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.

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had dinner with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in Arizona around the start of spring training.

If Epstein had any doubt about a contract extension, it ended right there. And on Wednesday, it became official.

Chicago announced a five-year extension, rewarding Epstein for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.

"He started it off by saying some really nice things about me that might have hurt his leverage a little bit, and then I returned the favor by telling him that even if we couldn't work out a contract it would get awkward because I would just keep showing up to work," Epstein said. "As an employee, I will. I kept ruining my leverage."

The deal comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.

Chicago reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and was a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. The Cubs clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.

"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."

Terms were not disclosed.

It looks like Epstein isn't the only Cubs executive with a new deal. He said contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod will probably be announced in the next day or two.

Epstein, who was in the final season of a five-year deal when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was a formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.

"There was never any real drama throughout the summer," said Ricketts, adding the agreement was finalized a few days ago.

What took so long?

"We sat down at spring training, had a nice dinner, talked about getting an extension done," Ricketts said. "Basically, I told him I thought he was the best in the game at what he did. He told me no matter what I paid him he wasn't going to leave Chicago, so we were off to a good start. We checked back in on it a couple times during the summer. There was no real time pressure."

The new deal is a reward for a striking transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with Hoyer and McLeod -- his friends from Boston -- following the 2011 season.

The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix, but they have seen the benefits the past two years. Chicago is eyeing even bigger things after breaking out with 97 wins and reaching the NL Championship Series last season.

"When you have great leadership at the top, it usually filters through the rest of the group," manager Joe Maddon said. "A successful organization has that. We have that. I was very happy to hear the news. I'm very happy for Theo and his family and of course, us. It is great. It's a feel-good story. He deserves it. He's earned it. I'm very happy for him."

High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts, as did a number of trade acquisitions, including last season's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell.

The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.

Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.

There were missteps along the way, but the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.

Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.

Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager.

In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.

The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, including new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic and the spring training home in Arizona. They are also overhauling Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood.

"There really wasn't anything important to me besides finding common ground, making sure that we could stay and see this thing through," Epstein said. "Our mission has not been accomplished yet."

Roman Quinn likely done for season; Aaron Nola is throwing in Fla.

Roman Quinn likely done for season; Aaron Nola is throwing in Fla.

ATLANTA – Roman Quinn spent Wednesday getting treatment on his freshly strained left oblique. The rookie outfielder will try to gauge his condition by doing some jogging and light throwing on Thursday, but all signs point to his being shut down for the remaining days of the season and continuing his bid to make the opening day 2017 roster in spring training.

“He’ll let me know tomorrow and be honest with me if he still feels it,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. "There’s no sense in him getting hurt with only four or five games left in the season.”

Quinn injured himself taking a swing in the fifth inning Tuesday. He blew out the same oblique at Double A Reading this summer and missed six weeks.

“I think he’s more scared than anything that it’s going to recur and he’s going to make it worse,” Mackanin said.

That should be enough to shut down Quinn right there.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Quinn said.

Quinn was 15 for 57 (.263) with four doubles, six RBIs, eight walks and five stolen bases in 15 games before going down. He struck out 19 times but had a .373 on-base percentage on a team that struggles to get on base.

Mackanin sees Quinn as a player who could make the jump to full-time duty in the Phillies’ outfield as soon as April, but first Quinn must clear the injury hurdle that has cost him so much time since he was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft. Quinn has missed time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a torn quad muscle, a broken wrist and oblique issues.

“He mentioned to me that because he’s so lean and doesn’t have a lot of body fat that might be part of the issue,” said Mackanin, referring to Quinn’s oblique issues. “They have so much health food available for the players that this could be a good way to make a change, so we can have a pizza and a burger once in a while.”

Mackanin got serious.

“With him, his big question mark is staying on the field,” the manager said. “That’s always going to be in the back of everybody’s mind because he doesn’t seem to stay on the field as much as you’d like him to. Resilience and reliability are important. So that’s going to be a big test for him next year. It’s obvious what he brings to the table as far as making things happen. He’s a catalyst for a lot of things, the least of which is coverage in the outfield, so it’s a matter of whether he can stay on the field or not.”

In other health matters ...
Reliever Edubray Ramos has a sore elbow and is day to day, and day to day at this time of the year might mean he’s done for the season. Mackanin said the elbow issue is not serious and could be a result of Ramos' pitching longer than he ever has in a season.

Also, Aaron Nola has begun to test his ailing elbow by throwing on flat ground in Florida. He will progress to a mound and eventually face hitters in the coming weeks as the club gauges whether he is fully recovered from his elbow strain or will require surgery that could cost him the 2017 season.