Sunday, December 24, 2006

Words Fail Me

So how about some numbers for the Falcons' franchise player:

9 completions in 20 attempts, 109 passing yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Even if you add in his rushing yards and subtract his sack yardage, Vick accounted for 5.25 yards per play today against a team that objectively quit last week at home against Pittsburgh.

(Incidentally, I wanted to have a nice, pithy cap figure for Vick, but his deal is too damned convoluted for words. I think his cap number this year is $5.1M, but that understates his expense because he has received $37M in bonus money in the past two seasons and he has a ten-year contract, so if the Falcons ever try to get rid of him, they'll be hit with a massive cap hit as all that bonus money that's supposed to be spread out ovre ten years comes due at once.)

Today was a perfect illustration of all the limitations of Mike Vick's game, such as it is at this stage in his career. He was indecisive when dropping back to pass, leading to a number of instances when he had time to throw, but couldn't pull the trigger. The most obvious instance was on the team's penultimate drive, when he rolled right, found nothing, broke away from a rusher and came back left, only to run around left end for five yards. You can't tell me that none of the Falcons' receivers were able to break open when Vick came back to his left and the play was already about five seconds old. We've made excuses for Vick for the past several years because he's saddled with a mediocre receiving corps, but what about the reverse proposition? Isn't being a receiver for Mike Vick like playing pick-up basketball with a lead guard who never passes? At a certain stage, you just stop moving without the ball, right?

Then, on the final possession, the Falcons had a manageable third and four with 90 seconds to go and Vick simply threw wildly on a basic sideline route, overshooting an open Michael Jenkins. Vick then followed that up by having a pass batted by a defensive lineman several yards away from him on the final meaningful offensive snap of the season for Atlanta. Thus, Vick illustrated the inaccuracy that blends so nicely with his slow decisionmaking process. Yeah, I'm sure that the offensive suckitude is all the fault of Greg Knapp.

But hell, since this is one of the last times I'll get to mock Knapp, let's spend a moment on the Falcons' calls on short yardage plays. On at least two occasions today, the Falcons had 3rd and one plays on which they lined up in the I formation and predictably ploughed the ball into the middle, despite the fact that their undersized offensive line absolutely sucks at the basic running plays that are necessary in short yardage when a stretch play isn't going to work. Riddle me this: if the Falcons couldn't stop the Panthers from converting a number of third downs when they lined DeAngelo Williams, a running back with no discerable ability to throw a ball from point A to point B, at quarterback, then why can't the Falcons convert a third down when they are blessed with a quarterback who is at least as good a runner as Williams and can ostensibly complete passes? How uncreative can an offense be when it has Mike Vick and Warrick Dunn, yet it cannot convert in short yardage situations?

Of course, I'm not the only one knocking Knapp. Here's the Falcons' quarterback, showing his ability to take responsibility for a bad performance:

You just can't come out there and just try to wing it. I'm not saying that we did that, but either we've got to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run.


Think about the stupidity of that statement for a second. For an offense to succeed, it needs to either throw or run, but it apparently can't do both. You sure about that, professor? And then, not content to simply blame his offensive coordinator, Vick then went on to blame the defense for allowing one long drive in the first quarter:

We kind of had a rhythm going, and to be over there for that length of time wasn't good for our offense.


Yes, it must be the defense's fault that the offense was held to three points. That damned defense that allowed 194 yards all game, including a whopping 11 yards passing. That's the reason we lost! Obviously. Well, that and your attempt to complete a pass to Laurie on third down with 90 seconds to go.


Gratuitous cheesecake shot so something positive comes out of this post.

And while I'm piling on Vick, how about the stat flashed yesterday that he hasn't thrown a fourth quarter touchdown pass in 18 games. I thought this guy was supposed to be clutch? What happened to the Vick who played the game of his life in the Sugar Bowl against Florida State? Now, when the Falcons fall behind, they're as dead as doornails. If that isn't a reflection on the quarterback, I don't know what is. The fact that Vince Young, as a rookie, already seems to be ahead of Vick is going to be an awfully touchy comparison for Michael this offseason.

Here's the worst part of yesterday: after their first drive, the Panthers basically gave up trying to score. Their offense looked like the Jeff Bowden offense with a little more commitment to the ground game; it was nothing more than runs and fly patterns. (See what you missed, Mr. Weinke?) The only innovative aspect was the direct snap formation to DeAngelo Williams and that would have been snuffed out by a good defense. So, with the Panthers doing the NFL equivalent of ten behind the ball after scoring an early goal, the Falcons could not manage any offense. How much do you suck when you lose when the opponent stops trying to score after taking a 7-3 lead at the outset of the second quarter?

And finally, a word about the Falcons' special teams, which were truly wretched yesterday. Despite the fact that Carolina could not cross the midfield stripe in the second half, the Falcons never had very good field position because the punt return unit was dreadful. There was one roughing the punter call on Demorrio Williams (seriously, does anyone in the NFL ever block a punt?) and then a series of weak returns that allowed Carolina to punt themselves out of trouble time and again. The one time the Falcons did manage a good return, it was called back because of an obvious clip on Michael Jenkins, who put his Ohio State education to good use by whacking a Carolina defender in the back. My memory of the play is a little fuzzy, but I think the clip had nothing to do with Allen Rossum breaking the return, so well done, Mr. Jenkins. It was fitting that the Falcons' season would end as the result of a screw-up by a wide receiver.

5 comments:

Burl Ives said...

That was about as low as I can remember for a Falcons fan.

Forget the Vick that led FSU, how about the Vick that was the #3 4th quarter QB in the league his first several years (that's per Steve Young commentary)? Why are we not asking how he can go from 3,000 yards and a feeling of hope EVERY time we had the ball (under Dan Reeves) to whatever it is that is on the field now?

Something is wrong, he has regressed beyond all all comprehension the last 2 years. But let's be realistic, we can't get rid of him and not face a 3-4 year re-building battle.

I can't imagine that Blank has any plans on keeping Mora next year IF he knows there is someone lined up and ready to go.

At the very least you have to clean house from an assistant coach perspective.

Please sever all ties with Alex Gibbs.

Michael said...

I wonder if Vick isn't in great shape right now. He was visibly fatigued at the end of the Cleveland game and that might explain why his mechanics get worse in the fourth quarter. He's essentially a tired jumpshooter.

I'd argue that it was Alex Gibbs going into semi-retirement that has destroyed this offensive line. His first season, the running game was close to unstoppable. Now, he works part-time and the running game has regressed.

LD said...

From the bottom: Jenkins "clip" on Kevin McCadam (former Falcon) looked a whole lot closer to an Argentinian forward drawing a foul in the box than anything Jenkins did. McCadam was engaged in a block with Jenkins running down the field, but then spun and dove. There was no "whacking". It was a dive, but "looked bad", which was about par for the course for the officiating crew on Sunday. Similarly, the Demorrio Williams personal foul roughing penalty that cost the Falcons 3 minutes and all momentum was an absolutely atrocious call. 1) Williams was blocked inside, in front of the kicker; 2) the kicker landed on Williams and fell. Williams didn't actively hit the punter, but the punter landed on him, and he was only there because he was blocked by a Panther into that position. Now there should've been two acceptable calls in this situation. A) no flag, the player was blocked into the kicker; or B) running into the kicker, 5 yards (not 15). It still would've been a first down for Carolina, but the ball would've been on their own 25, not 35 (and that drive eventually led to the punt return/penalty where the Falcons eventually started their drive on their own 11 yard line - basically, that penalty could've cost the Falcons 30+ yards).

Of course, that's not to say that the game would've been any different had there been competent officials - there were a few holding calls and PI calls that went enforced or unenforced that were beneficial to the Falcons.

Also, I just don't see what the point is in piling on Vick. Vick is what he is, and it's pretty clear by now what he is. He's not very accurate, very quick, and (with the poor O-line) he's not quick enough on his reads to go through west coast offense progressions. It's plainly evident that this has been the case for three seasons now. Vick works best when he has one read, and it's an easy read to make. For example, rollout pass to Crumpler, if it's not open, run. Simple. Two choices. On several of the mistakes that you cite as Vick's problem (not Knapp's), I'd argue the opposite. I counted at least 6 occasions on short yardage second or third down situations where Vick took the snap and proceeded backwards on a 5 step drop or more (or a 3 step drop or more out of the shotgun). Gregg Easterbrook's been all over this all year - it is idiotic to have Vick moving backwards on short yardage situations. Vick should be moving side to side with one read to make, and if it's not open, he can look for seams. The handoffs to Dunn on short yardage situations actually I didn't find as much at fault with, because they at least left the opportunity for a short 4th down if Mora were so inclined. It's a hell of a lot better a call than 3rd and 4 at the 50 at the very beginning of the 4th quarter. Vick traipses back 8 yeards, does three progressions, is indecisive (but I'd argue he shouldn't have to be decisive anyway), and takes an 11 yard sack. 4th and 15 on their own 39, punt. A run play up the gut would've (should've) allowed for a 4th down play with reasonable yardage. Going backwards effectively sealed off that chance. [Another aside: I had a feeling during those indecisive plays that Vick got sacked on that he had openings to run - clear seams. I really wonder how healthy his groin was. there were a few obvious broken plays that he simply didn't turn upfield like he normally would have, and when he did run he didn't look quite as quick as normal. Now, that's not an excuse - if he's not healthy, play the backup who actually might fit in the system (until the swiss cheese O-line gives up several brutal sacks).

I get what you're writing about Vick. But he is what he is, and the Falcons are clearly in salary cap hell with him. But good coaches use what tools they have and adapt the system to it. Knapp has been trying for three years to get Vick to have 4 options and read through them. Vick hasn't shown any indication that he can do that well. He has shown an indication that he can be much more successful with 2 options. If you think the west coast offense is the best thing to run, don't pay Vick an average of 20% of the cap space for the team over the next 3 years. But if Vick is worth that kind of money, use a system that works best for him.

I agree that Vick's comments are blame shifting, but are the comments about the defense all that incorrect? 41:47 worth of possession with the ball against 18:13 for the Falcons. Carolina didn't rack up wards (especially passing), but they ran 52 rushing plays. That's 13 more rushing plays than the Falcons ran rushing and passing. There's no doubt that the defense is partially to blame for not being able to get off the field. The wildcat formation third down plays were completely unacceptable. And from my POV, I saw two guys to blame: Ed Hartwell and Keith Brooking. I mean, even you say this in your post. So why is Vick wrong for saying the same thing?

All in all, I think Vick deserves some blame. It's silly to absolve him of all blame when it is clear that he cannot be successful in this offense because of his own accuracy and mental limitations. Those are his fault. But it's also silly (crazy) to keep trying the same thing that doesn't work with him, as the coaching staff has done. There's nothing that can be done with Vick, because he's owed too much money. You have to adapt a system to work for him the best. The coaching staff hasn't done that.

And on the defensive side of the ball, the front office has simply donated too much money to 5 players - one maybe one and a half of which is actually worth it. Hartwell is a clear coattails player without a superstar next to him. Brooking is mediocre and has slowed. Abraham is a jenga tower. Kerney was good and could be worth it but his injury this year hurt bad. Coleman is worth the money, but also injury prone. The large percentage of the salary cap owed to these players means, in the zero sum game that is the NFL, that the depth is making league minimums. And by the end of the year, you see lots of UFAs and late round youngsters on the field - Mallard, Shropshire, Carrington, Davis, Reese, Boley (who I think is OK), or the practice team call up of the week at nickelback.

The D is too top heavy and a house of cards if the best players are lost to injury, the O has the wrong strategy. They're not that good.

But I will say one thing that's positive: I thought Jimmy Williams played OK. The Panthers rarely passed, but he made some pretty good tackles on rushes (that should never have gotten to the secondary) and since he was up against Keyshawn most of the day, he didn't get totally embarrassed. At the least he showed Sunday that there's some potential and ability.

Michael said...

LD,

I didn't get the same sense you did on the Jenkins clip. He blocked McAdam in the back and it wasn't close. McAdam may have accentuated the contact, but it was certainly a foul. I agree on the Demorrio Williams roughing the punter call, but why are you going so hard after the punter in the first place when no one blocks a punt in the NFL.

I felt like going after Vick because, as you mentioned, he takes up 20% of the salary cap. He's the team's star and when the team scores three points in a must-win game, he gets the lionshare of the blame. At the end of the year, Knapp is going to be the fallguy (along with Mora, in all likelihood), but there's only so much that can be done when your quarterback is inaccurate and a slow decision-maker. As I've said before, that's like a surgeon who has a shaky hand and doesn't know anatomy very well. There are certainly offenses that would better suit Vick, but you're still dealing with serious limitations when your quarterback cannot process multiple options in one play. The other issue is the fact that Vick would be best suited for a Texas/WVU spread option offense (or at least a homogenized NFL version), but he's not nearly durable enough to run it. In short, Knapp and Mora are not utilizing Vick properly, but the other options aren't that much better.

I totally agree that the defense is poorly constructed. Too much money has been sunk into name players who aren't worth what they're paid. Hartwell and Brooking are the most obvious examples. Deangelo Hall might be a third, as he has regressed in a big way this year.

As for blaming the defense for yesterday, Carolina's TOP was half a function of the Falcons' offense's inability to stay on the field. The defense didn't do well initially and they never pinned Carolina back (except for when the roughing penalty gave Carolina a first down), but they only allowed 194 yards and 10 points. A semi-competent offense would have won the game easily instead of scoring three points.

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