Eagles Training Camp Preview Part 2: Can Vick Overcome Turnovers to Win the Super Bowl?

Eagles Training Camp Preview Part 2: Can Vick Overcome Turnovers to Win the Super Bowl?

With rookies and selected veterans set to report to Lehigh University in 12 days, we are gearing up for the 2012 football season by examining the three most difficult questions facing the Eagles. Yesterday we asked whether Michael Vick can stay healthy. Next up, can he cut down on turnovers?

When last season ended, there was quite a lively debate as to what cost the Eagles most in 2011: defense or turnovers. Juan Castillo's unit took a lot of the heat, even though some compelling research indicated offense and special teams coughing up the ball so often put his D at a distinct disadvantage -- not to mention still fared better than league average under the circumstances.

We're not here to rehash old stories, but there is no doubt turnovers are highly predictive of success in the NFL. Teams that won the turnover battle during the regular season came away with the W 78.5% of the time, and it's no coincidence 10 out of 12 post-season entrants ranked in the top half of 32 in ball security. It was awfully telling when the Birds finished the year with only three fewer turnovers than the Patriots, Packers, and 49ers combined, all of whom wound up with 13 or more wins.

Of course, this was a huge departure from 2010, when Michael Vick amazingly went a sizable portion of the season without turning the ball over at all. En route to a career year, Vick spread six interceptions and three fumbles lost over 12 games. It was a rebirth the likes of which is rarely seen in an often unforgiving sport, especially for an athlete trying to make a living under center.

Yet somehow, one year later the Eagles committed the second-most turnovers overall, and just as quickly Vick has fallen out of favor, his performance once again the subject of fierce scrutiny. It all happened so fast, you have to wonder what was the cause. Which Vick was for real?

For starters, Vick is taking far too much of the blame for 38 turnovers in 2011, of which less than half actually belong to him. That's correct. Vick was responsible for 14 interceptions and four fumbles lost last season, and while those aren't exactly stellar totals for 13 games, they are at least reasonable.

Of the additional 20, nine were fumbles on offense or special teams that can't be traced to Vick at all -- the rest of the gang needs to tighten up as well. The remaining 11 were interceptions tossed by either Mike Kafka or Vince Young, the latter managing to hurl nine. Part of the issue was eliminated when Young was allowed to leave during free agency, though it speaks again to the broader problem of Vick's recent injuries pressing backups into such a key role. Still, Vick was not directly responsible.

Even a few of the 18 turnovers credited to Vick weren't his fault in the slightest. Two of his picks were catchable balls that hit their intended receivers in the hands, only to be batted into the air for waiting defenders. You can't flag the quarterback on those. Also, one of his fumbles was the result of a hand-off that was disrupted by a defender in the backfield -- Vick's back was turned to an unblocked, 300-lbs. lineman who made the hit before the exchange was complete. Nothing he could do.

And while you want to be careful not to absolve the quarterback of too much, there were at least extenuating circumstances in multiple other instances. Whether heavy pressure forced an errant pass, an official blew the call on the field, or simply a tremendous effort for the defense's part to get their hands on the ball, there were times when the bounces just happened to tilt the other way.

Which, all things being equal, is not so dissimilar to 2010, only in the opposite sense. Although Vick committed an exceptionally low number of turnovers, there were numerous opportunities the other side failed to convert.

The real Vick probably lies somewhere in between '10 and '11. Due to his freestyling, he's never going to protect the ball quite the way a prototypical pocket passer is expected. However, the idea that he is reckless isn't entirely accurate, either.

Vick ranks 18th in career interception percentage among active quarterbacks, throwing a pick 2.8% of the time he attempts a pass, which puts him ahead of two-time Super Bowl-winning QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are only a tenth of a percentage point better than Vick, so it's fair to say he's not exactly a gun slinger -- in fact, quite the opposite. Because he can create plays with his feet, Vick has the tendency not to force the ball as much, opting to make things happen for himself.

The downside is because he scrambles and holds on to the ball too long, Vick is routinely among the league leaders in fumbles. He finished first overall at putting the ball on the carpet for Atlanta in '04, and again in '10 with the Eagles.

Fortunately, the number of loose balls that actually wind up in the hands of a defensive player has not been very high. Vick didn't finish in the top 10 in lost fumbles in either of the past two seasons, and while randomness is certainly a factor here, Vick or his teammates actually have recovered 42 of the 76 fumbles during his career. He can cut down on some of those by becoming a more decisive passer, but the fact is fumbles are part of the equation with any mobile quarterback, and clearly not necessarily a killer.

While history might be on his side, there is no getting away from the fact that regardless of exactly how many were his fault, Vick can improve his ball security, and arguably needs to if he's to take the next step. If you need an example of how that can happen, look no further than inside the NFC East.

While Vick was having a resurgent season in 2010, Eli Manning was having one of his worst. Eli threw 31 picks and lost five fumbles, the Giants led the league in turnovers, and they finished out of the postseason altogether. Last year, he cleaned up his act some, reducing his own turnovers by 15, and the team regressed to the middle of the pack. New York sneaks into the playoffs, and you know the rest.

Lesson learned. No matter who is under center, turnovers can fluctuate from one season to the next. Vick doesn't need to completely reinvent himself, he needs to focus on taking better care of the ball. The evidence suggests he already knows how.

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson came off the bench and homered twice, Jose Reyes had four hits and the surging New York Mets beat the Miami Marlins 7-4 on Tuesday night.

Asdrubal Cabrera extended his recent tear at the plate, hitting a two-run homer in his return to the lineup after missing one start due to a sore left knee. Rookie right-hander Seth Lugo (2-2) gave up two runs in the first inning but recovered nicely as the Mets won for the eighth time in 10 games.

By winning the first two games of the four-game series, New York (68-64) moved ahead of slumping Miami for second place in the NL East. Both teams began the day 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card (see full recap).

Cardinals edge Brewers in 10 innings
MILWAUKEE -- Zach Duke stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout in the 10th inning after Randal Grichuk hit an RBI single in the top half of the inning, lifting the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Seung Hwan Oh (4-2) pitched out of a jam in the ninth to get the win. Duke got his first save with the Cardinals by striking out pinch-hitter Manny Pina after Matt Bowman walked three batters.

The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta led off the 10th with a single off Corey Knebel (0-2) and moved to third on Yadier Molina's ground-rule double. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who pinch ran for Peralta, scored the winning run on Grichuk's flare to right.

St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Milwaukee's Wily Peralta dueled for seven innings, leaving a 1-1 game for the bullpens (see full recap).

Wieters lifts Orioles over Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- Matt Wieters hit a go-ahead, two-run homer off Jason Grilli in the eighth inning to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

The Orioles pulled within three games of the first-place Blue Jays, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. After losing the opener 5-1, the Orioles will look to gain more ground in the series finale Wednesday.

Michael Saunders drilled a two-run shot off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez that tied the game 3-3 in the seventh.

In the eighth, Jonathan Schoop walked and Wieters homered off Grilli (4-2), his 12th of the season.

Brad Brach (8-2) picked up the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Zach Britton got his league-leading 39th save (see full recap).

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game with the worst on-base percentage in the majors – a paltry .297 – and they were facing one of the top pitchers in the game.
 
The results were, uh, predictable.
 
The Phillies were dominated by Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay). The final score was deceiving. The only thing that kept the game close was a solid start from Jerad Eickhoff and good work from Phillies relievers Michael Mariot, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.
 
Scherzer (15-7, 2.89) held the Phillies to three hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out 11, marking the 12th time he has reached double digits in K's this season.
 
Since signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season, Scherzer has faced the Phillies eight times. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games. (And you thought Bartolo Colon owned the Phillies.)
 
Scherzer opened this game with five no-hit innings. It was the ninth time he’d carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 61 starts with the club.

Scherzer has twice taken no-hitters into the sixth inning against the Phillies. Freddy Galvis broke up a Scherzer no-hitter with a double in the sixth inning June 26, 2015. He did it again Tuesday night with another sixth-inning double.
 
“He’s a thorn in my side,” Scherzer joked after the game.
 
Galvis didn’t stay on the bases long. He made a boneheaded base running play after the double and Scherzer wheeled and picked him off.
 
The Phillies’ three-hit effort left manager Peter Mackanin a little frustrated. The Phils had just four hits in losing to the Nats, 4-0, on Monday night. They are hitting just .239 as a team. Only the San Diego Padres (.237) are worse in the majors.
 
“Gotta hit,” Mackanin said quietly. “Once again, I mentioned it before, we need to improve our plate discipline. We’re just not getting hits. We had chances to win the game. But Scherzer was tough. You have to give him credit. He’s got what, 60 less hits than innings pitched? He’s a tough cookie.”
 
Scherzer has given up just 128 hits in 190 innings.
 
The Phillies made a run at Scherzer in the seventh inning. Odubel Herrera reached base on an infield hit and Ryan Howard followed with a line drive two-run homer into the left-field seats. He hit a 94 mph fastball on an 0-1 count.
 
Howard had struck out in both of his previous at-bats against Scherzer and was 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against the Washington fireballer before the homer.
 
Given Howard’s career struggles against Scherzer, it was actually a little surprising to see him in the lineup. But Mackanin reasoned that no one on the team had good numbers against Scherzer and Howard was just as likely to run into a big hit as anyone.
 
He was right.
 
Mackanin also said he’s going to start cutting into Howard’s playing time and get Tommy Joseph more looks as the season winds down. Howard, however, could force his way into the lineup with more big hits.
 
Howard was asked about his approach against Scherzer.
 
“Put the ball in play,” he said. “Simple.”
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Howard was asked what makes Scherzer so tough against the Phillies.
 
“That’s Scherzer, man,” Howard said. “I mean, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason. He’s got basically four-plus pitches that he can throw anytime in any count, throw them for strikes, and he does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up really, really well. He’s kind of got a pit bull’s mentality on the mound just going out there wanting to shove it to the other team. He had it going tonight.”
 
Scherzer also drove home the Nats’ third run of the night with a safety squeeze. It proved to be a huge run after Howard’s homer.
 
Eickhoff was solid. He gave up a couple of softly hit balls for hits in the first inning and that helped the Nats score two runs out of the gate.
 
The Phillies just didn't have enough hitting to ever get the lead.

Some of that is just who they are – one of the poorest hitting teams in the majors.

Some of it was the guy they were facing.

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

TORONTO — At training camp last year, Ivan Provorov roomed with Shayne Gostisbehere. This year, he’s hoping to follow the young blueliner’s footsteps and earn a roster spot on the Flyers' blue line. 

After playing two games with the Flyers during the 2014-15 season, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers last November and appeared in 64 games, scoring 17 goals and tallying 29 assists. The 23-year-old’s 46 points led all Flyers defensemen and the Florida native finished second to only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s Rookie of the Year. 

“He had an unbelievable season [and] he helped the Flyers a lot,” Provorov said this week at the annual NHLPA rookie showcase in Toronto. “I saw him at development camp and main camp — thought he was a great player. He got his chance when he got called up, and he used it well and played his game.”

Provorov, the Flyers’ first selection (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, has only one option this year: make the Flyers' roster out of camp. Otherwise, because of his age, he’ll have to return to junior and the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. 

This past season, Provorov scored 21 goals and 73 points in 62 regular-season games with Brandon. He added three goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason games, helping the Wheat Kings win the WHL title and reach the Memorial Cup. However, Brandon struggled at the four-team tournament, losing all three games.

For his solid second season in the WHL, Provorov was named the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

“[Memorial Cup] didn’t really turn out the way that we were hoping to, but still a great experience,” Provorov said. “It was a different atmosphere and different tournament, where you have to win one game to get into the playoffs. It’s not like a seven-game series.”

With a second WHL season under his belt, Provorov feels he’s better prepared than he was a year ago to make the leap to the NHL game. 

“I should be a little bit more comfortable, I know what to expect,” he said. “I had a great summer and I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago: stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. Just looking forward to getting to Philly and starting camp.”

The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract for the upcoming season, but Provorov’s combination of size and skill could push a veteran such as Andrew MacDonald, who already spent most of last season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, out of a job. 

Despite his abilities, Provorov knows bumping a veteran for a roster spot won’t be an easy task.

“Of course when you move on from a level to another level the speed increases, the players are stronger [and] bigger,” he said. “I think, for me I'll just try to play my game and compete as hard as I can.”

Provorov grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and has tried to model his game after the Hall of Famer. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Provorov has spent his two seasons in Brandon developing into a two-way blueliner, who can put up numbers on the offensive side, but at the same time be counted on in a shutdown role. 

The 19-year-old credits his decision to come to North America at such a young age for helping him adjust to the differences in lifestyle. By the time he was 16, Provorov was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in Iowa prior to being selected by the Wheat Kings in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.

“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn't that hard of a transition,” Provorov said. “Probably the most weird [adjustment] was probably food 'cause, I mean, food is really different from back home, but now I'm used to both.”

If he does wind up back in the WHL, Provorov has the annual World Junior Hockey Championship to look forward to. At last year’s tournament, Provorov, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, registered eight assists in seven games, winning a second consecutive silver medal at the under-20 tournament.

“World Juniors is a great tournament, good experience,” he said. “It's always great to represent your country and, this time, if I get a chance to play, hopefully we'll win gold.”