Michael Vick Is Far From the Eagles’ Biggest Problem

Is Eagles' Quarterback Michael Vick The Biggest Problem for the Eagles? Tom Holzerman doesn't think so.The Eagles should have the most dynamic offense in the NFL. They have a running back in LeSean McCoy whose spirit animal is most surely Barry Sanders. They have one of the best receiving corps in the league in usually sure handed Jason Avant, explosive DeSean Jackson and a potential perennial All-Pro in Jeremy Maclin. Brent Celek has the ability to be in at least the second tier of productive tight ends. I can be prone to hyperbole and even I can’t put him in the same breath as Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis. Oh yeah, they also have the next evolution of Randall Cunningham…”the Ultimate Weapon” at quarterback. Even banged up and in the decline of his career, Michael Vick should still have been able to average 20 points through three quarters with this team at the very least. Yet, here we are, eight weeks into the season, and the Eagles have only broken the 20 point barrier twice in the entire game.

The lazy eye might see Vick as the problem, and there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s been the root of a lot of what has ailed the Eagles over the first half of this season. He’s turned the ball over 13 times, a mark that has only been surpassed by Matt Cassel of the moribund Kansas City Chiefs. He’s also only completed 28% of his passes outside of the pocket, which is the lowest mark in the NFL and an abysmal number for a quarterback whose strengths should be throwing on the run with his mobility. Talk of replacing him as the team’s signal caller is surely valid, except for the fact that the team is still within striking distance of a playoff spot and would be throwing a rookie into the fire.

I would ask instead of blaming Vick for people to look at the guys calling the plays. Obviously, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have come under fire for their offensive ineptitude, but very rarely are people actually blaming them in lieu of Vick. Most critics I’ve seen (and granted, I may not be getting the entire picture) have wanted to throw the entire thing out. They cite Vick’s lost confidence as the reason, but could it be that he’s not as cocksure as he was before because of Reid setting him up to fail?

Going back to McCoy, he’s clearly one of the best backs, if not THE best in the league, but he’s rarely used in heavy doses until the second half, after the team has exhausted every other option. Doesn’t anyone think that if the game was taken out of Vick’s hands more that he’d have a better shot of not turning the ball over? However, there’s more to it than pass/run ratio. Obviously, the team should want to pass a lot because of the aforementioned weapons, including McCoy who is one of the best pass-catching backs the team has ever had along with Ricky Watters and the incomparable Brian Westbrook.

The biggest problem for the team in the passing game has been its offensive line. The porous protection has led to sacks, fumbles, interceptions and disrupted rhythms. However, teams like the Steelers have succeeded with bad offensive lines. What is their secret, other than in the Steelers’ case having a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who’s harder to take down than a grizzly bear on bath salts? It’s in leaving in extra protectors. Whether it’s going max protect and only sending out two receivers or having Celek, fullback Stanley Havili, other tight end Clay Harbor or even the tailbacks like McCoy or Bryce Brown chip on pass rushers before they release on routes, the extra seconds could be crucial in either opening up a running lane for Vick or giving him an extra second to find a guy who’s open. Before anyone says that the max protect won’t work if guys are left in coverage, the Bears this past Sunday ran a play where they left nine guys in to protect and sent out only Brandon Marshall. Guess what? Jay Cutler completed the pass to him. I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again. You give a receiver enough time to run around the secondary and he will get open.

The play calling itself from Reid and Mornhinweg has left a lot to be desired as well. They often times get cute when there’s no need to, but more frustratingly, they refuse to get creative when the need arises. I’ve lost count of the times they called a bonehead trick play to “confuse” the defense on a drive where they were moving the ball and have it blow up for a huge loss over the years. It’s fine when you can score at will, but this year, the points have come few and far between because of turnovers mainly but also because of stalled drives on those cutesy plays that blow up. Case in point, the first drive in the second half in the game on September 30th against the Giants saw the Eagles get down to the 1 yard line. They had the ball with the shortest possible distance to go on three straight plays. On three straight plays, Reid and/or Mornhinweg called the same play, the most predictable play possible, a run up the gut by McCoy. All three times, McCoy was denied. When you have a bad offensive line, even the best running backs can get stuffed on consecutive plays. Hell, even when you have the best offensive line, it happens. Look at the famous game in 1994 when Emmitt Smith got stuffed on 4th and 1 by the Eagles in a crucial game at the Vet twice. The Cowboys foolishly called the same play after they were bailed out by the two minute warning negating the first time they got denied, and that line and back combo is regarded as one of the best in history.

What should the Eagles have done in that situation? Well, look no further than the Cowboys of the present this past weekend in their game against the Giants. They got down to the 1 yard line and called a naked bootleg, giving their similarly beleaguered quarterback Tony Romo options. Now, he’s not nearly a statue like Peyton Manning is, but he’s also not nearly as mobile as Vick, even now. Regardless, Romo easily ran it in for a score. If he could do it against that Giants defensive front, then how easy would it have been for Vick to waltz in the end zone for a score on a similar play? Obviously, it didn’t matter in the long run because the Eagles actually won that game, but there are times in games they did lose where Reid and Mornhinweg didn’t put their offensive units in good position to come away with points. I blame so much of what has ailed the Eagles this year on their operation of the offense because I’ve seen what these players can do even restrained by the mediocrity given to them. Imagine if they had a real offensive coordinator who knew what he was doing calling the plays?

The biggest litmus test of this season is going to come Monday night against the Saints. New Orleans has a terrible defense. This isn’t arguable. They rank near the bottom of the league in all statistical categories, whether traditional or advanced. IF the Eagles, with this core of offensive players, even with the awful offensive line, cannot put up at least 28 points against this Saints defense, then Reid and Mornhinweg need to be fired on the spot. There is no way they should continue to be able to place the blame on everyone else, whether it be Chas Henry, Juan Castillo or eventually Vick himself, and not have owner Jeffrey Lurie see that they’re the true problems with this team going forward. Blame Michael Vick all you want; he’s had a terrible year. However, there’s no way that the root causes of this team’s failures rest on his shoulders and his shoulders alone.

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Tom Holzerman

Tom Holzerman has been a fan of Philadelphia sports teams for as long as he can remember. He's been writing about them and other things for almost ten years now, first as a columnist for the Drexel Triangle and then as a freelance blogger for several pages, including his own site The Wrestling Blog. He believes sports are meant to be both analyzed and savored and thinks that all the fighting between the "nerds" and the "meatheads" is unnecessary. You can follow him on Twitter @tholzerman, especially if you're a wrestling fan like he is.