Michael Vick: The Iverson Effect
Today you may read an editorial in the New York Times from blogger Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats. In perusing some of the stories that Mr. Burke has published on Advanced NFL Stats, the guy knows his stuff. But in regards to the recent entry in the Times, I think he’s a little off the mark.
The New York Times editorial is titled “Vick as a Quarterback? He’s Underrated.” So if you don’t want to read another blogger’s opinion about Michael Vick’s career as a Falcon, I suggest you stop right now, scroll down, or click the back button on your browser. And instead of discussing Vick’s future or current options in the NFL, I want to discuss what I think is a misconception about statistical analysis about Michael Vick.
Mr. Burke (like many others) include Vick’s rushing totals in conjunction with his passing statistics, which often has the effect of boosting Vick’s numbers to that comparable with the top passers in the league.
I believe this kind of analysis is misleading due to the false belief that all yards are the same. One of the major drawbacks of the popularity of fantasy football today is that people pay more (and too much) attention to yardage totals. The more yards one has, the better he is than other players with less yards
Gaining 12 yards on 3rd & 8 is better than gaining 12 on 3rd & 20. Unfortunately in football, there aren’t readily available detailed box scores like in baseball that will allow us to break down games play by play and situation by situation.
The problem I have with those that add Vick’s rushing totals to his passing totals is because I believe they falsely think that Vick rushing for 12 yards on 2nd & 8 is just as equal to Vick throwing for 12 yards on 2nd & 8. And on the surface, it does appear to be so. In the end, both times you convert for first downs. But I do think there is a difference, and I think gaining those 12 yards throwing is better than those 12 yards rushing.
But the reason why I think there is a subtle difference is what I call the “Allen Iverson Effect. ” Which is thusly named because of the similar impact that Allen Iverson has on the basketball court. I think most people can generally agree that Allen Iverson is one of the greatest pure scorers to ever play in the NBA. But right now, Allen Iverson cannot get a job in the NBA. And the reason why is because NBA teams feel he disrupts team chemistry.
Two points is two points, and the team that has the most points at the end of the game wins. On the surface, whether Iverson scores the two points or the backup small forward scores really doesn’t matter. But in the case of Iverson, his scoring two points seems to have some negative impact on the team. Because Iverson is not a facilitator. The other four players on the court along with him are hurt by his presence because they in essence must facilitate him. Iverson is also not a defensive stalwart because of his inability to match up with bigger guards, and thus his presence on the floor reduces a team’s defensive potential and presence. So despite the fact that Iverson’s scoring does significantly help a team, the other things that come along with him often negate how beneficial his scoring can be. You basically can call Iverson a black hole.
And we saw this past year with the Denver Nuggets when they replaced Iverson with a point guard that could distribute (and score) in Chauncey Billups, they were within two wins of the NBA Finals, instead of being swept in the first round of the playoffs like they were a year ago. Billups averaged 8 less points per game this past year than Iverson did with the Nuggets a year ago. But you’ll notice that almost every other Nugget player’s statistics improved this past year.
Vick is essentially the same. When Vick scrambles for yards, it basically is the same as Iverson scoring by himself and not involving his teammates. As a quarterback (similar to that of a point guard), Vick’s job is to distribute the ball. But because of his inability to effectively do so, he inhibited the development of his receivers. Because of Vick’s scrambling and mobility, receivers were forced to often cut off their routes. You can’t develop as a receiver and route-runner if half the times you are supposed to run a post or fade route, you wind up improvising a new route. Also Vick’s unpredictability also hurt the offensive line’s ability to block for him. It is difficult for blockers to effectively form a pocket of protection around their quarterback, when he’ll escape it the first chance he gets.
Vick is essentially the same as Allen Iverson, in that he’s a black hole. Vick’s singular effectiveness as a playmaker is negating by his inability to be an effective distributor. As is the case in basketball, the best offenses in football are the ones that are the most cohesive. And the cohesion is brought on by the point guard and quarterback in both sports. When Vick ran, the cohesion of the offense decreased. It was still productive, but real football is not like fantasy football. Just because Vick has comparable statistics when rushing totals are included, doesn’t mean he benefits a team the same way top passers do. Vick’s 3513 total yards in 2006 are not equal to another passer like Tom Brady having 3631 total yards that same year.
In the case of Iverson, you have a player that no team with the goal of trying to win championships is willing to give much of a chance. Iverson can go to a bad team like Memphis and make them better. But on a team that has championship potential, he’ll make them worse or the same like he did in Denver and Detroit. Vick is probably the same way.
So for Mr. Burke, I would say that your analysis in other realms is spot on, but in this case, the stats are misleading. Vick is not underrated as a quarterback. His 1039 rushing yards from 2006 are basically 1039 yards he cannot get by passing. So it basically makes him 1000 yards less effective than your run of the mill quarterback that gets 3500 through the air.