The Comeback Of Michael Vick was a truly riveting, and revealing, story in 2010. He rescued an Eagles season that started about as poorly as it could in an opening-day loss to Green Bay: Starter Kevin Kolb was knocked out, and starting center Jamaal Jackson and starting fullback Leonard Weaver were lost for the season with injuries.
In baseball they call it strength up the middle, and in the span of one afternoon the Eagles lost a considerable amount of their strength. But Vick was there to rally the troops and ignite the offense and the season ended up with the Eagles in the playoffs, having won the NFC East. It wasn't enough, of course, but it was a promising season after a very difficult start.
Vick's performance has been well chronicled. He was beyond brilliant for much of the year as the Eagles won 10 games. Vick became the first player in the history of the league to pass for than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and to run for 500 yards and 7 touchdowns in a single season. He was the league's Comeback Player of the Year, and a Pro Bowl starter.
And Vick is now the Eagles' quarterback of the present and of the future. With that, we are looking for next steps. The late-season barrage of blitzes that altered the timing of the offense and limited the effectiveness hurt the team in losses to Minnesota and Green Bay to end the year. Andy Reid and the offensive coaches have watched the film over and over again and, as Reid knows, need to provide an answer in 2011. The book is out on Vick: Go after him and knock him around and get this explosive Eagles offense off track.
There seems to be some thinking out there that Vick can't possibly replicate his incredible first month as a starter and that he is probably closer to the quarterback who was up and down against the Vikings and the Packers in the playoffs. I don't agree. The Eagles are set up to have a best-in-the-league offense in 2011. The talent at the skill positions is unmatched in the history of this franchise. It is a young, fast group that should go to another level in the season ahead.
To get there, here are some suggestions to make it happen ...
- Develop more of a three-step-drop game. Now, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could read this and think, "What in the heck does Spadaro mean by that?" I'm not smart enough to match wits with an offensive genius like Mornhinweg. His designs for the offense are truly first class. But I see an offense that sometimes doesn't make a defense pay for selling out on a blitz. Isn't a three-step drop a perfect answer for that? One of the key adjustments the coaching staff is working on is how to beat the blitz. Protection schemes are one thing, but defenses are complicated and there are going to be times when a blitzer comes free. The Eagles need an answer, and it can't always be Vick spinning away from trouble and making a play. Back the defense off with some quick throws. Get the ball out to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and even LeSean McCoy. Let them do the damage.
- In general, it's important to get the football out of Vick's hand more quickly. So he has to be on the same page with his receivers and the offensive linemen, who must engage defensive linemen and not allow them to get their hands up in the passing lanes. I see Vick as a point guard putting the ball in the hands of his scorers.
- Make the offensive line better. The draft plays a part in that, as does new line coach Howard Mudd. Right guard is a position, as I see it, that must be addressed. Right tackle is an interesting spot to watch, too. Are the Eagles dominant enough there? I don't want to hear that the Eagles are "OK" here, or there, or anywhere. I want this offensive line to dominate. Would the Eagles use a first-round pick on an offensive lineman? It certainly is possible.
- Make the running game more of a priority. I'm not suggesting the Eagles radically change the dynamic of the offense, but they do need to run the ball with more confidence and more effectiveness, particularly in short-yardage situations and in the red zone. McCoy is a stud running back. He needs 17--20 carries a game. No questions asked. A better line will help. So will a commitment to a standout third-year running back.
- Vick needs to be better, too. On his own. He needs to improve his mechanics, his accuracy and his timing. Vick has all the ability in the world. He is a wonderful team leader and a great, great worker. While there is a work stoppage, Vick is likely working on his own fine-tuning those very things.
- Challenging the roster. The Eagles have 10 draft picks, so why not add to the talent level all around on offense? Add some size at wide receiver, if possible. Bring in some depth in the backfield. Don't ignore any way to upgrade the roster, and don't focus solely on a defense that certainly needs some attention.
There is a lot to like about the direction in which the Eagles are going. The offense has an unlimited ceiling, and that is exciting. But there is work to be done, and the draft next week is going to reveal a lot about how the Eagles feel about surrounding Vick with the very best supporting cast.