asked if I have the overall numbers for how many times the Eagles used different protections and how many times defenses rushed 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 players.
Unfortunately, I do not. That's why I didn't use percentages. In other words, I could not say: Teams were most successful attacking Vick with four defenders, sacking him 7 percent of the time. I was simply looking at those 34 isolated plays and what happened during them.
I probably should have been clearer with the original post, but I did not intend to draw those conclusions based on such a small number of plays.
Moving on to today's post, I wanted to take a look at what Vick could have done to reduce the number of sacks last season.
A quote from Marty Mornhinweg in a Daily News article earlier this month caught my attention.
"Most sacks were quarterback-related. The quarterback could get the thing out," Mornhinweg told Marcus Hayes. "Vick often can escape, but that is not always the best course:
"Here is the situation Mike is in. He's got uncommon athleticism, so he can get away, on occasion, back-dooring it. There's that fine line when you need to throw it away or get it out to a hot receiver or use that athleticism to make that great play."
That seems like a pretty honest assessment. When I went back and looked at the 34 sacks, there were 12 occasions when it seemed clear that at least part of the blame fell on Vick. Here's a breakdown:
Sack 1: In Week 1, the Packers rushed five, including a linebacker and cornerback Charles Woodson. Vick was in shotgun and had time to find a receiver, but he did not get rid of the ball quickly, Jason Peters missed a block, Vick tried to run, and he was brought down.
Sack 2: In Week 2 against the Lions, Vick faked a handoff, pumped once, pumped twice and was hit from his blind side after Winston Justice got beat. This was a slow-developing play that was likely intended to take a shot deep to DeSean Jackson, who had trouble getting off a jam near the line of scrimmage.
Sack 3: Also against the Lions, Vick set up in shotgun, and it appeared he had time. In addition to three wide receivers, the Eagles also sent LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek into routes. After initially looking for a receiver, Vick pump-faked and tried to run, stepping right into a sack.
Sack 4: Against the Colts, Vick faked a handoff, looked for Jeremy Maclin, pump-faked, thought he saw a lane to run, but ended up being sacked as he scrambled towards the line of scrimmage. There was no initial pressure in the pocket.
Sack 5: In the first matchup against the Giants, the Eagles were faced with a 3rd-and-11. Vick had plenty of time in the pocket, but apparently could not find an open receiver. Eventually, Justin Tuck broke through, sacked him and forced a fumble.
Sack 6: In another third-down situation against the Bears, Vick initially had time in the pocket before poor execution by Nick Cole and Justice allowed defenders to break through.
Sack 7: The Bears rushed four, and Vick had a nice pocket. He perceived pressure from the right side and stepped up right into a sack.
Sack 8: Against the Texans, the Eagles kept in six blockers and handled the blitz (five rushers) pretty well. It looked like Vick could have maneuvered in the pocket, but he chose to take off and run, eventually taking a sack.
Sack 9: Vick faked a handoff against the Cowboys and appeared to be looking deep. He had some time, but then stepped right into a sack as Todd Herremans was beat by Jay Ratliff on the left side.
Sack 10: In the second Giants game, the Eagles kept in seven blockers to handle New York's six pass-rushers, but Vick did not trust the protection. He scrambled soon after taking a deep drop and was sacked by Justin Tuck.
Sack 11: This was just a tough situation against the Vikings. The Eagles faced a 3rd-and-17 and only sent two receivers into pass routes. They kept in eight blockers, and the Vikings rushed seven. It's tough to tell whether protection would have held up because Vick was on the move pretty much as soon as he dropped back.
Sack 12: Vick took off to run early, scrambling to his left before getting dragged down behind the line of scrimmage.
NOTES, THOUGHTS, CONCLUSIONS
** Let's start with Vick. I don't want to get caught up on the number of sacks (12) I looked at here. That part is completely subjective, and as you can see from the notes, it was not always just on Vick. There were missed blocks in there, and from TV angles, it's impossible to tell when a receiver made a mistake. There very well could have been situations where the receivers were just covered also.
** These notes don't take into account Vick's pre-snap performance. What kind of job did he do in terms of recognizing blitzes and pressure before he had the ball in his hands? That's something we can ask him and Mornhinweg about, but is not reflected here.
** Decision-making will always be the key with Vick. There is no quarterback in the league capable of making the same plays with his legs. That's where Mornhinweg's quote comes in. What Vick will be working on throughout his career is deciding when to run, when to throw the ball away and when to be patient and look for a receiver.
** We always hear the QB gurus use terms like pocket presence and functional space. In other words, how quarterbacks move around, buy time, avoid pressure, and still look downfield for receivers. Those are certainly things Vick can improve on.
** With Vick, we focus on sacks for two reasons: One is that his body takes a pounding. And two, sacks can lead to forced fumbles and turnovers. But I would argue that overall, the sacks might not be as big a deal as we might think when considering the Eagles' offense and Vick's playmaking ability.
STATS.com keeps a stat called Big-Play Passes, defined as pass plays of 25 yards or more. Vick ranked seventh in the league with 31 of those, but when you look at attempts, his rank is even more impressive. Vick attempted 372 passes last season; the six players ranked ahead of him each had 475 or more. Also, keep in mind Vick had eight runs of 20 yards or more. Only 11 players had more, and they were all running backs. The next closest quarterbacks were Jason Campbell and David Garrard, who each had three.
In other words, with Vick, there was often a payoff. On some occasions, he'd try to avoid a sack, end up getting nailed and fumble. On other occasions, he would leave defenders in the dust and take off for a huge gain.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the two extremes than Vick's performance on third down. Specifically, let's look at how he performed on 3rd-and-6+.
According to ESPN.com, he was in that situation 76 times. When he got a pass off, Vick was 27-for-48, averaging over 11 yards per attempt and compiling a QB rating of 107.4. In other words, he hit on a number of big plays, and even thought Vick completed just 56.3 percent of his passes in those situations, he did a lot of damage.
Vick also hurt teams with his legs on 3rd-and-6+. He ran 19 times for 186 yards, averaging 9.8 yards per carry. Again, he picked up big chunks of yardage many times when he took off.
But on the other side of the equation, he was sacked nine times on 3rd-and-6+.
** It would have been interesting to see how much Vick could improve with a full offseason of coaching with Andy Reid and Mornhinweg. Instead, he's been forced to work out independently. The keys to success going forward? Recognizing pressure, finding space to move around in the pocket and taking care of the football.
It looks like we'll get to see if Vick continues to evolve, stays the same or takes a step back when the Eagles (hopefully) get back on the field at Lehigh in a couple weeks.