Back in October, I wrote about an outrageous concept floated by Michael Barkann: keep Michael Vick as starting quarterback, then bring in Nick Foles as your redzone closer once you get inside the 20. Vick seemed so much more effective moving the team through midfield, but was terrible at scoring TDs. (The Eagles were 30th in the league in red zone efficiency at that point.)
Soon enough Vick got injured and Nick showed that he was effective all over the field, both in the red zone and everywhere else. (What do you call the rest of the field? The green zone?)
Except in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles are trying to close out a lead by running. At that point, Foles’ excellent decision making and passing accuracy are useless, because Chip won’t pass; he doesn’t want to risk stopping the clock with an incompletion.
So naturally, opponents sell out to stop the run, loading the box with 8 or 11 or 59 defenders, and the Eagles go 3 and out, over and over. Jimmy Kempski undoubtedly favors this strategy because he’s a punt fetishist, and it’s a great way to get Donnie Jones more snaps. But the rest of us would like to see a change.
In his press conference Monday, Chip admitted that he didn’t want to pass, and that the offense stalled when it got one-dimensional and opponents knew they only had to stop Shady.
So here’s a new outrageous idea: when you go to the clock-killing fourth quarter run-only offense, add a second dimension back in by bringing in Mike Vick as your quarterback. Then and only then. He would be a specialist, a closer like Mariano Rivera. Foles would be QB in every other situation.
Anders Jensen proposed this Sunday, though he says he'd prefer to see Foles stay in and pass more on these drives, and Chip Wagoneer wrote an article advocating it. There are many advantages. Vick’s foot speed is obviously going to get more yards on zone read keepers, and the Eagles only need 3 or 4 more yards to get those first downs and extend these drives. The threat of Vick running will also force defenders to play off of Shady and Bryce Brown, making their gains easier.
Right now, Foles is taking a lot of big hits and risking serious injury on these late drives. When the defense knows that the only two options are Shady or Nick, someone's going to spy him and slam him on keepers. Let your backup take those hits (or better yet, evade them -- but Foles is not fast enough to get out of bounds with the ball). Last year at Oregon, Chip brought in backup QB Bryan Bennett on a goal line option play against Arizona State. (Interestingly, Chip moved Mariota out to WR on that play, just as he put Foles at WR when Brad Smith came in Sunday; Bennett ended up tossing to Mariota for the TD after two defenders grabbed him.)
At this point, after an up and down QB competition, Foles’ feelings aren’t going to be hurt by this special situation usage, any more than Riley Cooper is upset when Chip brings in more tight ends in the red zone. It just fits the situation. Heck, Chip was willing to bring Brad Smith in and move Foles to WR. It can’t be any more upsetting that that substitution.
The biggest (valid) criticisms of Michael Vick are that his (lack of) height makes it hard for him to see open receivers, that his decision making is not as solid as Foles’, and that he has a lot of turnovers. But when you’ve already declared the pass off-limits, these problems evaporate. The only risk is an increase in fumbles, and this should be manageable. Many of Vicks’ fumbles came on scrambles; here he has only one decision, hand off or run, and he can tuck the ball tightly when he runs.
I don't know if this scheme would work or not, but it's certainly one very reasonable way to make these late game drives work better. Other options include going to a more conventional offense on these drives, as Tommy Lawlor suggested, perhaps with James Casey as fullback to lead power running plays, and big fines on Shady and Bryce Brown if they try to bounce outside. If you insist on running, you should at least try some triple reverses to eat time off the clock before you fail.
Or simply throw in an occasional pass to keep defenses honest, in which case you can just stick with Foles. Chip let Foles snap the ball with 10-12 seconds left on the play clock several times against Arizona, to get the advantage of surprise and hopefully a first down. I'm fine with that. Why not risk 28 seconds to force the defense to play back a bit? The 10-12 seconds on an early snap is always lost, but if you complete your pass you've lost nothing.
You could even get crazy and bring Michael Vick in as a halfback for a run up the seam -- with an option to pass downfield. It would be almost like one of those new fangled packaged plays that messes up so many defenses.
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