Phil Sheridan: Vick and Eagles need to dictate play to opposing defenses

Michael Vick, Marty Mornhinweg (center), and Andy Reid, the Eagles' brain trust, must find a way to stop opposing defenses from dictating the game. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Michael Vick, Marty Mornhinweg (center), and Andy Reid, the Eagles' brain trust, must find a way to stop opposing defenses from dictating the game. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 13, 2012

Andy Reid has always liked to talk about the West Coast offense as if it were a list of ingredients. It was up to each chef to create something unique, each quarterback to "put his stamp" on the system.

Michael Vick has been doing just that.

Unfortunately, Vick's stamp has involved bouncing footballs, fruitless drives, and opposing defenders running for touchdowns. Vick's stamp has produced more turnovers (11) than touchdowns scored (eight) by the offense.

One way or the other, it has to stop.

Nick Foles is one way. The appeal to Eagles fans is obvious. Foles looked promising in the preseason. He has not thrown a single interception or wasted a single timeout or missed a single open receiver in a game that matters. Unlike Vick (and, for that matter, every other established NFL quarterback), Foles hasn't disappointed anyone yet.

It takes more than that for a head coach to turn his own fate over to an unproven kid, though. So that is very, very unlikely to be the way the Vick-led offensive malaise comes to a stop.

It is up to Reid and his alter ego, Marty Mornhinweg, to find another way. They are, after all, the men who chose to bring Vick here three years ago as a novelty act. They are the ones who dumped Donovan McNabb and then Kevin Kolb in order to clear the decks for Vick. They are the ones seduced by his now-fading burst of greatness over a nine-game span in 2010.

So they are the ones who have to turn this thing around. That means ending a cycle in which opposing defenses are dictating the game to the Eagles. It means finding ways for Vick and the offense to impose their will on the other team.

This is an unfortunate aspect of the Eagles' personality these days. They can't get to the quarterback because the other team is - gulp - blocking them! They can't complete 60-yard passes to DeSean Jackson because the other team is dropping safeties back and covering him! They can't make a big play on special teams because the other team won't stay blocked!

Great teams take the opponent's strategy and make it work for them. For the Eagles to step out of their current rut - close games defined by early screw-ups and late rallies - and become contenders, they have to dictate. If opposing safeties play 20 yards deep, you have to make them pay for it. If you take only what the defense gives you, it often gives you a loss.

"We've put together some very good drives early in games and just have turned the ball over," Mornhinweg said. "It's that simple. We're just giving points away."

But Vick's turnovers aren't happening in a vacuum. The mediocrity of the offensive line, and the play calling that exposes it, make Vick vulnerable. The hits he is taking have a cumulative effect, and that affects him physically and in terms of his decision making. It's hard to be aggressive when you're running for dear life.

When this offense has been great, no matter the quarterback, it has thrived on big plays. In 2010, Vick threw eight touchdown passes of 30 yards or more. Last year, he threw four. This year, he has thrown none.

It is not for lack of trying. The Eagles attempted five deep throws in Pittsburgh on Sunday, including one on just the third offensive snap. Vick completed just one, a 24-yarder to Jackson, while Maclin drew a pass-interference penalty on another.

"Look," Mornhinweg said, "we got Jeremy one-on-one down the field. We're getting our opportunities. We've just got to take advantage of them. The one to Jeremy, there was a little pressure and something like that, so we just didn't click on that. We're getting big plays - not quite as many as I want. . . . We're typically used to scoring some touchdowns on the big plays as well."

They have scored on some very long drives this year - including that epic, 17-play odyssey against the Steelers - but there are two problems with that. The more plays, the more opportunities for Vick to get hit, to fumble, to throw the ball into coverage. Even more to the point, this reliance on long drives is exactly what the opponent wants. Logic tells you: Doing what the opponent wants is not the best way to win.

So Reid and Mornhinweg have to make the opponent do what the Eagles want for a change. Move the pocket. Get Jackson, Maclin, and LeSean McCoy the ball in space, where they can turn a short throw into a long gain. Force defenses to bring those safeties in, then start burning them deep again.

It's understandable that Reid and Mornhinweg continue to rely on Vick. It's time for Vick to rely on them a little bit.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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