Rich Hofmann: Can Vick escape picks?

Michael Vick will always have a dangerous style. He needs to make fewer mistakes.
Michael Vick will always have a dangerous style. He needs to make fewer mistakes. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 07, 2012

THE LAST TIME I looked this up, it was early in December 2010. It was Michael Vick's breakout season for the Eagles. He was electrifying, yes, but he also was getting clobbered. He was getting hit too often and everyone knew it. Back then, he was getting knocked down once every 4.5 times he dropped back to pass the ball and didn't end up scrambling. Then, with the scrambling, it was a punishing total of hits when you added it all up. It was the most hits taken by a quarterback in the National Football League.

The situation could not continue. Vick is in his 30s now, and the physics and the math strongly suggested that to continue to get hit two or three times as often as some of the game's elite quarterbacks would break him. It was the main topic of conversation as 2011 began. And as you watched him, if you looked really closely, you could sometimes see Vick struggling with what he felt like were the imperatives of self-preservation. But he did try. You could see it. He did seem to get rid of the ball quicker. He did run the ball less than he did the previous season.

In 2011, he was getting knocked down once every 6.02 passing plays in which he didn't scramble. It was a real and significant improvement.

But let's not kid ourselves. Here is where Vick's once-every-6.02 compared to the top 10 NFL quarterbacks in passing yardage last season:

Drew Brees . . . 13.90

Tom Brady . . . 9.16

Matthew Stafford . . . 9.08

Eli Manning . . . 8.34

Aaron Rodgers . . . 9.61

Philip Rivers . . . 9.95

Tony Romo . . . 8.45

Matt Ryan . . . 7.49

Ben Roethlisberger . . . 7.68

Cam Newton . . . 8.63

Vick got knocked down more than twice as often as Brees, 50 percent more often than Brady, nearly 40 percent more often than Eli - and, remember, that doesn't even include all of times when Vick got hit on a scramble and the other QBs slid or got out of bounds. He has made improvements and that does need to be acknowledged. And while there is room for him to improve more, and to protect himself better - as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg began reminding the media last season, seemingly week after week - the sense here is that pushing this notion too much further risks emasculating Vick's game.

His will always be a dangerous style. But with a reasonable amount of good fortune - he really has been unlucky, both last year and through the 2012 exhibition season - and with maybe just a couple of slides along the way, Vick likely has tempered the danger enough.

Now he just needs to perform.

We all know what happened to Vick's stats last season. His touchdown rate dropped by nearly 25 percent from 2010. His interception rate doubled. You can point to a defense that could not hold a lead often enough for the Eagles last year, but you also can point to an offense that went into hibernation in the second half of a lot of games - and you also can point to the interceptions.

Eleven of Vick's 14 interceptions came when he was blitzed. Ten of them came in games that the Eagles lost. The cause-and-effect thing was established in the NFL a long time ago, and now we will see. Specifically, we will see if Vick - after a year of working on playing a little safer - can do it now without it affecting his accuracy or his decision-making.

It is the question that no one can answer. That is: Did his accuracy drop a little and did his interceptions skyrocket because he was affected by having to throw the ball quicker in order not to get hit as often? Or was it just one of those years?

Soon, finally, we will know.

We have all been talking about this and writing about this for months - about Vick and about Andy Reid and about how this is such an important season for both of them. We are all sick of it, honestly, but it is the reality and it is unavoidable. Just the other day, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that he does not view the fates of Reid and Vick as a package deal. But after putting Reid on notice, saying that another 8-8 season would not save his job, the owner also said, "We hope to see the elite Michael Vick that we saw the year before."

That is pretty plain, then.

But you cannot have a conversation about Vick without discussing injuries, and Lurie said, "I think there's things that Michael can do to lower the chances of injury, but it's a volatile game and that's a rough and tough position."

That really is the message here, after everything. We can fixate on the hits, and they do mean something. But for Vick, and for the Eagles, here is the guess: that the story of the 2012 season is going to be more about the picks than the pops.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynew.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or for recent columns go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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