Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trying To Figure Out Why I Am Wrong

In the world of football, I am a believer in order. Raw performance numbers add up to points and then wins- you can deconstruct an approach and put in on some sort of meritocracy spectrum. For years I have opined that 100 yards rushing per game doesn’t matter in C-USA, the importance of completion percentages in a spread offense, etc.

And yet here are Michael Vick and the Eagles, casting a huge shadow over my assertions of the importance of lots of completions, lots of passing yards to winning football games. I seek to laud the quarterback ideal of Brees and Manning and Brady. And I get Michael Vick- winning.

Here are Michael Vick’s last seven games (Eagles lost the asterisked game)- his recent consecutive game starting streak:

17 completions, 218 yards
20 completions, 333 yards
24 completions, 258 yards
29 completions, 333 yards*
22 completions, 302 yards
16 completions, 270 yards
21 completions, 242 yards

I mean, pretty pedestrian totals- particularly when you note the big 29-333 game was a loss, chasing Chicago from behind. In that seven game stretch, Vick features six games of 24 or fewer completions. Drew Brees has less than 24 completions only once in his last seven starts. In Vick’s stretch of seven starts above, he has 149 completions, Brees has 191 over the same period. Similar metrics (300+ yard games) feature the same glaring disparity. So, how are the Eagles overcoming that discrepancy?

Ultimately, I guess this method to victory is hard to do- but not impossible? I mean, the Eagles do get all the bad stuff that goes with a quarterback who can’t sustain passing proficiency: entire halves with little production (twice versus New York, Giants game, Bears, Houston, red zone woes. Their “straight” offense clicks in at a very routine two touchdowns, a few FGs, a game versus good defenses.

But, since Vick took over, the Eagles consistently generate unreal scores from outside the aforementioned straight, routine offense. Every game they seemingly get one or two scores from gigantic plays: giant McCoy and Vick runs, punt returns, bombs to Jackson, Celek- which gooses the base offense performance literally 10-14 points a game over expected from the simple totals. The Eagles have unreal skill players with big play capacity everywhere.

Add in a good turnover performance, and the Eagles have kind of recreated the best part of the McNabb era- an excellent big play to turnover ratio fueled by a mobile quarterback and superior skill players (substitute Jackson, McCoy and Celek for TO, Westbrook and Chad Johnson).

So far it has been enough to compensate for the dozen or so fewer completions Vick leaves on the table each week. And that is the story of the season headed into the post-season. The Eagles’ defense has real problems- so they need to score north of 28 to win consistently.

Philadelphia has made an atypical formula work so far: get giant plays routinely. It is really hard to gameplan for, to predict- let's all go out there and in the general course of things we'll generate half-a-dozen head shaking plays. That is probably why I have problems with it. To Coach Reid’s credit, he seems to get it- dialing up bombs, aggressive fourth down calls, taking shots at the end zone on any down and distance, even from his own side of the field.

The Eagles don’t even pretend to be anything but crazy-time on offense. And it takes them out of my rational expectations bucket- into a realm of great play and players versus routine execution.