OTHER THAN better linebacking play, there are two things the Eagles need most, in order to be successful next season: a healthy Michael Vick, and a Vick who turns the ball over way less.
Even taking recent draft history into account, the linebacker part might be the easiest to achieve.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a huge task to undertake this offseason. Mornhinweg needs to continue the process of getting Vick to realize that as he approaches age 32, he can't take the hits he once took. (There has been at least a bit of progress there.) And Mornhinweg needs to get Vick to embrace the idea that turnovers are killers. The Eagles lead the NFL with 36 turnovers - it is the key stat in understanding how such a talented team missed the playoffs - and their minus-13 turnover differential is 30th in the league. This is how they have outgained the opposition by 1,175 yards and have a 7-8 record.
Both men talked about these issues yesterday, and on the turnover part of the equation, they were speaking different languages. Mornhinweg winced when a reporter pointed it out in the morning, but as Vick has said several times and eventually reiterated again later in the day, the QB thinks turnovers are going to happen. He thinks they are a regrettable part of the cost of doing business.
"I take the blame for my share of turnovers," Vick said. He has 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, heading into Sunday's season finale against the Redskins. "They're going to happen. It's all in how you come back from it . . . the kind of approach you take. I'm not going to blame the season on that. I'm not going to say that's the reason we didn't thrive as a team, didn't thrive as an offense."
But, uh, Mike, turnovers are the reason you didn't thrive as an offense. Just ask Marty . . .
"Look, Mike understands that the turnover ratio is the biggest statistical correlation to winning that you can get. Period. Done," Mornhinweg said. "You try to minimize those while still being explosive and dynamic and all those things, but you have to minimize those turnovers. They have come in some strange waves this year, but it's the biggest statistical correlation to winning that you can get. You have to minimize those. Period. Done. Over. Complete. He does understand that."
"I play my game," Vick said. "That's never going to change. I play my game, I have fun doing it, I have a lot of success doing it. We all see that. It's just about tightening certain things up . . . I'm always playing on the edge. Till the day I retire, that ain't never going to change." In fairness, he was responding to a question about the running/self-preservation part of the problem, but it was an all-encompassing declaration.
One could argue that the most alarming Eagles development of the season was Vick's regression from the Pro Bowl quarterback of 2010, who posted a career-high 100.2 passer rating, with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions, to this year's numbers, which include an 82.9 passer rating bolstered by strong games the past 2 weeks against the Jets and Cowboys. Mornhinweg doesn't see it that way.
"Mike has really progressed a really good amount," Mornhinweg said. "Sometimes you didn't quite see it in the results, however, there was a time when he was on track for 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. Then he got hurt. Really, I think he had a fine year and he missed several games as well, so those stats aren't as high, with the exception of the interceptions. He's worked hard on that, and with his recent past history of taking care of the football when passing - we've been through it, we'll work hard, and we'll continue to get into that in the offseason and correct a couple things. I'll tell you what, he's really progressed within our offensive scheme."
Center Jason Kelce said that early in the season, receivers were tipping balls to defenders, Vick made some regrettable throws, and the line allowed too much pressure.
"We get a lot of big plays because of what Mike can do," Kelce said, after acknowledging that sometimes Vick is too aggressive with the ball. "Sometimes those things go hand in hand."
"At some points in the season, I felt we had control over [turnovers]," said running back LeSean McCoy, who has lost just one fumble all season. "Then it kinda happened again. It's hard to say why it happened."
If Vick is correct, and it wasn't turnovers that kept the Eagles out of the playoffs, then it was Vick injuries. Fourth-quarter leads turned into losses in Weeks 2 and 3 mostly because Vick had to leave early, with a concussion and a hand injury. Then the Eagles went 1-2 in the pivotal stretch Vick missed with broken ribs. Most egregiously, they went belly-up in Seattle, sliding to 4-8, after backup Vince Young threw the first of what would be four interceptions on the first Eagles snap of the game.
Mornhinweg said the only person who can protect Vick ultimately, is Vick. As the offensive line improved during the season, Vick wasn't getting hit as much in the normal flow of the offense as he was when he held the ball too long or stayed up at the end of a run, instead of going down.
"It's his taking care of himself. He's got to do that," Mornhinweg said. "You take risks walking across the street and getting in your car every day. He puts himself in too many risky situations. If the game is on the line and it's an important play, I'm fine with it, because that's the time to take those risks, but every other time, I want him to be better. I've been through a bunch of film, and this might sound crazy, but he has gotten just a little bit better. There's some situations, especially in the middle of the field and in the pocket, where he needs to get better, and he's got to do that. We'll work in the offseason there."
Vick pointed out that during the Eagles' current, season-long three-game win streak, he has run just 10 times for 51 yards. He exceeded that yardage total in five separate games earlier this season.
"I'm not running the ball as much, I'm getting the ball out of my hands, playing the game from the quarterback perspective," he said. "It's all about keeping my body strong, being smart, and understanding that there's a time to go all-out and a time to be conservative, to conserve yourself."