Eagles' Vick facing a pivotal offseason

Michael Vick must learn to handle the blitz better if he wants to remain an Eagle after 2012.
Michael Vick must learn to handle the blitz better if he wants to remain an Eagle after 2012. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 01, 2012

If Andy Reid enters 2012 on the hot seat, he won't be alone. Quarterback Michael Vick will be right there with him.

Vick signed a five-year contract in August, but any significant financial guarantees from the Eagles end after next season, and so far they can't be thrilled with the early results of their investment. At the end of 2012 the team will have to decide whether to pay him big money in 2013 or move on.

So if Reid returns to face a make-or-break season - and it seems he will - Vick, too, will be under intense scrutiny. All of which makes the coming offseason critical for their chances of extending their stays in Philadelphia.

"I just hope I don't overload myself" in the offseason, Vick said Friday after the last Eagles practice of the season. "I'm so motivated."

Because the NFL lockout shut down the league in early 2011, this will be the first offseason in which Vick has the starter's job and also has access to Eagles coaches and a full spring and summer of preparation.

For Reid and Vick to finally win their first rings, the quarterback needs to use this time off to improve against pressure. Vick worked on blitz reads in 2011's shortened offseason, but his performance dipped.

He has thrown seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 158 passes against the blitz this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Last year he had nine touchdowns and three picks in 143 throws against extra pressure. His quarterback rating this season fell nearly 27 points when he faced blitzes as opposed to a four-man rush, according to the site. In 2010 there was only a 15-point differential.

Part of the challenge is persuading Vick to use self-preservation and discretion. His bravado helps him make some breathtaking plays, and earns immense respect from teammates - an important quality for a franchise quarterback. But it also leads to big mistakes and added wear and tear.

Vick refuses to give up on plays or slide, resulting in extra hits in and out of the pocket, dangerous throws, or both.

"He puts himself in too many risky situations," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said last week.

The Eagles went 1-4 in the five games Vick failed to finish or missed entirely because of injury. They were also hurt by his 13 interceptions and three lost fumbles, accounting for nearly half of a league-high 36 turnovers that crushed the Eagles' chances.

"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."

When he took over as a starter last season and briefly set the league on fire, Vick had no turnovers in his first six games. Since then he has 26 giveaways in 19 games.

The quarterback, however, displays a more casual attitude than his coordinator.

"I take the blame for my share of turnovers, and they're going to happen," Vick said. "I'm not going to blame the season on that, I'm not going to say that's the reason we didn't thrive."

He said he has tried to run less, knowing "there's a time to go all-out and a time to be conservative and preserve yourself."

But a few moments later he added, "I'm always playing on the edge, that'll never change. To the day I retire, I'll always play very aggressive."

That's not the sound of a quarterback focused on reducing mistakes, and, to his critics, evidence that Vick doesn't have the right approach to win a title.

That point remains up for debate. When Vick is at his best, as he was at home against Dallas in October, the offense hums and the Eagles seem capable of outscoring anyone. In the first nine games he started and finished last season, the Eagles went 8-1.

But a turning point arrived in the Eagles' disappointing loss to the Vikings late in 2010. Counting that game, Vick is 6-6 in the last 12 games he started and finished.

If Vick can't return to Pro Bowl form, the Eagles have an out. Nearly all of Vick's guaranteed money will be paid by the end of 2012. After that the team can release him with little financial impact. Vick will be 32 at the time, and if the Eagles keep him he will be owed $16.5 million in 2013, according to Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post.

That's top-tier money, and this season Vick wasn't in that category. He ranks 20th in completion percentage and is tied for 17th in touchdowns and 20th in interceptions.

As he gazed at a January without the playoffs, Vick noted that he went to the NFC championship game in just his second NFL season.

"Didn't think it was going to be this hard to get back," he said. "But now I know."

He has started just three postseason games since then, winning one after the 2004 season. To capture a title, Vick will have to both stay on the field long enough to get his team to the postseason, and then be at his very best for three or four weeks in January and February.

"The goal is to win [a championship] each and every year," he said. "If I play for the next eight years, then I want to win eight straight times."

Unlike Reid, Vick will be entering only his fourth year in Philadelphia. But if he can't return to the level that first awed his team, time may soon run out on both.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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