1. If this really was an open competition, and I believe it was, Kelly’s decision makes perfect sense. On his first four drives of the preseason, Vick completed 12 of 13 passes for 190 yards. He rushed two times for 20 yards and did not take a sack. In other words, he earned it and really could not have played much better.
The questions from past years remain with Vick. He’s been picked off 24 times and fumbled 21 times in his last 23 games. He takes a lot of hits and has trouble staying healthy. Those issues do not suddenly go away just because he’s been named the starter. Kelly can certainly help with scheme, but ultimately, it’ll be on Vick to prove he can take care of the football and stay on the field.
Kelly said today that “this is a one-quarterback operation.” He doesn’t want Vick looking over his shoulder. But I’m not convinced that’s what he believes internally. If Vick starts the first four games, makes poor decisions and turns the ball over, the guess here is that Kelly will at least consider making a switch. He’s in the NFL because of what he’s accomplished offensively in the college ranks. He believes strongly in his system. He’s working with what’s shaping up to be a very good offensive line and a solid group of weapons.
If Kelly has a QB who is constantly making bad decisions, it’s going to frustrate him to no end and he’ll consider alternatives.
2. In terms of the actual qualities that put Vick ahead, three come to mind: his mobility, his arm and his standing in the locker room.
Let’s start with the first one. Does Kelly need a mobile quarterback? No. Would he prefer one? Absolutely. Yesterday, we showed several plays where the offense ran a zone read/bubble screen packaged play. On those plays, the offense is considered to have an advantage even if it’s got five offensive linemen against six defenders in the box. The reason? The threat of a QB taking off essentially “blocks” a defender. In the preseason, these plays worked even with Nick Foles and Matt Barkley running the show. But there’s no question that they are more effective with a mobile quarterback who can pick up big chunks of yards with his legs.
Then there’s the arm, or more specifically, the ability to get the ball downfield. While the Eagles will run a lot of quick-hitting screens, Vick has shown the ability to get the ball downfield in the preseason. Per Pro Football Focus, three of Vick’s 15 attempts have traveled 20 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. Foles has not attempted a downfield throw through two games. The Eagles will run the football a lot, but with Vick and DeSean Jackson on the field together, they’re going to take their shots deep.
And finally, leadership. Given how Vick played in the first two games, Kelly had no chance of convincing the other guys in the locker room that Foles had outplayed him and earned the starting job. It would have cast serious doubt over everything he’s preached about competition. The players still look up to Vick and believe in him, despite his struggles the past two seasons. He steps up amid controversy (the Riley Cooper situation). He leads the on-field huddle before games. And he’s the “big brother” in the locker room. Kelly doesn’t have to worry about whether the players will follow Vick. That’s a nice perk to have in his first year as a head coach.
3. What does this mean for the QB situation going forward? Not a whole lot. When the Eagles decided to bring Vick back on a one-year deal, it was a clear sign that they were hedging their bets. Kelly had not seen enough on Foles’ 2012 film to believe he was the answer. Foles actually fumbled at a higher rate than Vick last season, and in four preseason drives, he fumbled twice and threw an interception. Mistakes aside, he looked capable of moving the offense in a structured, methodical manner. As Kelly stated today, chance are Foles will have to take the field at some point this season. Now he knows how to structure the offense if that happens.
The truth, which we’ve been preaching in this space for awhile, is that the Eagles’ QB of the future very well could be playing on Saturdays this fall. We’ve covered Foles already. If Kelly thought there was a good chance he could be the QB of the future, he would have named him the starter and not brought Vick back.
Vick, meanwhile, is 33. If he plays lights-out this year, stays healthy, takes care of the football and looks like a perfect fit in Kelly’s offense, then you bring him back. Even if all that falls into place, you still strongly consider drafting a QB early because of Vick’s age. If all of that doesn’t happen, you definitely take one.
The Matt Barkley hype has been overblown. The chances of a fourth-round pick eventually becoming a top-end starter is unlikely. Next year’s draft is loaded with quarterbacks. While the season still has to play out, chances are the Eagles will target guys who fit Kelly’s prototype.
In the meantime, the rest of the offense gets a head-start on the new scheme with Vick running the show.