FanPost

The Kafka Conundrum

It's no secret that the Eagles success in 2012 will largely be based on the performance of QB Michael Vick.

"The Eagles will only go as far as Vick takes them,", many have said. This shouldn't come as a surprise. You absolutely need a great QB to have a chance at winning a SuperBowl. Most recently, look at the Giants. They didn't only win the SB because they had a superior pass rush, but because they also had a QB who put up points on the board and limited turning the ball over.

It's also no secret that the Eagles turned the ball over WAY too much ( a -14 turnover margin in 2011, tied for the second worst in the NFL) and Vick was a big part of that (14 interceptions, 7 fumbles in only 13 games).Clearly, Vick needs to work on not turning the ball over.

But beyond turnovers, there's another concern with Michael Vick. Yep, you guess it - injury concerns. This is the part where I tell you that Vick has only once played all 16 regular season games in his 9 year career. This is also the part where I tell you that while the last statement is true, he only misses a couple games on average per season when he is injured.

...which brings us to (East-West Shrine Game Legend) Mike Kafka, the current backup QB on the Philadelphia Eagles. This is the former Northwestern QB's 3rd NFL season, but the question surrounding Kafka is: is he ready to fill in for Vick if/when Vick gets hurt?

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Note: This post turned out to be pretty long, so I broke it down into different sections, as you can see by the title headers. I also included a "TL;DR" (too long; didn’t read) version at the bottom of this post.

Sections:

  • What We've Seen From Kafka So Far
  • Is Kafka Ready To Start?
  • What Are The Experts Saying?
  • Other Options at Backup QB?
  • What's Kafka's Future With The Eagles?

WHAT WE'VE SEEN FROM KAFKA SO FAR:

We'll start with some footage in the limited action he saw last year. I'm not going to include preseason film because I don't think it's all that relevant, since some of the guys he's facing in preseason are guys that aren't really relevant in the league. I think it's fair to say Kafka has looked decent in his preseason performances though, for what it's worth. His stats for all preseason performances are as follows:

2010: 4 games played, 25/59 (42.4%), 274 yards, 4.6 avg, 1 TD, 3 INT, 4 sacks, 5 rushing att, 33 yards, 6.6 avg, 0 fumbles

2011: 4 games played*, 34/49 (69.4%), 368 yards, 7.5 avg, 2 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack, 12 rushing att, 38 yards, avg 3.2, 0 fumbles

(*He didn't play much in the 3rd preseason game against Cleveland. Didn't record a single pass attempt; only 2 rushing attempts for -2 yards.)

You can see a slight increase in performance from his rookie season in 2010 compared to last season. I expect those numbers to increase this once again this year.

The first regular season game action Mike Kafka saw is when Michael Vick got hurt in the second game of the 2011 season - the long awaited "Michael Vick returns as the starter to Atlanta" Sunday night matchup versus the Falcons. After Michael Vick's head became all too friendly with Todd Herremans' left shoulder, Vick left the game with an injury and it was Kafka time. Here's what that looked like:

(Note: I did not include tape of handoffs or tosses because I think everyone can agree that Kafka has the ability to hand the ball off to a running back.)

Here's a summary of the plays:

Play 1 - 2nd and goal at ATL 5 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, throws a short screen throw to LeSean McCoy. It's hard to see if the pass was bad from this angle, but I don't think it was. It seems like Shady tried switching the ball in his hands and that caused him to lose control of it. The was a RTP penalty on Abraham on this play (kind of a weak call), so the play was negated.

Play 2 - 2nd and 10 at PHI 39 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, drops, looks down field briefly, makes a short pass over the middle to Shady. 2 yard gain.

Play 3 - 3rd and 8 at PHI 41 - (Shotgun) Kafka hikes, quickly fakes handoff to Shady, throws right to Maclin (bubble screen-esque). 7 yard gain.

Play 4 - 1st and 10 at PHI 9 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, quick, short throw over the middle of the field to Maclin. 9 yard gain. Good read.

Play 5 - 2nd and 1 at PHI 18 - Kafka hikes, fakes hand off to Schmitt and Shady, turns and fires a deep pass to Maclin along the left sideline. Hits Maclin in stride. Fits the ball in a relatively tight space. The ball was in the air for at ~ 40 yards. 43 yard gain. Really good throw. Good job by Maclin to shake the corner and get open too.

Play 6 - 2nd and 8 at ATL 37 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, quickly throws short swing pass left to Shady. 7 yard gain.

Play 7 - 1st and 10 at ATL 28 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, fails to see an open receiver, quickly decides to take off and scramble for a 2 yard gain. Saw/felt pressure coming from the DE who beat Herremans. Doesn't seem like anyone was open, so I'm not concerned that he was running because he was just scared to take the hit. Decided to make the most out of the play.

Play 8 - 2nd and 8 at ATL 26 - Kafka hikes, quickly fires a short pass left to Maclin. Yet again, bubble screen-esque. 5 yard gain.

Play 9 - 3rd and 3 at ATL 21 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hires, throws a short pass right to Maclin. Atlanta is aware of the Eagles conservative screen plays at this point and is ready for this one. 1 yard loss.

Play 10 - 4th and 4 at ATL 22 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes hits Maclin wide open for what would have been a first down, but Maclin drops the catch. Kafka executed perfectly and the ball was thrown right on the money. Maclin just dropped it.

Play 11 - 1st and 10 at ATL 45 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, scrambles to his right, launches a deep hail mary pass that travels 50+ yards in the air. Ball gets knocked down (incomplete) and the game is over. Despite the throw being off target a bit, I thought he showed some decent arm strength on the throw.

Final statline for the game: 7/9 (77.8%), 72 yards, avg 8; 1 rushing att, 2 yards (74 yards of total offense), 0 sacks, 0 fumbles

Notes: 8 out of the 11 plays were run from the shotgun formation. About 4 or 5 plays were screens. 6 designed running plays (not shown in the video) were called while Kafka was in.

Conclusion: Kafka stepped in under pressure and performed well overall. He didn't make too many challenging throws, but he came in and ran the offense that he was asked to run. He's not a play maker that's going to take over a game. He moved the chains and didn't turn the ball over. He never looked overwhelmed. He looked like a guy that been in that situation before, despite that he actually hadn't since this was his first game action. One of the popular (and somewhat true) knock on Kafka is that he doesn't have much arm strength. I think people make this statement in relation to Vick's arm strength, which is totally unfair, because not many guys can throw like Vick does. The 40+ yard pass right on the money to Maclin was very encouraging in regards to arm strength and deep accuracy. The 50+ yard hail mary pass was meaningless, but it showed Kafka has more strength than he's given credit for. Kudos to Mike. I honestly believe a number of Eagles fans would be more confident in Kafka had Maclin caught that pass on 4th down and the Eagles went on to win the game... but that's just a theory.

It should be noted that Andy Reid took the blame (surprise!) after the loss by saying his play calls with Kafka were "way, way too conservative". I agree with him. It's nice to mix in some easy throws for the 2nd year player in his first game action, but other than the deep Maclin throw, they didn't challenge the Falcons defense as much as the could have. Hard to blame Kafka for not making big plays when the play calls were conservative as they were. Once again, he stepped in and made all the throws he was asked to make. Can't ask for much more.

Mike Kafka sprang into action again the next week (Week 3) against the Giants. As you can see, the results weren't very pretty:

Play 1 - 1st and 10 at PHI 20 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, pump fakes, throws deep right to DeSean. Gets hit by the DT as he throws. Ball is intercepted. DeSean ran a double move, but the corner never fell for it and stayed with DeSean all the way. Good interception, really bad decision by Kafka. Forced the pass when it wasn't there.

Play 2 - 1st and 10 at PHI 20 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, fires a quick short pass to Brent Celek. 6 yard gain.

Play 3 - 2nd and 4 at PHI 26 - (No huddle, Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, throws quick short pass over the middle to Shady. 5 yard gain.

Play 4 - 1st and 10 at PHI 31 - (No huddle, Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, Jason Kelce can't hold off the DLineman off long enough, and Kafka gets sacked (ruled down by forward progress had stopped). 6 yard loss.

Play 5 - 2nd and 16 at PHI 25 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, throws short over the middle to Avant. 5 yard gain.

Play 6 - 3rd and 11 at PHI 30 - (No huddle, Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, quickly throws to intended receiver Steve Smith (aka stev smit). The corner blankets smit and easily breaks up the intended pass.

Play 7 - 4th and 11 at PHI 30 - (Shotgun) - Kafka hikes, drops, delivers a nice pass over the middle to an open stev smit. Easily the best throw of the day for Kafka. 19 yard gain.

Play 8 - 1st and 10 at PHI 49 - Kafka hikes, drops, fakes to the RB, steps up and fires a pass deep down the field intended for DeSean Jackson. Intercepted. Giants safeties were playing deep and there was no room to make the pass. Just like the first interception, it was a bad throw because he tried to force it in there when there was no room.

Final statline for the game: 4/7 (57.1%), 35 yards, avg 5, 0 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack (6 yard loss), 0 rushing att

Notes: Shotgun on all 7 plays except the last one. No huddle on 3 of the plays because the Eagles didn't have a timeout and needed to work quickly.

Conclusion: Kafka came into the game and really stunk it up. I think this happened for a combination of two reasons: 1) he was trying to do too much (be a hero) and 2) the play calling got TOO aggressive. Remember when I stated that Reid said that he was too conservative with the play calling in Atlanta when Kafka was in? Well, the play calling did a complete 180 turn here. The Eagles were only down 6 points (1 possession) and had over 8 minutes on the board when Kafka first came in. They didn't need to go for the home run right away. They should have stuck to some more simple throws, at least at first, to ease Kafka in and move the chains. Maybe mix some runs with Shady (or even DJacc / Mac) to help.

Don't get me wrong - Kafka deserves blame too. Those interceptions he threw were really bad throws. Can't force throws into coverage like that.

We never saw Kafka take another meaningful snap (he played briefly in the Jets game where he had 2 QB kneels) in the 2011 season because backup QB Vince Young got healthy and filled in whenever Vick couldn't play. Kafka's final statline was: 11/16 (68.8%), 107 yards, avg 6.7, 0 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack, (6 yard loss)

IS KAFKA READY TO START??

What can we draw out of these tapes? Honestly, not much. There's not big enough of a sample size to make an accurate read on how good Kafka really is. I definitely saw some nice throws that I liked (deep throw to Maclin vs ATL, deep throw to stev smith vs NYG). Have to keep in mind that the defense may have been playing off in both of these cases since they were trying to prevent the big play, however. Hopefully these are some signs of potential. I'm not sure if Kafka is ready to start for the Eagles, but we know the Eagles have trust in him or else they would have signed a real veteran QB to compete with Kafka. (No, Trent Edwards does not count. He's terrible.) We can only hope Kafka has taken advantage of the off-season and worked on improving his game.

It's important to consider that Kafka was thrown into these games without having a game plan drawn up specifically for him. I think Kafka's performance would benefit knowing he'd be the starter going into a game and having the coaches create a game plan specifically fit for him. The Eagles always have one of the league's best offenses. Part of that is due to the talent they have, but Reid/ OC Marty Mornhinweg deserve credit too. They're more than capable of designing the right game plan for Kafka.

But don't just take my word on it...

WHAT ARE THE EXPERTS SAYING?

I’ve been hard on third-year QB Mike Kafka over his first two seasons. If you’ve heard me speak about him or read what I’ve written, you probably know this already. And my criticism mainly stems from a lack of consistent arm strength. It never was about athleticism or work ethic. Kafka’s problems have stemmed from inconsistencies with footwork, mechanics and power. And believe it or not, all three issues are tied together. The quarterback position is rhythmic—meaning everything is tied together. If you have watched him closely during his first two seasons, he had a real problem getting his body into throws. Over the time I watched him throw during this offseason, it’s clear that his arm strength has noticeably improved. I noticed on several occasions that the right-handed passer had no problem throwing the ball 50 yards down field with plenty of room to spare—this was never the case at any point over the previous two seasons. It’s also clear that getting a chance to work out at the practice facility, unlike last year in the offseason due to the lockout, has clearly benefitted Kafka. And you can see how the coaches have adjusted his footwork and his release is tighter. Previously, Kafka threw with a widened stance and was all arm with little power. Arm throwers are easy to spot—they don’t get enough power from their lower body. That clearly is changing. Let’s put it this way: I didn’t think he had a prayer to succeed when watching him over his first two seasons. Now, he’s on his way to solidifying the No. 2 job—something that was not even remotely possible if you watched him last year. However, let’s see how he does when the speed of the game ramps up during training camp and the preseason. That’s the true barometer to measure where he’s at in his progression as a signal caller.

- Adam Caplan

Clearly, Caplan wasn't Kafka's biggest fan in the past. But it seems like he's coming around on him a bit. He also notes how the coaches are trying to adjust Kafka's mechanics a bit. Also nice to see he's saying Kafka is throwing with more power.

- Sheil Kapadia - What We Know About Kafka

Sheil and I come to the same conclusion that many have - we haven't seen enough of Kafka yet to make an accurate judgement on him.

- Nick Fierro - Pederson: Kafka ready for action

Kafka has the leadership tools as well. Remember, it was he, not Vick, who was the driving force behind the player-organized workouts in Marlton, N.J., during last year's labor stoppage, and his command of the offense is as good or better than any quarterback going into his third season as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has ever seen.

Now, if Vick were to go down for all or most of the season, it might be a different story. But for a couple of games or stretches during games when Vick might be dinged, don't expect the offense to malfunction that much just because a less talented quarterback like Kafka will run the show.

The Eagles have a good enough system and, more importantly, more than good enough talent at the other positions to remain effective.

There's a good point brought up here. I've seen a number of fans who are comfortable with Kafka starting a couple games should Vick get injured in the short term (1-4 games or so). Some of those same fans are worried if Vick goes down long term. Here's the thing: if Vick is injured long term, it really doesn't matter who the backup QB is. Teams just don't win SBs with backup QBs. You typically need elite QBing to win a SB, and backups are typically not elite players. Kafka doesn't need to be good enough to win 8+ games, even though it would be nice. He just needs to come in and give the Eagles a chance to win a couple games should Vick go down. He has a nice surrounding cast of offensive weapons and an improved defense (hopefully) to work with, so it's not crazy to think the Eagles could win some games if Kafka has to step up in the short term.

- Dan Graziano - Is Mike Kafka ready if Vick goes down?

That's the key thing to remember here. Those who fear the Eagles just ignored the backup quarterback spot this offseason might be focusing on the wrong thing. The Eagles believe in Mornhinweg, and in their system, and in the idea that a quarterback whose talents they like should be ready, by his third year in that system, to run the offense. Kafka fits that description, and as the Eagles surveyed other options for backup quarterback this offseason, they clearly didn't find anyone they thought would be better able to handle the task than Kafka would.

He can't throw like Vick, but almost no one can. He can't run like Vick, but absolutely no other quarterback can. If Kafka is playing and Vick isn't, the Eagles likely will call different plays. But given the talent he'd have around him, as long as he doesn't pull a Vince Young and start throwing interceptions all over the place, it's possible to believe a game or two with Kafka at the helm wouldn't be a complete disaster.

I pointed this out earlier, but once again, a common complaint about Kafka is that he doesn't have an arm like Vick and can't make the throws that Vick makes. Well, like Graziano states, not many QBs can. And Kafka doesn't need to. The Eagles will draw up a game plan for Kafka that plays to his strengths: more shorter and intermediate throws with some deep passes mixed in.

- Jeff McLane - Emptying the Notebook, Part II

According to a couple coaches I’ve spoken to, Mike Kafka has increased his velocity only marginally. They think it’s enough for the third-year quarterback to make all the necessary throws, though, should he have to step in for Michael Vick. How did Kafka do it? Andy Reid offered a theory: "He’s kind of tailored the ball down just a little bit – it’s just a matter of inches. He used to carry it real high." Many college quarterbacks are taught to hold the ball higher than most pro quarterbacks, probably to help avoid unnecessary fumbles, but it lessens their velocity ever so slightly. Since almost every quarterback takes the football down to his love handle before he cocks and throws, the extra time to get there takes just a little off the throw. Kafka is never going to have a cannon for an arm, but with some tinkering his arm strength could suffice.

Confirms what Caplan said above about Kafka working on his mechanics.

The "experts" reflect the opinion of most fans on Kafka: they believe there's reason for hope, but it's hard to be sure because there's little to base that optimism on.

OTHER OPTIONS AT BACKUP QB?

Some people aren't OK with going into the 2012 season with Kafka as the backup. These are some names that are often tossed around as desired backup QB choices. I'll explain why none of them are good options.

Trent Edwards - Reports out of OTAs / training camp are that this guy is looking really bad. Apparently he's throwing with new mechanics the Eagles are forcing him to throw with. Either way, I don't want this guy on the 53 man roster. He's the 4th QB right now. He wasn't on a roster for all of the 2011 season for a reason - he's just not good.

Colt McCoy - Some people think he's an accomplished QB, which just isn't true. If that's the case, why would Cleveland be so eager to draft Brandon Weeden and then get rid of McCoy? It also bears mentioning that a trade for McCoy would likely cost the Eagles a draft pick. I'd rather keep Kafka and the draft pick. Plus, Colt would have to take time to learn the offense.

Donovan McNabb - Oh boy. Donny obviously had a great career here (come at me, Joe_D!), but the keyword is "HAD". He's not good anymore, and it would be too big of a distraction to bring him back here. Just say no.

Nick Foles - There's been some articles hyping up the Eagles 3rd round draft pick this year as a legitimate competitor for the backup QB job. Bullshit. Maybe Foles is better than we expected, but I doubt he's as comfortable in the system as Kafka is. If you're not comfortable with Kafka, who's been in the system and has some experience (although limited), how the hell are going to be confident with a rookie like Foles?

The only way I want the Eagles to sign a veteran free agent QB is if: Vick gets hurt long term and Kafka needs a backup OR Kafka gets hurt and Vick needs a backup. Otherwise you need to sink or swim with Kafka. The QB FA's are slim pickings anyway:

Donovan McNabb
A.J. Feeley
Billy Volek
Jake Delhomme
Patrick Ramsey
Jim Sorgi
Kyle Boller
Dennis Dixon
Troy Smith
J.P. Losman
Mark Brunell
Jeff Garcia
Kevin O'Connell
Rhett Bomar

WHAT'S KAFKA'S FUTURE WITH THE EAGLES?

I'm glad you asked this because it's a great question. Kafka is currently signed through 2013. My read on Kafka is that he'll never be more than a decent backup / solid spot starter / solid low end starter (for a crappy team). If Kafka ever does become a franchise QB, I highly doubt it will be here. Vick is signed here until 2015, so he's probably not going anywhere. I believe the Eagles drafted Nick Foles with the intent of him being the QB of the future. If that's the case, there's really no place for the roster for Kafka in the future. Maybe things change though. Maybe Kafka steps up in Vick's absence and proves he's a really great QB. And maybe I'm really Dave Spadaro. But seriously, maybe Kafka shows a little something and the Eagles try to swing him for a draft pick. I have to say, though, it would be weird if it weren't anything more than a 4th. Why draft Kafka in the 4th only to have him be a quasi-backup and then trade him for a 4th or lower in the future?

The future for Kafka is unclear, but I don't think he's in the Eagles long term plans. Here's hoping he can prove to be a solid backup QB in the meantime.

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via si0.twimg.com

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TL;DR Version

- Kafka has shown some flashes of potential, but there isn't a large enough sample size to accurately tell how good he is.

- All the Eagles need Kafka to do is help give them a chance to win a few games if Vick gets injured short term. If Vick is injured long term, the Eagles are screwed anyway.

- "Experts" are generally optimistic about Kafka, which is somewhat encouraging.

- Kafka has been working on his mechanics.

- All the other backup QB options out there aren't good. Kafka is the best option at backup QB for the Eagles.

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Follow me on Twitter for more Eagles news/opinion/reaction/analysis/excessive backslashing - @PhillyFollower

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