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Changing the Game Plan for Vick

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Jordan Raanan, Xfinity Sports, NFL Columnist
Sat Sep 15, 3:53 AM UTC

Michael Vick was clipped before, sapped of the legendary athleticism that makes him special. It happened circa 2005 in Atlanta and was an unequivocal disaster.

The Falcons wanted Vick to become a more traditional NFL quarterback. So in that 2005 season, he sat in the pocket more than ever. Vick threw 66 more passes, had 18 fewer rushes and more than 300 less rushing yards than in 2004, when Atlanta reached the NFC championship game.

It was a disaster. The Falcons missed the postseason. Michael Vick wasn't Michael Vick. He was Michael Vick posing as Vinny Testaverde. Vick played away from his strengths and became the quarterback he wasn't hardwired to become.

A similar, possibly more radical transformation is in progress with the Eagles. The result may be more catastrophic if something doesn't drastically change, beginning Sunday when the Eagles host the Ravens and their still scary defense.

First and foremost, Vick has become a pocket passer. It's not all the Eagles fault. They give him the freedom to run. It's just that the Eagles quarterback is trying so hard to play within the offense, execute everything as it's designed, that he's forgetting what makes him special.

Nowadays, Vick stands in the pocket and goes through progressions on routes with three, four or five receivers on a regular basis. He surveys third, fourth or fifth options before contemplating a last-resort run.

It's not what Vick does best. What he does best is frighten defenses with his legs and embarrass defenders with his jukes. That makes him special.

This statement should come as no surprise. Nobody is ever going to confuse Michael Vick with Peyton Manning. They're two entirely different quarterbacks thousands of philosophical miles apart.

Vick is never going to be a quarterback who lives off the three-step drop and carves defenses like Dexter does villains. That's not his game. He's a player who gets the ball 50 yards downfield with the flick of his wrist and spins himself off defenders and into long runs.

But right now, Vick has evolved into your average stand-in-the-pocket quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Key emphasis on average.

The game plan for Vick and the Eagles needs to change. ASAP.

It may have worked in 2010 during Vick's season of redemption, but it didn't work last season (18 passing TDs, 14 INTs, 1 rushing TD), was a disaster in the opener (2 passing TDs, 4 INTs, 32 yards rushing), and it's not going to work going forward. Vick can not succeed throwing 56 passes in a game like he did Sunday in Cleveland. He can not thrive throwing more than 30 passes on a regular basis (he threw more than 30 passes in nine of 13 games last season, more than 40 passes twice). For this quarterback, that many opportunities leads to too many mistakes.

“I think it’s decision-making, pressing, and not pressing as hard to try and make things happen when things aren’t going your way," Vick conceded this week. "One thing you can’t do in this league is you can’t force throws and you can’t try to stick a ball in a tight spot when a guy is not really open and try to make something happen at that given time. You just have to work your way down the field and take what the defense gives you. Play keep away.”

In theory, that sounds right, but isn't the proper approach with Vick at quarterback. In fact, it's anti-Eagles with all their explosive playmakers. It works against Vick's — and the Eagles' — strengths.

If Philadelphia wants to maximize its chance to be something special, if they want to give Vick any realistic opportunity to avoid the bust option in his 2012 prediction, they must alter the game plan. Drastically and immediately.

First, it seems so obvious to everyone except Andy Reid but hand the ball to Shady McCoy, one of the best running backs in the NFL, more than 20 times per game. Feed the shifty Pro Bowl back. Then supplement McCoy's brilliance with a heavy dose of Vick's legs and big arm. It only makes sense to be a more run-conscious team with those two in the backfield.

“You’ve got to have some form of balance," Reid said just days after the escape in Cleveland.

Reid may like to preach balance, but implementing it is a different story. It has never been his strong suit. Now, it needs to be done to best utilize his quarterback's skills.

But in order to do this successfully and effectively, the Eagles — primarily Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg — need to take the playbook and shred it in half. They should get rid of some of those deep routes that take 5-7 seconds to develop. Their offensive line and Vick's decision-making aren't reliable enough. They need to limit the number of 4- or 5-wide receiver routes (three of Vick's four interceptions came on 4 or 5-WR routes).

Instead, the new-look Eagles should emphasize one or two-read passes, bootlegs, one-sided play-action, their patented screen game and quick-hitters. They should focus on simple pass plays that can lead to explosive results. And, most importantly, they must make it perfectly clear that Vick has carte blanche to run whenever he pleases.

Some version of this Vick game plan needs to be instituted going forward for the Eagles to maximize their chance of success. Running and creating something out of nothing are Vick's special talent. The Eagles need to make sure they highlight them over his in-the-pocket passing ability because it's becoming more evident each game that 2010 was an aberration. That almost perfect passing season from him will never happen again.

Vick's two touchdown passes against Cleveland came on quick, easy reads. It's what suits him best. It's what the Eagles signed up for when they handed him a $100 million contract last summer. At age 32, Vick isn't about to all of a sudden develop better instincts, patience and judgment in the pocket. Instead, Reid and Mornhinweg need to maximize the commodity at their disposal.

The Eagles should have learned this lesson. They saw what happened to Donovan McNabb when he became a pocket passer and started to lose his legs. That's why they shipped him to Washington. Now, it's the same conversation from 2008, only with Vick's name replacing McNabb's.

They can't let the same happen as Vick creeps into his mid-30s. As a pocket passer, his career will be over quicker than you can say Nick Foles. If the Eagles go into the remainder of the season with the intent of having their quarterback pass 30, 40 or 50 times per game — the same game plan they have shown over the past 36 months — then Vick is done.

Look, I've never been a fan of running quarterbacks in general. It's a pass-first quarterback league. My top 5 NFL quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford) are stand-in-the-pocket guys. The last 13 Super Bowls were won by Eli Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer and Kurt Warner. Rodgers is the only of that group that runs even a lick. Passing from the pocket is generally how you win in this league.

No real "running quarterback" has ever won a Super Bowl. Even Steve Young was primarily a stand-in-the-pocket quarterback by the time he won in San Francisco. But this is what the Eagles signed up for, and if there is anyone that can pull it off, it's Michael Vick, the greatest running quarterback of all time. They just need to give him the chance before it's too late.

Jordan Raanan has covered the NFL since 2005. Follow him on Twitter @JordanRaanan, on Facebook or email him at

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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