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.

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH -- To their credit, the Sharks regrouped after a miserable first period at Consol Energy Center in which it looked like they might get run out of the building.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Nick Bonino’s late third period goal pushed the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

On the game-winner, Brent Burns lost his stick and couldn’t prevent Kris Letang from finding Bonino in front of the net with Paul Martin defending the slot. Bonino flipped it through Martin Jones at 17:27 of the final frame.

The Sharks went to the power play with 2:09 to go, but couldn’t tie it up.

Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Penguins dominated the first period, only to have the Sharks completely turn the tables in the second, resulting in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.

The Penguins had the Sharks on their heels for virtually the entire opening frame, outshooting San Jose 15-4 and scoring a pair.

The first came at 12:46 of the first. On a rush, Justin Schultz’s shot from the high slot hit the glove of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and rookie Bryan Rust was there to smack in the loose puck.

Just one minute and two seconds later, the Penguins upped their cushion. Sidney Crosby tracked down a loose puck in the corner ahead of Justin Braun, calmly played the puck off his backhand and whipped a cross-ice pass to Conor Sheary. Another rookie, Sheary whizzed a wrist shot past Jones’ far shoulder.

It was evident early in the second, though, that San Jose had regrouped, as Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski both had good looks at the net. They broke through on an early power play courtesy of Tomas Hertl, who curled in a pass from down low off of Olli Maatta at 3:02.

Pittsburgh withstood a continual push from the Sharks for much of the period until Marleau’s late score. After Couture outworked Maatta deep in the offensive zone and pushed the puck to the point to Burns, Marleau secured Burns’ rebound and wrapped it around at 18:12.

Burns had two assists, and made a strong defensive play with about three minutes left in the first, backchecking hard and lifting up Carl Hagelin’s stick on a breakaway.

Special teams

The Sharks were 1-for-2 on the power play, on Hertl’s second man advantage goal of the playoffs. They are 18-for-65 in the postseason (27.6 percent).

Pittsburgh went 0-for-3, generating five shots on goal. The Pens are 15-for-67 overall (22.3 percent).

Marleau was whistled for an illegal check to the head of Rust in the third period, sending the 24-year-old to the dressing room for a brief stretch.

In goal

Jones and Murray were each making their first career starts in the Stanley Cup Final. Jones took the loss with 38 saves, while Murray stopped 24 San Jose shots.

Lineup

Sharks forward Matt Nieto remained out with an upper body injury.

Pavelski saw his seven-game point streak (5g, 5a) come to an end. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz increased his point streak to six games (3g, 4a).

Up next

The Sharks are 5-11 all-time when losing Game 1 of a playoff series, but 1-0 this year as they came back to defeat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Teams that win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship 78 percent of the time (59-18). The last team to win the Cup after losing Game 1 was the 2011 Bruins.

NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

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NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

NEW YORK -- On the mound in the seventh inning for the first time this season, Matt Harvey gave up his first walk of the game and his second hit, leading to a sacrifice bunt and a second-and-third jam.

"You kind of think about the worst at that point," he said. "You start getting some negative thoughts that creep in your head."

But 11 days after disappointed fans at Citi Field booed him like a villain, the Dark Knight was back - at least for one afternoon.

Harvey retired Todd Frazier on a foulout and J.B. Shuck on a grounder to escape trouble, Neil Walker homered off Jose Quintana on the second pitch of the bottom half and the New York Mets beat Chicago 1-0 Monday to send the reeling White Sox to their seventh straight loss.

"Today's a big first step," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got six straight outs to complete the two-hitter, preserving Harvey's first win since May 8. Harvey struck out six, walked two and threw four pitches of 98-98.5 mph after not topping 97.5 mph previously this season. He threw 61 of 87 pitches for strikes (see full recap).

Mallex Smith's 3-run triple powers Braves past Giants
ATLANTA -- Mike Foltynewicz is showing he can be more than just a fastball pitcher - and that he can be part of the Braves' long-term rotation.

Foltynewicz continued his recent upswing by allowing only three hits and one run in six-plus innings, Mallex Smith hit a three-run triple and Atlanta beat Jeff Samardzija and the San Francisco Giants 5-3 on Monday.

The Braves survived San Francisco's two-run, ninth-inning rally. They have won three of four and are 5-21 at home, still easily the worst in the majors.

Foltynewicz (2-2) gave up a leadoff homer to Brandon Belt in the second inning, but allowed only one other runner to advance to second.

Foltynewicz, 24, has had other recent strong starts, including eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 win at Kansas City on May 14. His start on Monday may have been his most impressive demonstration of altering the speeds of his fastball while mixing in a curveball and slider (see full recap).

Locke tosses three-hit shutout against Marlins
MIAMI -- Jeff Locke tossed a three-hitter and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 10-0 on Monday night.

Gregory Polanco's grand slam, Sean Rodriguez's two-run homer, and David Freese's four hits helped power the offense for the Pirates, who won the first of a four-game series in Miami. The first two games were originally scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico, but were moved due to concerns of the Zika virus.

Locke (4-3) struck out one and did not walk a batter while throwing 67 of 105 pitches for strikes. It was his first complete game in 101 career starts. Locke retired 19 straight at one point and needed just six pitches to get through the seventh inning.

The announced crowd of 10,856 was a season-low for the Marlins, who entered the day averaging just under 20,000 (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin on deciding Ryan Howard's playing time: 'I think about it all the time'

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Pete Mackanin on deciding Ryan Howard's playing time: 'I think about it all the time'

A day after he made comments in Chicago that alluded to the trimming of Ryan Howard’s playing time against right-handed pitchers, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sat at his desk, surrounded by reporters, and was pressed for 10 minutes on the issue of his declining, expensive and struggling first baseman and franchise icon.

Howard, of course, was penciled into the lineup in the cleanup spot against righty Tanner Roark for Monday’s 4-3 loss to the visiting Washington Nationals (see game recap).

A question of was barely out of a reporter’s mouth when Mackanin quickly interjected a “hell yes.”

It’s the hardest decision - what to do with the struggling Howard - he’s had to make in his brief time managing the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think about it all the time,” Mackanin said.

“That’s the hard part of this job. It’s not just running the game, it’s handling the players.”

For now, Mackanin said, he hasn’t felt the need to talk to Howard about it. Howard, who sat Sunday for the second time in eight days against a righty, said Sunday he was unaware his manager was intending on reducing his playing time against righties (see story).

Once a platoon situation at first base, it appears the Phillies are going to take a longer look at rookie Tommy Joseph against right-handed pitchers in the near future.

“If I was going to sit (Howard) on the bench and he wasn’t going to play anymore, I’d have that conversation,” Mackanin said. “I think what I said was pretty obvious.”

“I didn’t say I was going to bench Howard.”

He didn’t Monday. Howard had good numbers against Roark, something he didn’t have against Sunday’s starter for the Cubs, John Lackey. So it looks like Mackanin’s decision will be based on matchups.

In his second at-bat Monday, a second straight strikeout on the night and 12th in his last 22 at-bats, Howard was way late on a 93-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate.

But he looked much better in his final two at-bats of the night.

In the bottom of the sixth, he drove a Roark changeup to the warning track deep in right-center, but Ben Revere closed quickly and made the catch.

In his last at-bat, after Maikel Franco led off the ninth inning with a double, Howard jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Jonathan Papelbon and drove a double to the gap in left-centerfield, scoring Franco and putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs.

Those two swings were the ones Mackanin said Monday afternoon he “knew” were there. He later corrected himself and said it was more of a situation of “hope.”

Howard went 1 for 4 on the night. His May average is now .106.

“He needed to come through with a big hit and that was a huge hit, put the tying run at second base,” Mackanin said. “It was good to see.”

The Phillies are slated to face a righty in their next six games before facing Jon Lester and the Cubs at home next Monday. Joseph, who is hitting .278 with three home runs in his first 36 Major League at-bats, figures to get the start in the majority of those.

It’s a decision Mackanin says he’s going to make on a day-by-day basis.

He was asked if the front office, which is also in a tough spot and may have to do something soon, gave him any input on what to do.

“They don’t tell me who to play and when to play them,” Mackanin said. “I know that they want me to mix in Joseph against right-handers so that he doesn’t stagnate. That’s pretty much all I go by right now.”

A suggestion from upstairs isn’t unprecedented. It has already happened before during the young 2016 season.

“They asked me to - as bad as (Tyler) Goeddel looked early in the season - they asked me if I could try to mix him in a little more,” Mackanin said. “I said sure. I did, and he started hitting better. So now he’s playing more. Here we go, if you want to play more than you gotta hit.

“There’s nothing set in stone.”