by Matthew Thompson
Anytime a team loses a game and does not fulfill their promise by living up to their full potential, someone takes the blame, and most of the time that person is the quarterback. When their team wins they get the praise and acclaim, so when they lose they should shoulder the blame. Michael Vick gave the world more than enough reason to blame him for a lot of things with his heinous acts towards animals, but he should not be blamed for the Philadelphia Eagles’ playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. There were numerous contributing factors to the Eagles’ early 2011 exit from the playoffs.
1. Blame the kicker – Even in college football, a 30-39 yard field goals are expected to be easy scores. Mediocre college kickers can kick field goals from 41 yards out. David Akers, one of the better NFL kickers over the last decade, missed two routine field goals, one from 34 yards out and the other from 41 yards away by pushing the football wide left. If Akers made both of those missed field goals, then the Eagles would have won 22-21 instead of losing 21-16. It is simple math. Two routine kicks and the Eagles would have advanced to play against Vick’s former team, the Atlanta Falcons. There is always the chance of a rally by the opposing team. The Green Bay Packers could have possibly scored again despite the Eagles taking this hypothetical lead, because they have one of the most potent passing attacks in the NFL. But scoring those missed field goals would have changed the complexion of the football game. 3 points scored against Green Bay early in the 4th quarter would have forced the Packers to be less conservative against the Philly defense. Once Philadelphia scored again to gain the lead with only minutes left in the game, Rodgers would be forced to put the football in the air instead of pounding the Eagles with the rookie running back Starks. Because Green Bay could no longer use the clock as their ally, they would have to take more chances. If this happened, we could possibly be watching a Rodgers interception instead of the Vick pick.
2. Blame the coach – In hindsight, the coach can always be blamed for strategic missteps. Though a brilliant coach and a unparalleled offensive mind, there were a few questionable calls that he made during the course of this football game.
A. Did not use the RB – LeSean McCoy is one of the faster running backs in the National Football League. He is also a strong and shifty running back. In this game, McCoy only had 12 carries for 46 yards. If a running back is averaging 4 yards per carry on limited carries, then he should be given more to wear down a defense. Running the football to fatigue a defense is one of the most basic principles of football. In most of their wins in the 2010-11 NFL season, the Eagles ran McCoy 16+ times and he gained nearly 80 yards in those games.
B. The QB sneak – The Philadelphia Eagles were on the goal line, inches away from scoring a touchdown, instead of handing the football off to McCoy, Reid ran a quarterback sneak with the 6’, 180 lbs. Michael Vick. Vick is an athlete, so it is understandable for a coach to want to keep the football in his hands. But, he is dynamic in open space, not necessarily behind huge lineman with running lanes. Where Michael Vick was slippery and elusive, LeSean McCoy could have been powerful and punishing. At 3rd down and 1 yard, Reid missed his opportunity to impose his will on the Packers by scoring in the trenches. He settled for the lone field goal make of the game by Akers.
C. The play – Reid designed a play that got single coverage for Riley Cooper in the end zone. Vick pump-faked the ball to the right side of the field where his star receivers were, and then threw a jump ball to the other side of the field for Cooper with only one defensive back to stop him. He put the fate of the team in the hands of a rookie receiver. He failed because of this decision.
3. Blame the rookie, not the throw – One has to concede that the last pass made by Michael Vick in the 2010-11 season was at least slightly misplaced. Had Vick thrown the football towards the sideline, Williams, the cornerback could not have made a play on the ball. However, Michael did two things perfectly on the play. He threw to the correct option which was Cooper in man to man coverage, and he gave the young receiver a chance to make a great play. Riley Cooper made at least two of three possible mistakes in this play. The 1st possible mistake is the only one of which there is question of his role. In order for certain routes to be successful in an offensive play attempt, the quarterback and his receiver have to read the same cues from the defensive player. If the football did not slip out of his hands with his pass to Cooper, then Vick might have read the defender differently and threw a jump ball rather than leading his receiver towards the back of the end zone. In this case, there was no real fault, but simply a costly miscommunication. Once the football was in the air though, Riley Cooper made two huge mistakes. He turned his head towards the ball prematurely, thus alerting the cornerback that the football was on its way and then did not fight to get to the football. Waiting to turn for the football is something that Cooper will learn to do as he plays the wide receiver position in the NFL. The defensive backs in the league are too talented to give away the location of the ball. But Cooper also got bumped off of his route and never left the ground to make a catch or to even protect his quarterback by knocking the ball down. He allowed Williams to highpoint the football, catch it at its highest level, and never tried to catch it himself. He had as much fault in the play as Vick or more.
Do not blame Vick for this loss. Michael Vick carried this team to the playoffs on sheer dynamism and will. Until the interception, Vick had a passer rating of over 95 points, well above the league standard for well-played game by a quarterback. He gave them every opportunity to win that football game even with his interception pass. There are many reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles are not longer in the hunt for a Super Bowl title, including petty mistakes, botched strategy, and lack of experience, but Michael Vick is not one of those reasons.