5 statistics that should (but won’t) end Eagles quarterback debate

5 statistics that should (but won’t) end Eagles quarterback debate

The trendy stat of the day for Michael Vick supporters, Nick Foles detractors, and fence-sitters everywhere: opponents’ record. The opponents in games Vick has started and “finished” (technically he was pulled from the Denver game, but the result was not in question) are 15-7. The record of the two teams Foles has beaten is 0-11.

To which I beg, “STOP!!!” Please, stop it. Never mind the Tampa Bay Bucs had a top 10 defense entering Week 6. That’s not really the point, is it?

I doubt anybody believes these two wins suddenly anoint Nick Foles a franchise quarterback, that they serve as any indication he’ll lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl someday. On the contrary, it doesn’t prove anything about his future at all. We’re talking about right now, who looks like the best quarterback on the roster?

The answer is less about Foles than it is about Vick. Doesn’t the offense just run more smoothly without Vick in the game? Not literally running the football obviously—Vick has 307 yards on the ground himself after all—but are they not more efficient overall? Because the numbers indicate that is indeed the case.

One person in the media explained to me that Vick adds another dimension to the offense, and I actually agree—if that dimension is negative plays and missed opportunities. There’s fewer of each when Foles is under center.

I’m quite certain that wasn’t what that person meant. Regardless, it’s the truth. For just about any measure of efficiency we have, Foles is going to chart as far superior, or at least close. And as a reminder, we’re talking about a second-year pro with seven career starts versus an 11-year veteran with 107 starts. One of these two players actually has a chance to improve.

Basic measures of passer efficiency

These numbers came up yesterday, so I won’t spend too much time harping on them, but they bear repeating.

Foles is completing 67.2 percent of his passes this season, Vick 53.8. To put that in simple terms everybody can quantify, if both quarterbacks drop back 30 times, Vick is completing 16 to Foles’ 20. That’s not an insignificant number. Those four incomplete passes might be the difference between keeping four separate drives alive.

This is not something that has ever or will ever be Vick’s strong suit. The four-time Pro Bowler has completed 59.4 percent since coming to Philly. Earlier this season, he admitted he would like to be at 60. As it stands now, Vick is ranked 32nd out of 35 quarterbacks in completion percentage, but even at 60.0 he would only be 18th. That’s not ideal.

Rounding out the efficiency side of things is passer rating, which is the formula that measures the efficiency of passes attempted taking into account completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. Vick is 13th with a 90.6—not bad by any means—but Foles’ 127.9 would rank second behind only Peyton Manning if he had the snaps to qualify.

Scoring/red zone efficiency

We all understand there are ways to massage statistics to build a case for one player over another. Completion percentage and passer rating admittedly don’t take into account Vick’s production as a ball carrier.

Fine, but what could be purer than the number of points an offense puts on the scoreboard under a particular signal-caller?

With three touchdown passes and one on the ground, Foles’ four touchdowns against Tampa Bay were more than the Eagles posted over the previous three games combined under Vick. (If the argument here is quality of opponents, I guess the implication is Vick is not expected to lead scoring drives against good teams?) If you look at the bodies of work over the entire 2013 season, Philadelphia reached the end zone 11 times in roughly 17 quarters with Vick under center compared to seven times in seven quarters with Foles.

Where the difference becomes even more readily apparent though is inside the red zone. CSN’s Reuben Frank wrote an excellent piece on this very subject last week that detailed how Foles has been more productive once the field shrinks—albeit in a limited sample size.

Over the past two years, Vick is 26 for 65 in the red zone for 195 yards with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 74.7 passer rating.

Foles during the same span is 15 for 36 for 91 yards with six TDs, no interceptions and an 88.9 passer rating.

If I may update Roob’s findings, Foles is now 18 for 40 117 yards with eight TDs, no interceptions and a 91.7 passer rating. In 2013, the Eagles are 5 for 14 (35.7%) in the red zone under Vick, 4 for 7 (57.1%) under Foles.

And much like Vick’s low completion percentage, there is history here. In his 28 starts going back to 2011, Vick has committed 12 turnovers in the red zone. How many games does that figure alone cost the Eagles? In what world is that ever acceptable?

Sack %

People typically mean two things when they say Vick adds another dimension. The first one obviously is the threat of No. 7 running with the football.

Well just as completion percentage and passer rating don’t measure rushing yards, neither one measures sacks either, an area where Vick has routinely ranked among the league leaders. The 11-year veteran’s career sack percentage—8.65 percent of all dropbacks—leads all current NFL starters, and only David Carr’s for the Giants is worse among active players.

And if you think all sacks are entirely the fault of the offensive line, consider Vick is the league leader at time holding the ball in the pocket—3.4 seconds on average—according to the metrics site Pro Football Focus. Still, don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Football Outsiders Almanac writes in its introductory chapter every year.

As for pass protection, some quarterbacks have better instincts for the rush than others, and are thus better at getting out of trouble by moving around in the pocket or throwing the ball away. Others will hesitate, hold onto the ball too long, and lose yardage over and over.

Note that “moving around in the pocket” does not necessarily mean “scrambling.” In fact, a scrambling quarterback will often take more sacks than a pocket quarterback, because while he’s running around trying to make something happen, a defensive lineman will catch up with him.

So this season, take Vick’s 87 yards lost on 14 sacks, and subtract those from his rushing yards, because chances are he was at least partially at fault. That leaves him with 220 yards on the ground, which is very good, but then you must also consider how many drives those 14 sacks killed because it set the offense back into an unmanageable down and distance.

Foles has been sacked just twice so far this season. He’s getting the ball out of his hand nearly a full second faster (2.63 s). The lack of negative plays from the quarterback is a big reason why a higher percentage of possessions have resulted in touchdowns under Foles than Vick, because they don’t wind up having to convert as many impossible third downs.

Yards Per Play

The other dimension Vick adds that Foles allegedly doesn’t is big plays down the field. There’s no denying Vick has an incredible arm, and Foles’ deep ball has not exactly impressed. There is more than one way to pick up huge chunks of yards though.

In fact, there isn’t really any truth to the idea the aerial attack has been more explosive under Vick. The incumbent is averaging 9.0 yards per pass attempt this season, Foles 8.9. In 2012, Vick’s averaged 6.7 to Foles’ 6.4.

Foles may not be able to throw a ball 70 yards like Vick, but there is no evidence the offense is hampered in any way by that. Look at what happened when he made a simple, accurate, well-timed throw to Riley Cooper five yards away from the line of scrimmage in Tampa Bay—Cooper spun away from the defensive back and raced for 40-plus yards. There's something to be said for that.

Maybe over time this number would favor Vick as Foles builds more of a portfolio, but for right now there really isn’t a significant difference here.

Age, Contract

Okay, age and contract aren’t necessarily statistics in the conventional sense, but they’re certainly relevant to this discussion. Vick is 33-years-old and playing on a one-year contract. Foles is 24 and has two years remaining. Which player has a better chance of contributing in Philadelphia next season? Two years from now? Five years from now?

What this debate ultimately boils down to is there is a young quarterback on the roster playing well and improving seemingly every week versus a flawed 11-year veteran whose ceiling is known. If Vick had clearly outplayed Foles either this year or last or even this summer during training camp and preseason, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion, but Foles has been step-for-step with Vick at every turn.

Why not give the kid a chance and find out what they’ve got?

It doesn’t matter if Foles fails, because if history is any indication, Vick will too. Vick almost certainly is not the franchise’s quarterback of the future, let alone next year, but with Foles there is a chance they have something more. We just don’t know.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.