Vick vs. Foles: Focus on the Red Zone and the Running Game

Posted on October 14, 2013

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When I started this blog, I practically swore to myself I’d avoid quarterback controversy posts simply because those types of stories already get enough coverage from others. But Michael Vick’s hamstring injury and Nick Foles’ quality outings in relief have stirred many fans to at least entertain the notion of using Foles more. I want to look at whether they truly differ in red zone efficiency and in affecting the run game.

In the Red Zone

One of the more interesting ideas has been to use Vick primarily, but to use Foles in the red zone. First, let’s remember that the red zone is arbitrary. Yes, it’s possible that Foles is the more effective quarterback the closer the team is to the goal line. And as the team moves down the field, there truly may be a point where Foles becomes preferable to Vick. But finding that actual point, if it even exists, is pretty much impossible. Of course, the traditional red zone boundary is likely pretty close to that point, or close enough to justifying using it as the point, but per Football Outsiders (FOA 2009, The Red Menace):

We’ve already done research showing that there’s very little correlation from year to year in the difference between overall efficiency and red-zone efficiency. Is the same true in season? Trends from the last five seasons suggest it is.

That means the idea of “red-zone efficiency” is essentially a myth. What matters is simply how good an offense or defense is overall.

As commenter James put it in an ANS post comment, “A team’s offense outside of the red zone is a more reliable predictor of future red zone performance than past red zone performance.” **Note: I’m not sure I’ve seen the analysis that explicitly justifies that statement, but ANS commenters are typically pretty reliable, and that conclusion seems implied by what Football Outsiders has said.

The other point with Vick is that he’s been a turnover machine in the red zone:

Numbers, indeed, never lie. But Eliot Shorr-Parks has already shown us how fluky many of these were. Furthermore, old interception rates have minimal predictive power for future interception rates. Again per Football Outsiders: “Interceptions are notoriously hard to forecast from year to year, because there’s so much random chance and statistical noise involved.” Interestingly, they go on to point out that a “new metric, adjusted interceptions, had a higher year-to-year correlation than standard interception totals and was a better predictor of future interceptions.” Adjusted interceptions also count dropped interceptions, and Nick Foles’ adjusted interception rate last year (4.2%) was actually higher than (basically the same as) Vick’s (4.0%) last year. In fact, Foles was one of only two quarterbacks to have more dropped interceptions than actual interceptions. You can argue he was just a rookie and that this metric doesn’t isolate red zone situations, but I specifically remember when Foles threw dropped interceptions on consecutive red zone pass attempts on the opening drive of last year’s Carolina game.

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Blurry pics, but the ball is basically in the defender’s hands in each of these

The point is that I feel there’s no real basis to even say Foles is definitely better in the red zone, even if many fans seem to be treating it as a granted point in the Foles vs. Vick debate lately.

The Run Game

First, I completely understand that the scheme is very sound independent of having a mobile quarterback. Obviously Vick is better than Foles at running the ball, but many have pointed out that Vick’s being more of a threat to run opens things up for the running backs. We have an intuitive understanding of this, but I just wanted to diagram a specific example to demonstrate it definitively. Look at the types of things that happen when Vick is in compared to Foles.

DEN Vick A

DE Robert Ayers (#91) is sitting and reading the mesh prior to pursuing McCoy. This tells us that LB Wesley Woodyard (#52) probably didn’t have a “scrape” assignment where he’s supposed to account for the quarterback keep.

DEN Vick 3

Woodyard even initially steps to his left and gets even with the hashes, further suggesting he’s not supposed to be scraping to his right. He’s in pretty good position here to meet McCoy in the hole.

DEN Vick 4

But, respecting Vick, Woodyard still takes a step to his right to follow Vick even though McCoy has been given the ball.

DEN Vick 5

And that’s enough for McCoy to run past him.

Conversely, on a play where Foles actually kept the ball against the Giants, not even the All-22 cameraman, let alone any Giants, followed Foles. Again, I understand the scheme doesn’t fall apart with a quarterback who isn’t a great runner. But Coach Kelly has emphasized that the zone-read allows the quarterback to “block” a player. Vick basically blocked two there.

Do not interpret this post as asserting that Vick should start over Foles. I know both of the topics I explored suggest I support Vick, but I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other at this point.

Follow Allen Rodriguez on Twitter at @ByAJRodriguez.

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