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Midseason Report: Quarterback

Posted Oct 17, 2012

With the bye week upon the Philadelphia Eagles, it's time to look at each position group and try to figure out the three biggest questions that the team will look to answer. Here is a look at the quarterback position ...

1. Will the Eagles stick with Michael Vick?

Head coach Andy Reid said on Monday and reiterated on Tuesday that as of the moment Vick was the team's starting quarterback. Reid was also still evaluating the first six games of the 2012 season and did not rule out making other changes.

Vick has had a very up-and-down start to the 2012 season. He had outstanding performances against two of the best teams in football in the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants. Against Baltimore, Vick completed 72 percent of his passes for 371 yards and a touchdown. For the second straight week, Vick led the Eagles to a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter. Against the Giants, Vick was very efficient in both the pass (99.4 quarterback rating) and the run game (49 yards). And, Vick led the Eagles to another dramatic fourth quarter, come-from-behind win over Eli Manning, who has been the king of fourth quarter comebacks.

The biggest issue for Vick, by far, has been the turnovers. It started with four interceptions in Cleveland and another two against Baltimore. He cured that issue by going three straight games without an interception, but then fumbling became an issue. He lost two fumbles against Arizona and two more against Pittsburgh. One of the fumbles was returned for a touchdown against Arizona. One in Pittsburgh came at the goal line as Vick was about to score.

The protection for Vick has also produced mixed results. The offensive line, without left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, has allowed Vick to be sacked 17 times in 2012. According to NFL.com, Vick has been hit 51 times - more than any other quarterback in the league. Those hits are going to take a toll on any quarterback. The Eagles have been forced to keep LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek in to block more and that impacts how many options Vick will have to throw to on a particular play.

For as much as Vick has been criticized, his play against the blitz has vastly improved in 2012. He has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 765 yards (9.0 yards per attempt) and has four touchdowns against no interceptions. A year ago, Vick had five touchdowns but 11 interceptions. Vick has burned blitzing defenses nine times for pass plays of 25 yards or more in 2012. In 2011, Vick had 12 such pass plays against the blitz all season. His blitz passer rating has almost doubled in 2012 going from 59.1 in 2011 to 101.3 this season.

Overall, Vick has completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,632 yards and has eight passing touchdowns against eight interceptions. He also has 205 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Could the Eagles turn to rookie Nick Foles? The third-round pick was poised and impressive in the preseason. He threw the deep ball well and avoided pressure. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 553 yards with six touchdowns against two interceptions. He was sacked just once and had a gaudy passer rating of 110.1. However, it was in the preseason. Would turning to a rookie be the best decision for a 3-3 team that is in the thick of the playoff race with 10 games left? And how would the locker room respond to such a move?

Vick has engineered three comeback wins this season and helped give the Eagles a fourth-quarter lead in two other games.

2. Can Vick reduce the turnovers?

The biggest issue with Vick has been the turnovers. He has eight interceptions and five lost fumbles. He's also had four other fumbles that were recovered. A year ago, Vick had 18 turnovers - 14 interceptions and four fumbles.

Other than being able to stay healthy, which Vick has done remarkably despite some of the punishment he has taken, the most discussed topic regarding Vick was whether he could take care of the football.

As noted above, he was able to put together a stretch of three games without an interception, but that ended last Sunday when he threw two interceptions in the loss to Detroit. Note that the Lions were unable to capitalize on any of the Eagles' three turnovers in the game. Still, Vick has to make a concerted effort to be smart with the football.

When it comes to the fumbles, Vick has to be aware of his surroundings. That means trying to figure out in the pre-snap recognition where the pressure will come from. It means that after a few seconds in the pocket that he needs to know a hit could be coming at any moment. It also means carrying the ball high and tight, which is what he did around the NovaCare Complex the week leading up to the Lions game.

Playcalling can certainly help Vick out. Last Sunday, Vick was greatly helped out by the short and intermediate routes. But Vick is the one with the ball in his hands on every play. He is the one making the decisions. The onus is on him to take care of the ball.

3. Will the Eagles be able to open up the passing game?

The Eagles have been known for having one of the most explosive passing games in recent years. In 2010, the year of Vick's resurgence, the Eagles ranked fourth in passes of 20 or more yards and were tied for fifth with 10 touchdowns from that distance.

In 2011, the numbers dipped as the Eagles ranked eighth in deep passes and were tied for 23rd in the league in big-play passing touchdowns. The big plays are not bountiful in 2012 as they have 20 passes of 20 yards or more, which is tied for 12th in the league. The Eagles have just two passing touchdowns of 20 yards or more.

Vick has completed 25 percent of passes that have traveled 21 yards or more in the air this season. The protection from the offensive line is the biggest issue. Deep routes need time to develop and Vick needs to have a pocket to throw in. It's great to see the methodical drives that the Eagles have been able to execute - especially in clutch situations this season. But the big, explosive plays can do more than just put points on the board. They can seize the momentum of the game.

Certainly, the ability to call plays with vertical routes will need shored up protection up front. But the Eagles can still work the intermediate routes and use the run-after-the-catch ability of the skill position players.

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