Early in the season, I asked the question "What's Wrong with Brent Celek?" After leading the Eagles in receptions last year, he became a forgotten man on offense in 2010. After some investigation, the matter was settled with some of the blame on Celek and some on passes shifting to running backs like LeSean McCoy.
However, as more games were played and the discrepancy became worse, it was clear that Celek wasn't the problem: it was Michael Vick.
What you have to understand first is where Celek runs most of his routes and catches most of his passes. Last year, when he caught 76 passes, over two thirds of them came in the middle of the field, between 0 and 19 yards downfield. Of those, 31 were passes under ten yards.
That worked great for Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. In 2009 and 2010, both quarterbacks passed into that short middle area more than 30 percent of the time, by far their busiest target on the field. And it was also one of their most effective. McNabb completed more than 68 percent of his passes into that area (with a 93.0 QB passer rating), while Kolb hit a cool 75 percent (with a 103.4 rating). That is the West Coast Offense, in action.
Vick sees the field differently. He favors the sidelines and the deep ball over short or intermediate middle passes. Under 23 percent of his passes go over the middle and less than 10 yards downfield. That accounts for some of Celek's drop in production — he has less opportunities to catch the ball.
But what is more interesting is that Vick is also significantly less effective throwing into that space.
While McNabb and Kolb are highly effective in that area, with great QB passer ratings and high completion percentages, Vick is at his worst underneath in traffic. He completes just 60.7 percent of his passes in that area, his worst percentage on passes under 20 yards. Furthermore, his QB rating (a stellar 103.6 in total) is his worst of any area of the field: a paltry 65.5. Half of his interceptions, prior to Week 15, came in the middle of the field between 0 and 10 yards.
Why is this a problem for Vick, the only quarterback of the three who completes more passes at the edges of the field than in the middle? His smaller height could be keeping him from seeing the field properly. Or maybe it's his propensity for passing outside the pocket. Or perhaps, while Vick's progression as a quarterback has been dramatic, it hasn't been as fast in the busier parts of the field, where accuracy is more important than arm strength.
Whatever the reason, it's something Vick and the offensive coaches will have to keep an eye on — before defensive coordinators catch on.