- Posted by Derek -
Inamidst all the theoretical yammering about ancient formations and extra blockers, Sam asked a very on point question yesterday (as is his wont):
Why do we think that Michael Vick running any offense inside the red zone is any better than Donovan McNabb running an offense inside the red zone? Is there any evidence from his Atlanta days that supports that idea?
I don't mean that to be snide, that is meant to be an open question.
Which, of course, meant I had little choice but to go digging through the data to make up for the fact that I'd missed such a head-slappingly in-my-wheelhouse blog post.
I don't have DVOA figures or anything like that, so maybe we can call this entry obsolete in a few weeks if the FO guys ever get around to cracking open their super secret spreadsheets. But for now, what we can look at are the traditional numbers. And since we're talking about guys with some lengthy track records, that's not too bad.
- The stats are broken down on a per game (starred) basis.
- Game (starred) includes postseason games played, because I realized this past offseason that the NFL's situational stats count those numbers. My assumption is that this has always been the case and I've just never noticed it before, but it's possible they changed this up at some point.
- In any event, "rate" stats like interception rate, sack rate, YPA, etc., are not dependent upon the number of games played.
- I chose three-year comparison periods because it was neat and easy to do so. Vick missed all but five games of the 2003 season, so 2004 - 2006 was a natural range to pick. Ditto with McNabb's last three years, since the 2005 season never happened.
- I also ran numbers for what we might consider "young" McNabb, in the three-year period from 2001 - 2003. This was a period of time when Donovan played more like Vick, so maybe it's an interesting comparison.
In the red zone, the first thing that jumps out at me is that all three "guys" have similar red zone completion percentages. This is surprising.
However, the second and third things that are noticeable are the huge disparities in interception and sack rates. (And keep in mind that the sack rate I'm using includes rushing attempts in the divisor.) Especially in comparison to Vick's "rest of field" numbers, this doesn't look like the performance of a guy who's good at making passing decisions in the red zone.
Of course, given what Vick himself has told us about his (lack of any) work ethic while with the Falcons, this shouldn't be all that surprising. You just can't get away with not studying that stuff.
As far as the RoF passing goes, you could make an argument that Vick and young McNabb aren't that dissimilar. Obviously they played in different styles of offense, but when they did throw the ball, young McNabb had much less of an edge than "fine wine" McNabb does. (Bonus point: You see how ridiculous it is that some people think McNabb's not the player he used to be, right?)
Vick's "decision" numbers are certainly much better outside the red zone, with lower interception and sack percentages,
When it comes to running the ball, Vick has a clear advantage all over the field, particularly in comparison to current McNabb. That red zone YPC figure is especially impressive when you compare it to Westbrook and a representative sample of the league's other top backs (scroll down a bit).
So what does this tell us? Well, first of all, it makes me wish I'd written this post before that one I did yesterday. Because we have evidence here that goes well beyond theoretical musings and gut feelings to suggest Vick should not be running a traditional offense in the red zone -- at least so long as Donovan McNabb is upright. The numbers strongly suggest that if he's in the game in the red zone, he should be running something out of the package formerly known as the Wildcat.
Outside of the red zone, you basically just want to let him be Mike Vick. At eight yards per carry, that's not a bad guy to trot onto the field a couple times a game.
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Bonus fun fact -- You'll notice above that McNabb's sack rate has gone down over the years. The shift was especially pronounced last year, when he changed his game to take fewer hits.
I actually thought this would be one of the reasons the Eagles were better in the red zone last year. It seems to me sacks are absolute drive killers down there, converting TDs to FGs at a steady clip.
It turns out, though, that McNabb has always been better about not taking sacks in the red zone than he was in the rest of the field.
Moral of the story: It's called coaching and there may be hope for Vick in the red zone, too. Next year. After we win a Super Bowl.