Last week, the Jets announced that they had signed quarterback Michael Vick to a one-year contract. Vick is a well-known player, but it’s still worth reviewing the footage to get an insight into what he has left in the tank and how well he fits into the Jets offense as currently constituted.
The 33-year-old Vick is a four-time Pro Bowler and former first overall pick. In six years with the Atlanta Falcons and another five with the Philadelphia Eagles, he has thrown
185 128 touchdown passes and compiled a career passer rating of 80.9. The 6’0″ 215 pounder has also rushed for over 5,000 yards (an NFL record) and 36 touchdowns. Last season, Vick started six games, throwing five touchdown passes and three interceptions. He missed several games through injury and eventually lost the starting job to Nick Foles.
After the jump, I’ll briefly review Vick’s career so far and look in detail at some recent footage to try and evaluate what he could provide the Jets with this year and going forward.
Who is Michael Vick?
The brilliant Robert Newman once bemoaned the fact that he had to pay for and carry round a heavy dictionary because it contained so many words that didn’t really need to be in there. He said he was going to write his own dictionary with definitions like “Don’t be stupid. You know what a [expletive] tree is. It’s a tree!”
That’s how I feel about scouting Michael Vick. You already know who Michael Vick is. He’s Michael Vick!
Vick was the first overall pick in the 2001 draft and, as a rookie, was equal parts exciting and erratic. He’d make an incredible play and then a really bad mistake on the very next snap. He would develop into a three time Pro Bowler with the Falcons. However, Atlanta only made the postseason twice in six years, getting knocked out in the divisional round each time.
He would not play at all in 2007 or 2008 as he ended up spending time in jail for his part in the notorious dog-fighting scandal. I’ll be glossing over that here, not to diminish its importance, but because that’s been covered in depth elsewhere and I want to focus on the on-field matters here.
In 2009, Vick signed with the Eagles and was used as a special packages player in a backup role. However, in 2010, he was given a starting role and earned the Comeback Player of the Year award and a fourth pro bowl appearance. The Eagles were one and done in the postseason in 2010 and again in 2011 as Vick started 13 games but could not quite replicate his career-best passing numbers from the previous season. In 2012 and 2013 he missed several games through injury and eventually lost his starting job to Nick Foles. He joins the Jets on a one-year deal with an opportunity to compete for playing time with incumbent starter Geno Smith apparently up for grabs.
While we’re all very familiar with Vick’s game, it’s still worth looking at footage from the 2013 to try and gauge what he has left in the tank and what strengths and weaknesses he would have if called into action next season.
Vick won the starting job in preseason, comfortably outperforming Foles in the first three preseason games. You may recall that Foles was then poor (6-for-17) against the Jets’ backups in the Bollinger Bowl. Vick would start the first five games, but he was knocked out of the game (with a hamstring injury) in week five and missed the next few weeks. Then when he made his return to the starting lineup in week eight, he again didn’t last the whole game and that was the last meaningful action he saw all season.
Week One – at Washington
Won 33-27, 15-25-203-2TD passing, 9-54-TD rushing
- Vick hit his receiver in stride for 28 on the first drive, but then almost threw a pick after avoiding the rush and then the Redskins scored a defensive touchdown on a controversial freak play where Vick’s pass was tipped and ruled a live ball because it travelled laterally
– On the next drive he threw a 25-yard touchdown off a playfake with an accurate throw down the middle to a wide open receiver
– On the following drive, the offensive line screwed up and a rusher came totally unblocked between right guard and right tackle. He ducked under that guy but was sacked by the guy coming off that edge
– Next drive, he again ducked under a rusher and scrambled for a first down, but the drive stalled after his underthrow was almost picked off
– On the next drive, he converted a first down by finding his man at the marker despite getting nailed, but the drive stalled when he was hit by another unblocked rusher
– After his first down scramble was negated by a flag, Vick found his man for this 28-yard touchdown on a throw down the middle into a tight window
– He added another touchdown on a routine 3-yard QB draw
– On third and long, Vick rolled out and threw deep while falling backwards, well over his receiver’s head and almost intercepted by the safety coming over
– On the next drive, Vick handed off to the running back and then threw a good block as the back was cut off and reversed his field
– Vick picked up some good yardage on the ground on the next drive, taking off quickly for seven and then gaining 36 on a read option play with a good move at the second level to break into the open field. The drive stalled after he overthrew his man on a crossing route and then threw wide on third down
– He helped the Eagles run out the clock with a key late first down where he kept the play alive and then threw cross-field into the flat.
Week Two – v San Diego
Lost 30-33, 23-36-428-2TD passing, 5-34-TD rushing
- Almost threw for a touchdown on the first drive, but the receiver couldn’t hold onto his low throw in the end zone
– Had his receiver with a couple of steps deep down the sideline and his throw was perfectly timed, but led the receiver out of bounds for an incompletion. The drive then stalled as he tried to pump fake and the ball flew out of his hands and rolled sideways out of bounds
– His his receiver in stride on a slant for 41 and then found his man for a 13-yard score on a drilled back-shoulder throw at the goal-line
– Late in the first half, down three, he had a couple of overthrows, one on a deep ball to an open receiver where Vick was hit as he threw. However, he converted on a throw down the middle to set up a field goal attempt (which missed)
– Was flushed from the pocket but threw deep to the receiver who made a double move and the throw went just off the receiver’s fingertips. He then hit an open receiver downfield for a big gain on a catch and run. Finally, he found a wide-open receiver on a blown coverage for an easy 39-yard touchdown, but this was negated by a penalty
– On the next drive, they scored anyway, on this perfectly thrown 61-yard bomb
– They scored on the next drive as Vick easily rolled out to score a short touchdown. Prior to that he’d missed on a throw wide, picked up eight on a read option play and completed a first down over the middle
– Trailing late, the Eagles had to settle for a field goal when Vick was nailed on a rollout and his throw was broken up at the goal-line. After a low incompletion to an open receiver down the seam, he set that up with two dump-offs, a scramble and another completion over the middle
– They got the ball back in the closing seconds but couldn’t work the ball into range on a mulitple-lateral play
Week Three – v Kansas City
Lost 26-16, 13-30-201-TD-2INT passing, 4-99 rushing
- On this Thursday night game, the Eagles made a sloppy start with Vick throwing a pick-six as he stared down his man and failed to see the ILB coming over to deflect the pass
– After a third and three conversion on a throw over the middle following a high snap, Vick was sacked and then his nicely lofted third down throw on a corner route was off his receiver’s hands
– Vick showed impressive wheels on this 61-yard run and then lofted a perfect touchdown pass on another corner route as he was hit
– The next drive featured another long run as Vick escaped the rush and gained 24, but ended prematurely following a bad snap
– On the next drive, Vick threw behind a receiver, missed a tough deep throw with a man open and then threw a bad pick as the Chiefs set a trap with the safety jumping his initial read – a crosser underneath and the cornerback was ready for him to look for his second option down the seam
– On the next drive, Vick fumbled a snap and then was sacked. He did complete a 31-yard pass down the seam, but it should have been a bigger gain as the defensive back fell and Vick’s throw was underthrown so the receiver had to dive for it
– The next drive stalled as well, despite a nice completion on a rollout and comeback route. Vick overthrew his man who had a step deep in the end zone. He then had a horrible throw off his back foot that was easily intercepted because his target slipped. That was negated by a penalty, but the drive still stalled
– He had a nice completion on the next drive, looking off the safety and then delivering a deep throw down the sideline for 40
– His next drive opened with another overthrow, but then he gained 14 on a scramble and found his receiver with an under-pressure throw out in front leading to a juggling catch
– With the Eagles in desperation mode, Vick’s 4th and long pass was jumped by a defensive back who dropped a possible interception. That came after he had a third down conversion to an open receiver negated by a hold. Prior to that, he had rolled out and completed a first down throw over the middle and thrown an incompletion low to the outside
– On the final drive, Vick rolled and completed a first down from his end zone, but then was sacked and lost a fumble on the next play
Week Four – at Denver
Lost 52-20, 14-27-248 passing, 8-41 rushing
- On the first drive, Vick overthrew his man as the pocket collapsed and then came up short on a third down scramble
– Next drive saw him scramble for 13 and show good patience to find his man coming across the middle for 24, but then a good pass was dropped inside the five and they had to settle for a field goal
– On the next drive, he twice picked up first downs with his legs and had an accurate third down conversion on a low throw in a place where only his receiver could get it
– The next drive saw him drill a low throw for 20
– The next drive stalled after he escaped the rush and threw off his back foot, but his receiver’s attempt at a diving catch went off his hands. Prior to that he had rolled out and hit his receiver coming back to the ball
– On the next drive, he scrambled and rolled to the outside hitting his tight end who had initially stayed in to block for 27. He then avoided another sack, but made a poor throw off his back foot
– On his last drive, Vick drilled a pass inside for a third and short conversion and made a good throw down the seam to his tight end for a 38-yard catch and run. However, the drive stalled when he overthrew a pass to the back pylon.
Week Five – at NY Giants
Won 36-21, 6-14-105 passing, 7-79 rushing
- On the first drive, Vick forced a throw into double coverage with his receiver not really open, but overthrew it anyway (perhaps deliberately). He then made a good downfield throw that was dropped.
– Vick’s first throw on the next drive was low and incomplete, but he picked up some good yardage on three carries – a first down keeper, a 34-yard burst and an 11-yard designed run out of the shotgun. The Eagles also got a first down on a helmet to helmet hit following Vick’s under pressure overthrow and settled for a field goal
– After a first down keeper, Vick threw slightly behind his man to the outside and his pass was broken up. He ended up with no first quarter completions
– In the second quarter, he finally completed a pass on a dump-off and then threw a nice lofted touch pass on a corner route with his receiver making a leaping 24-yard grab. The drive stalled when he overthrew an open receiver in the end zone
– The Eagles took the lead on a short touchdown run set up by Vick’s 14-yard gain on a designed run down to the goal-line. Earlier on the drive, he completed a 56-yard bomb, although the replay showed that a defensive back should probably have picked this, only to misjudge the flight of the ball which went through his hands
– He did gain another 13 on a scramble on the next drive, although the drive stalled
– The Eagles got the ball back and Vick was noticeably limping as he tried to roll out and got nailed. He came out of the game there with a 16-7 lead.
Week Eight – v NY Giants
Lost 15-7, 6-9-30-INT passing, 1-1 rushing.
- Vick’s return from injury did not start well, as he threw behind his tight end for an early pick. The tight end did not appear to be expecting or looking for the ball
– The next drive stalled as he was sacked and fumbled, although he got it back
– The drive after that stalled as he held the ball for far too long and was eventually called for grounding
– His final drive ended with the Eagles down 9-0 when his third down pass was broken up. Matt Barkley replaced him.
Much as you’d expect, the footage shows some dynamic playmaking from Vick, mixed in with some erratic play and questionable decision making, especially when he was struggling physically. We know he has a strong arm – Rex Ryan once said he can “throw a strawberry through a battleship” – and we know (from some of the links above) he still has some serious wheels.
Vick’s main issue is that he sometimes relies on these gifts a bit too much. Obviously he gets pretty banged up from all the hits he takes, many of which arise because he’s trying to make something happen with his legs. However, relying on his arm might be the bigger issue.
I was actually impressed with how Vick moves around in the pocket and obviously he has the ability to either elude pressure or stay in there and make throws under pressure. However – and I don’t think I’m saying anything new here – sometimes his footwork is awful. Because he trusts his strong arm, Vick will back himself to squeeze the ball in a tight window without setting his feet and can sometimes get away with this. I would anticipate that happens less the colder it gets though, not making him the ideal player to go on a postseason run with.
Where this concerns me is that if Geno Smith will rely on Vick as a mentor, he might pick up some bad habits. We’ve all seen how bad Smith can be when his footwork and technique desert him and QB coach David Lee has said several times how crucial this is for Smith. Vick’s natural ability allows him to overcome flaws in his technique in a way a less-athletically gifted player could not, so the Jets will have to constantly reinforce how important that is for Smith if he’s going to continue to develop.
One issue worth investigating is that of Vick’s left-handedness. Does it matter that the right tackle will be tasked with protecting the blindside when he’s in the game? First of all, I can confirm that the Eagles did not make any changes when Vick was in the game, so the right tackle (rookie Lane Johnson) was indeed tasked with protecting the blindside. Looking at his grades and pass protection numbers, he was much worse with Vick at quarterback than when Foles was in there. However, since most of the games Vick played were right at the start of his rookie year, perhaps we can attribute Johnson’s struggles to that. The Jets have had two left-handed quarterbacks in recent years (Mark Brunell and Tim Tebow) and they didn’t swap the tackles over as some teams have in the past. Indeed, this PFF study suggests that the importance of protecting the blind-side in this era where most teams bring pressure off both edges is perhaps overstated.
Beyond the numbers, I note that when I researched the intricacies of Marty Mornhinweg’s playbook last year, I observed that the Eagles left tight ends in to block a lot more often when Vick was in the game. Having said that, I didn’t notice them doing much of that for Johnson, although he did get help from his right guard at times. As you’ll recall, I was impressed with Breno Giacomini’s pass protection ability anyway, so I’d hope he could handle the assignment if Vick saw action.
Another question is whether the Jets could exploit Vick’s obviously-still-prevalent running ability by using him in special packages. Again from the Marty’s playbook article, I noted that the Eagles did run the wildcat … but moved Vick to receiver when they did so. However, when he is in there, the ability to run out of the read option, or just scramble on a broken play, does give another dimension to the offense, albeit one which Smith himself provides.
The final thing I wanted to touch on before my final conclusion is the fact that Vick impressed me with some of the throws he made on corner routes. The reason this is relevant is that that’s the one route that Eric Decker didn’t really have much success with last year in Denver, although I noted that it’s just not a throw Peyton Manning makes very often these days.
The main question, however, is whether we can expect Vick to start. As noted, Vick did beat out Foles to win the starting job last year in preseason. I’d say that Vick was far more dynamic and productive in the first couple of games last year than Smith was at any point last year. However, his durability was a real problem and he started to make a bunch of bad plays the more banged up he became.
If Smith can beat out Vick in a fair competition, I’d say that’s an extremely positive sign for his future. On the basis of what we saw from both players last season, though, I’d suggest it’s probably a good bet that neither will start all 16 games this season.