Does the Eagles Offense Need Michael Vick?
Late in the second quarter of Sunday’s game between the Eagles and the Giants, Michael Vick was doing what he does best. He was running the football. On a play where the Giants got pressure up the middle, Vick was forced to scramble to his left outside of the pocket. He ran past multiple defenders on his way to a first down deep in Giants territory, with his momentum taking him out of bounds. Then came an all too familiar site for Eagles fans and Fantasy Football owners: Vick limping gingerly back to the huddle, holding his hamstring.
Philadelphia's passer was able to finish the drive, but sat the rest of the game. Second year quarterback Nick Foles replaced Vick and led the Eagles to a comeback win while executing Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Foles will now start for at least one more week as Vick heals his hamstring, and possibly longer. So what impact does Foles starting have on the Eagles offense and their plethora of weapons? Let’s dig in.
The Eagles With Vick
The Eagles offense has been firing on all cylinders since Chip Kelly took over, implementing a high-tempo, run-heavy offense. Philadelphia ranks second in the NFL in total offense at 454.8 yards per game and leads the league in rushing at 186.6 rushing yards per game, almost 30 yards more than the second-place Seahawks. These video game like-numbers are more than likely a result of the pace that Kelly is playing at. The Eagles are tied for the sixth fastest pace in the NFL at over 74 plays per game, using them to run down opponent’s throats. At a pass/rush ratio of 1.04, Philadelphia are the most balanced offense in football. While multiple teams may have pass/rush below 1.00, the Eagles have still racked up the third-most rush attempts in the league.
Nobody has benefited from this attack more than Mike Vick, both in the real world and fantasy. Despite missing half of last week’s game, one in which he was on pace for a monster point total, Vick is still the fifth-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in standard leagues. Everyone knows the Eagles’ quarterback piles up fantasy points on the ground, averaging over six rushes and 61 rushing yards per game and putting up between 34-99 rushing yards a game. Vick, however, has excelled in the passing game as well.
Vick has succeeded in the pass game due to the running game, as opposing teams load up the box to stop the read option, thus opening up the play action pass. This has allowed the Eagles to throw deep and intermediate routes with little resistance from the defense. Because of this, Vick trails only Peyton Manning in yards per attempt at 8.98. This correlates directly to his passing net expected points (NEP) value, a stat representing how many real life points a player adds to his team’s total in relation to someone in a comparable situation. Vick ranks 15th in the NFL with a passing NEP of 12.02, which is higher than established quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Ben Roethlisberger.
Now that all sounds fine and dandy, but there are many indicators that suggest that Vick might not be the best fit for the job. The lasting narrative with Vick is that he is always looking for the big play and holds on to the ball too long, traits that negatively impacts his play. This story is coming to fruition again this year. While Vick does make plenty of big plays, he is only completing 53.8 percent of his passes, placing him in the bottom quarter in the NFL. In a high-tempo offense, this translates to many three-and-outs. At a 43.06 percent pass success percentage, Vick has had a negative impact on his teams expected points total more frequently than not, but the big plays have skewed his NEP positively.
So that brings up the question, is Nick Foles better for the offense than Vick?
Is Foles any good?
After replacing Vick, Foles led the Eagles on multiple scoring drives, including two touchdown passes, en route to a comeback win against the Giants. Foles has passed the eye test so far this year, executing Kelly’s offense in an efficient manner. The young passer makes his living in the pocket, where he has the tendency to hold on to the ball for too long but generally makes the right play. He also has a bit of mobility that Kelly utilized last week while continuing to use read-option based package plays in the absence of Vick.
From the numbers side, Foles had quite a big sample size to be judged off of last year, starting almost half the team’s games while attempting 285 passes. To speak frankly, Foles was terrible. The then rookie had a passing NEP of -13.38, with a pass success percentage of only 40.70. Vick wasn’t too spectacular himself last year, with a passing NEP of -1.87 and a pass success percentage of 44.06 in comparison. However, this year’s offense is very different from Andy Reid’s pass-heavy approach, so it might not be fair to base this year’s quarterback on last year’s numbers.
Take this year’s metrics with a grain of salt, as they come from a very small sample size of only 31 attempts, but Foles has played exceptionally well. Both of Foles’ passing NEP and pass success percentages rank second in the NFL, only trailing the newly crowned king of football Peyton Manning. Basic passing statistics tell the same story, as Foles ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in both yards per attempt and passer rating. So what does this mean? Well, perhaps a more conservative quarterback like Foles can make this high-tempo, run-heavy offense more efficient.
Foles' Fantasy Impact
As long as Foles is playing over an injured Mike Vick, the offense should remain equally as potent as with Vick under center. LeSean McCoy is the number two running back in standard scoring, and if anything, a more conservative signal-caller will lead to more rushes for the league’s most elusive back. It could also mean a boost in PPR value, as young quarterbacks tend to check it down to their backs and tight ends more frequently than established veterans like Vick. This was evident on Sunday as McCoy brought in a season-high six catches.
DeSean Jackson, fantasy’s fourth-best receiver, should also continue to prosper. DJax has been one of the best wide receivers in the league to date, with a reception NEP per target of .89, besting receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, and Victor Cruz. The California product continued his dominance on Sunday with seven catches for 132 yards and a long touchdown. Jackson might experience a drop off in big-play potential with Foles at the helm, but the spike in targets and receptions should keep his WR1 value constant.
Even though his weapons will continue to flourish under Kelly, Foles may not be a reliable fantasy quarterback. In a run-heavy attack, Vick was able to sustain elite fantasy value with big plays and the ability to acquire a touchdowns worth of points each game on the ground, two traits Foles doesn’t necessarily have.
From a real-life perspective, Foles’ stats in a small sample size don’t convince me that he is better than Vick for this offense. Vick, one of the most dynamic players in NFL history, puts this offense in the best position to win now. That’s why I believe when Vick is healthy he should be under center. For fantasy owners, I’d only be concerned if I was a Vick owner, as McCoy and Jackson will continue to thrive. For teams relaying on Vick, there are plenty of streaming options at quarterback for this week and the future, as I highlighted here.