Breaking Down Areas Where Nick Foles Offers Improvement over Michael Vick

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIOctober 27, 2012

Nick Foles impressed everybody in preseason play
Nick Foles impressed everybody in preseason playJennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

If Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid decides to bench inconsistent Michael Vick in favor of rookie Nick Foles, what areas of Foles' game would offer the Eagles an improvement? 

In Week 6, the Eagles lost for the third time in four games to drop their overall record to 3-3. After the game, writer Jeff McLane of the wrote a story entitled: "Vick gets less than a ringing endorsement from Eagles coach". In the story, McLane wrote: 

A questioner noted that the coach's lukewarm support for Vick could lead the media and fans to believe that the veteran could be benched in favor of rookie Nick Foles.

"I'm just telling the truth," Reid said. "That's what I'm saying to you. Right now, Michael Vick is the starting quarterback."

Reid said he was still evaluating the rest of the coaching staff and the team. Vick has struggled this season. He has 13 of the Eagles' 17 turnovers - eight interceptions and five lost fumbles.

"You obviously can't have that many turnovers," Reid said. "You can't do that. If you can't have that many as an offense, you surely can't have that many as a quarterback."

Leading up to the 2012 season, Vick dedicated himself to making better decisions with the ball. Even after Reid questioned Vick's ability to stop the bleeding from the turnovers this week, Vick promised that he can do his job better. Vick's vows and promises don't jive with the bottom line results. The 13 turnovers by Vick are the second-highest total of anybody in the NFL in 2012. 

How does Vick's play this year stack up to the rest of the NFL's starting quarterbacks? 

When we try to analyze the areas that Vick would be considered an asset or a detriment, one way to access that is via the skill breakdowns in QBR rankings and in QB Passer Ratings.  

Here is Vick's score and subsequent rank in each of these categories, after Week 7 of the 2012 season: 
  • PASS EPA: Clutch-weighted expected points added on plays with pass attempts.  Score is 36.9. Rank is No. 9 overall in 2012. 
  • RUN EPA: Clutch-weighted expected points added through scrambles, designed rushes and fumbles/fumble returns on running plays. Score is 0.8. Rank is No. 16. 
  • SACK EPA: Clutch-weighted expected points added (lost) on sacks. Score is -12.5. Rank is No. 28. 
  • PEN EPA: Clutch-weighted expected points added on penalties. Score is 5.1. Rank is No. 9. 
  • TOTAL EPA: Total clutch-weighted expected points added. Score is 30.3. Rank is No. 10. 
  • ACT PLAYS: Plays on which the QB has a non-zero expected points contribution. Includes most plays that are not handoffs. Score is 313. Rank is No. 7. 
  • QB PAR: Number of points contributed by a quarterback over the season, accounting for QBR and how much he plays, above the level of a quarterback who plays very rarely and is on the fringe of the NFL. Score is 30.2. Rank is No. 15. 
  • QB PAA: Number of points contributed by a quarterback over the season, accounting for QBR and how much he plays, above the level of an average quarterback. Score is 4.3. Rank is No. 15
  • TOTAL QBR: Total Quarterback Rating, which values quarterback on all play types on a 0-to-100 scale. Score is 54.5. Rank is No. 17. 

As you can see from the above scores and ranks, Vick is top-10 in PASS EPA, PEN EPA, TOTAL EPA and ACT PLAYS. He is in the bottom five is SACK EPA and is average in everything else. 

Some people prefer to evaluate performance for quarterbacks by the QB Passer Rating method. Vick's performance and ranking in those categories is as follows: 

  • Overall QB Rating: 77.7. Ranks Vick No. 27 overall.  
  • COMPLETION PERCENTAGE: 58.9 percent. Ranked at No. 25.  
  • YARDS PER PASSING ATTEMPT: 7.07 yards per attempt. Ranked at No. 22.  
  • INTERCEPTIONS:  With eight interceptions, Vick is No. 27 in the league in that category.  
  • TOUCHDOWNS: Vick has eight touchdown passes, tied for No. 18 in NFL.  
  • PASSING YARDS PER GAME: Passing for 272 yards per game. Ranked at No. 12.  
  • SACKED: Vick has been sacked 17 times. Ranked at No. 24. 

In five of the seven categories of QB Passer Rating, Vick is surprisingly ranked in the bottom-10. 

Can Foles be thrown into the fire and play at a level that would allow the Eagles to consistently win? We won't know about Foles until Reid decides to give him an opportunity. One thing we do know is that you really never know for sure what you are going to get from Vick one week to the next. 

Here are Vick's QBR scores in the first six weeks: 25.4, 78.7, 8.8, 90.1, 33.8 and 64.3. Roller coaster ride. In case you prefer QB Passer Rating scores: 51.0, 94.7, 64.8, 99.4, 104.2 and 77.4. How do you game plan your offense when you don't know which Michael Vick will show up? 

Your starting quarterback has to be somebody that you can rely on, that you trust can play at a certain skill level every week. There will be highs and lows off of that level of expectation, but you have a general idea of what you are going to get most games. Think about Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. You know what you are usually going to get from them each week.

These are the main areas where Vick struggles the most. 

1) Turnovers. Averaging slightly more than two turnovers per game is a losing formula. That is putting an extra amount of pressure and burden on the defense every week. 

2) Injury. Vick tends to hold on the ball too long, or dance around in the pocket to allow his receivers to find an open space. The longer that Vick holds the ball, the greater the chance that Vick will take big hits resulting in sustaining injuries. At just 6'0" tall and weighing only 215 pounds, Vick will come up on the short end whenever he is about to be drilled by a much bigger defender. 

It would also help Vick to avoid taking so many big hits. He can run the ball out of bounds or sliding down after picking up the first down more often than he does now. 

3) Pocket Awareness. With 17 sacks in six games, Vick is No. 24 in the NFL among starting quarterbacks. Vick needs to be more aware of the pressure and learning to avoid sacks by simply throwing the ball away. 

4) Not Utilizing his Running Game Enough. LeSean McCoy has only gained 459 rushing yards this season, a full 200 yards behind Arian Foster. The talented Eagles tailback has rushed 111 times this year, averaging only 76.5 yards per game. McCoy is ranked No. 13 in rushing and No. 9 in attempts. 

So, how would Foles offer improvement over Vick in each of these four areas? 

1) Turnovers. Hard to gauge that right now, because the sample size in the regular season is non-existent. In the preseason, Foles attempted 63 passes and had two of them intercepted. Foles also threw for six touchdowns in those games, so the 6:2 ratio is something that Andy Reid could live with. 

You can only put so much stock into preseason stats, but since that is the only action Foles received so far, let's examine them a little closer. 

In the preseason opener against Pittsburgh, Foles played just the third quarter, which doesn't count for much. In the second contest against New England, Foles played the entire second and third quarter. In the third preseason game against Cleveland, the dress rehearsal game, Foles was the starter and played against the Browns first unit. In the final game against the New York Jets, Foles started again. 

More importantly, in the four games, Foles never lost a fumble. He is averaging one-half of a turnover per game. With Vick averaging more than two turnovers per game, the edge goes to Foles. 

2) Vick has suffered from many injuries over his career, partly due to his smaller physique at 6'0" and 215 pounds. Foles is 6'5" tall and weighs 243 pounds. If you are curious who Foles equates to from a pure size comparison, Ben Roethlisberger is 6'5" and weighs 241 pounds.

Vick tends to hold on to the ball too long in passing plays, which usually results in him getting pounded into the ground. Or he will follow through on the throw and bang his hand, wrist or fingers off of the rushing defenders helmet. Vick isn't built to take that much physical abuse. Case closed, edge to Foles.

3) Pocket Awareness. Foles threw 63 passes in the preseason and was only sacked once in the four games. Vick, meanwhile, is averaging almost three sacks per game. Edge to Foles. 

Another aspect to consider is the impact each quarterback has on the offensive line play. Since Foles is a pocket quarterback, the Eagles offensive line will be asked to protect the pocket. They will have a very good idea of where Foles will be on almost every play. 

With Vick, you're never quite sure if he is going to remain in the pocket, scramble to one side or the other, or just take off with the ball. Foles eliminates the guess work. Edge to Foles. 

The final area of concern is that Foles is right-handed compared to Vick being left-handed. Therefore it would fall on the left tackle (Demetress Bell or King Dunlap) to protect Foles' blind side, as opposed to the right tackle for Vick. Since Jason Peters is still injured, the edge on this point goes to Vick.

Clearly Foles doesn't possess Vick's mobility and speed, but he is physically more imposing to sack. Due to his size, Foles has the ability to throw the ball away while defenders are clinging to him.  He can absorb the pounding without getting hurt as much. Edge to Foles. 

4) With regards to utilizing his running game, the edge again goes to Foles.

If Reid were to give Foles the starting job, the Eagles would look for McCoy to take on a bigger role in the offense. That would be a win-win for everybody.

McCoy is under-utilized with Vick running the offense. Once McCoy becomes more of a threat (he is only averaging 76.5 yards per game with Vick), then you are able to run more play-action passes with Foles, which opens things up for DeSean Jackson. 

Another area to consider is that the more you run the ball, the more you make the defense guess as to what you intend to do. Keeping the defense off-balance is only going to be a plus for Philadelphia. 

Foles has the ability to throw the ball down the field, as he averaged 13.3 yards per completion in the preseason. 

If you recall how the Houston Texans won down the stretch in the 2011 regular season when T.J. Yates took over for the injured Matt Schaub, Foles could be used in a similar capacity. 

What Will Andy Reid Do? 

Since the Eagles are currently in their bye week, it will be curious to see if Reid decides to install any more changes after the team gets back together to prepare for their Week 8 contest. The Eagles face Atlanta and New Orleans right after the bye, so the Eagles will need to score quite a few points in both games to come out with a win. 

On the Friday morning telecast of NFL Network's NFL Live, it was pointed out that Coach Reid is 13-0 in his career following the bye week. The Falcons are 6-0, so something has to give this Sunday. 

Coach Reid demonstrated that he is isn't afraid to make changes when he decided to fire long-term assistant coach/defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear to Reid that he needs to take his team to the playoffs this year, or he will be replaced.

With that much pressure on Reid to win now, he can only afford to extend Vick just so much rope, but not enough rope to lose his job in the process. 


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