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Fan-Demonium: Preview Of The QB Battle

Posted Feb 13, 2013


I think most fans were caught off-guard at Monday's announcement that Michael Vick would return to the Eagles on a restructured deal.  I know I was surprised.  New coaches aren't always eager to keep veteran players around.  Some of those players have habits that don't always mesh with what the coach is looking for.  Rather than having to deal with a messy situation, new coaches often cut veterans that aren't essential players. 

Vick has been an Eagle for the past four seasons.  He was the starting quarterback for three of them.  Vick did some great things, but also had some bad habits.  He held the ball too long, partially due to looking for big plays.  He had too many turnovers, partially due to looking for big plays, both as a runner and passer.  Vick took too many negative plays, partially due to looking for big plays.  The offense was inconsistent and simply didn't score enough points. 

Apparently, Chip Kelly decided that keeping Vick around to compete for the starting job is worth the risk.  Kelly watched Vick's tape and saw some things to like.  There is no doubt that Vick remains a very talented player.  Kelly did admit that the “quarterback landscape” also affected the decision.  That means that there weren't a lot of ideal options. 

When Jimmy Johnson took over Dallas, he had the No. 1 overall pick and Troy Aikman was right there to be drafted.  When Andy Reid took over the Eagles, he had the No. 2 overall pick and the draft had quite a few highly regarded quarterback prospects.  He was lucky enough to get Donovan McNabb. Kelly has the No. 4 overall pick, but unfortunately this draft class doesn't have any true franchise quarterback prospects.  There are some talented players and it could be that one or two turn out to be stars, but right now they are more projects than prospects. 

Kelly does have Nick Foles on the roster, but you can't plan around a young quarterback with six starts under his belt.  Foles played well enough for the Eagles to think highly of him, but he wasn't so good that the team fully embraced him as the future of the franchise.  That's smart.  Be optimistic, but also cautious.  A lot of people, myself included, got caught up in the Bobby Hoying hype of 1997.  He looked very good for a few games, but faded very quickly.  Hoying threw 11 touchdown passes in 1997.  He never threw another one after that. 

So Kelly will now have Vick and Foles compete for the quarterback job in 2013.  This can be a good thing.  Competition can bring out the best in a player, or expose him as someone who can't handle the pressure.  Vick has no idea what Chip Kelly's offense is like.  Vick was a runner/scrambler/passer both at Virginia Tech and with the Falcons.  He became a true NFL quarterback with the Eagles, but then ran an offense that skewed the other way and was pass happy. 

People will focus on the fact that Vick ran the ball in college and Kelly likes to do some of that.  That is true, but the Hokies offense was very different than Oregon's.  Last year, Kelly had a redshirt freshman quarterback throw 336 passes.  He threw 32 touchdowns.  Vick played two seasons of college football.  He attempted 342 total passes and threw 21 touchdowns.  Virginia Tech ran a conservative, ball-control offense.  They wanted to run the ball and get some big plays from the passing game.  Kelly runs an up-tempo attacking system that wants as many points and yards as possible. 

Kelly's offense is very much based on the run game.  In order to stick with that, negative plays must be avoided.  Sacks and incompletions are bad.  Rather than looking downfield for a 40-yard bomb, get the ball out quickly to a receiver on a short or intermediate throw.  Maybe you only gain a few yards.  Running the ball on second-and-7 is easier than from second-and-10.  Sacks must be avoided at all costs.  Second-and-10 is much better than second-and-17.  Kelly knows that the quarterback will go down sometimes, but he wants him to make sacks few and far between.  Playing “behind the chains” puts a lot of pressure on an offense.  Avoid bad down and distance situations as much as possible. 

Some of you may say that all coaches would want this.  Yes and no.  Clearly no coach wants sacks or negative plays.  However, some coaches who want to throw the ball vertically know that sacks are going to happen.  We saw this with Andy Reid.  It was also true with Mike Martz.  It was true with Norv Turner.  Kelly wants to run the ball.  In order to do that, an offense must stay in favorable situations. 


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Vick's biggest area of concern is decision-making.  He must make quicker decisions.  He must make better decisions.  I do think that Kelly taking the ball out of his hands will help.  In the last 20 games Vick started and finished, he threw 30 or more passes 18 times.  When you add in sacks and runs, he had 30 or more touches in all of the games.  That is a tremendous amount of pressure.  Kelly will feed the ball more to his running backs.  Vick won't be throwing as many passes. 

Kelly will increase pressure on Vick in the sense that he'll expect better results and a more efficient performance.  Think of this in baseball terms.  Under Reid, Vick was a .270 hitter with 38 home runs.  Under Kelly, Vick will need to be a .310 hitter with 24 home runs.  There will be no more living and dying with the long (deep) ball. 

There will still be big plays.  Based on what Kelly did at Oregon, the big plays will come from getting athletes into space in favorable matchups.  Green Bay is very good at this.  There will still be downfield throws, but they will not be as common.  It's a low-percentage play. 

Vick will now be tasked with getting the ball out quickly.  Kelly spoke on Monday of Vick's quick release.  There is no question about that.  Vick's problem is making poor reads or being indecisive.  Again, I think this is tied into wanting big plays.  Vick sometimes seemed to be looking for the perfect target.  I'm guessing that Kelly will change that by preaching to get the ball to an open player quickly.  It doesn't matter that the player is 5 or 10 yards upfield.  Get it out quickly so the player can turn that short pass into a longer gain. 

Essentially Vick needs to think more like a point guard.  Get the ball to your playmakers and let them go to work.  Vick has great talent around him.  DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant are all very talented.  Riley Cooper started to emerge last year as did Damaris JohnsonBrent Celek is still an athletic tight end who can make plays.  LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown are supremely talented running backs.  That is a lot to work with. 

It is up to Vick to get the ball to his weapons.  If Vick tries to do it all himself, he won't last long.  Either he'll get hurt or Kelly will bench him.  The quarterback must be a distributor.  He must get his teammates involved in the offense.  It is up to Kelly to help Vick learn the new offense and understand the importance of decision-making.  Find the right guy and get him the ball quickly. 

Can Vick be changed this far into his career?  That's the tough question.  Back in 1995, Jon Gruden came to Philly as the new offensive coordinator.  The first thing he did was meet will Randall Cunningham and review sacks from the 1994 season.  Gruden wanted a ball-control offense.  He wanted to run the football.  He couldn't do that if Cunningham was taking sacks.  Cunningham didn't buy into Gruden's ideas and only started four games that year before losing the job to Rodney Peete, a quarterback who listened to Gruden and did do what the coach wanted. 

Vick has the right attitude.  He restructured his contract to stay here.  He's saying all the right things about Kelly and the new regime.  Wanting to change is half the battle.  If Vick truly does embrace the situation, he's got a chance.  We won't know if he can actually do it until he's on the field and trying to make it work.  Chip Kelly has worked with a lot of different quarterbacks at New Hampshire and Oregon.  He'll have some ideas on how to get Vick to fit into the new offense. 

The fact Vick can run is good, but overrated.  Kelly has won and scored lots of points with a variety of quarterbacks.  He doesn't need a great athlete to succeed.  As Kelly himself put it, does anyone really think if he took over the Patriots that he'd have Tom Brady running the ball?  No way.  You adapt to your personnel.  More than anything, Kelly needs a smart quarterback that can run the up-tempo offense, make quick reads and accurate throws.  This is why Foles has a chance to succeed. 

Don't overlook Foles.  He ran an up-tempo offense at Arizona.  He understands the short, quick passing game that Kelly used at Oregon.  Foles is an accurate passer. 

I also think Foles has an advantage in the sense that he's more accustomed to competition.  Vick was an elite high school player.  He was an elite college player.  He got the job in Atlanta based on draft status.  It wasn't until 2010 that he began on the bench and then became the starter.  Even then, it was an injury that opened the door.  Foles has been in quarterback competitions in high school, college and the NFL.  Vick is an ultra-competitive guy, but having to fight for a spot is different than battling to win a game.  Practice and classroom work will be keys in this battle.  Vick can't rely on making things happen with his athleticism.  Kelly will want to see him function within the offense.  Kelly wants execution and efficiency.  That style is the only way Foles can succeed.  Vick must adapt his game to that style. 

I'm curious to see how Vick handles playing under Kelly as well as how the quarterback battle pans out.  A lot is on the line for Vick, Foles and Kelly.  Vick is trying to save his career.  Foles and Kelly are trying to create theirs.  I don't know what will happen, but I'm pretty sure it won't be boring.

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