Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Jun 2005

Dr. Z: Vick in the Single Wing

In this week's mailbag, Paul Zimmerman revisits the subject of how the Falcons' offense could operate if Mike Vick became a single-wing tailback. I love the idea, but it'll never happen, as Jim Mora seems intent on turning Vick into a dropback passer.

Elsewhere, Zimmerman says things with which I agree (Ray Lewis "slipped noticeably last year"), with which I disagree ("Both Green Bay guards had slipped a little last year"), and which I note without comment ("In the old days I had a beautiful office at Sports Illustrated with a nice window and everything. It was one floor below the main editorial enclave, right next to the office of Julie Campbell, the mamma san of the swimsuit models. Every now and then they'd be in for some promotion or other, so I'd duck out into the hall for a quick hello. What surprised me was how much thinner they looked than their photos. I mean the collarbones and everything. Pretty giggly, too. Kind of like prep-school girls.")

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 17 Jun 2005

25 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2005, 10:00am by Sophandros


by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 4:39pm

I'm with Coach Reeves: what's a spinning fullback? Does that simply mean the fullback who is balanced to break to either side in the single-wing, or is it something more esoteric?

by Ray (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 4:49pm

Isn't it a ballet move?

by Domer (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 5:38pm

I think you have it mixed up with the Cleveland Steamer.

Obviously a slow news day, especially when Dr. Z. goes Nick Adams on us - "I once saw a bear."

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 6:55pm

Re #1: I don't know either, but apparently there are books about it. I'm trying to find an on-line description.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 6:59pm

Okay, here's a quote I found, which I'm afraid is unattributed:

On the spinner plays the fullback steps to the ball with his right foot, catches the ball about ankle high and spins counterclockwise with the ball on his hip. As the fullback is spinning the tailback and wingback are running by in opposite directions. The wingback or tailback take the ball or the fullback keeps it. When the timing is right all three backs are converging on the ball at the same time making it hard for the defense to tell who actually has the ball.

by Aaron (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 7:02pm

The funny thing is that Vick in the single wing is actually in Russell's Atlanta chapter in the book. I think Dr. Z's dreams are somehow hooked into our manuscript.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 8:55pm

The dream was that the Falcons came out in an old-fashioned single-wing. It was probably keyed by something Vince Lombardi once told me. I had asked him what would happen if a team all of a sudden sprung a single-wing. He said, “It would embarrass the hell out of us.�

There are a handful of oddball rules in football that are never used. I wonder why creative coaches never try this stuff. Every once in awhile a team like Pittsburgh will put a speedy guy in a QB and run an option play - boring.

My granpa used to talk about refereeing high school games in the 60’s and 70’s. When the time arose, he would ask players if they wanted to take advantage of their free kick option. They had no idea. In fact, I barely know what a free kick is, and why it’s in the rulebook, but never used.

by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Fri, 06/17/2005 - 11:17pm

Perhaps Ron Mexico can be a character in Zimm's official memoirs.

by Sippican (not verified) :: Sat, 06/18/2005 - 10:44am

Doctor Z can't write. And like many of his compatriots, he can't think too well, either.
Wow, models are skinny with large breasts, and young and unserious. Thanks for that, really. Perhaps in his next installment, he could point out that as far as he knows, they are lacking in male genitalia as well.

I'm surprised they got rid of his office at SI and sent him home, instead of pinning a note to his sweater and leaving him at the dogtrack.

These insights are just as superficial and meaningless as his, and others', Ron Mexico worship. Because Ron Mexico is a bad quarterback. Please note, I did not say he wasn't superb. I said he was bad.

Bad teams love guys like Ron M, because they run around like headless chickens, and distract the fans from the fact that the team stinks. For a while, these bad teams were happy to use a running back as their quarterback, but now they've gone whole hog and started using a punt returner as QB, like 'ol Ron down in Atlanta. Note to Ron, Doctor ZZZ, and Jim Mora Jr: there's a guy standing behind Ron, and his job is to run the ball, and block on passing plays, and sometimes catch on passing plays. He's called a halfback. Look into it.

Now I have no idea if Ron Mexico can learn the position, and we'll never find out, either, because no one is going to ask him to. He was a star before he ever played, and for no reason. He's just Charlie Ward, with a better agent.

How many more columns from these guys do I have to read about "What happened to Peerless Price?" and then 10,000 more about the guy they draft to replace him, never even considering that Ron Mexico can't throw it to him. Which is his job.

Jim Mora Jr is now running up against a wall, and he'll never get over, around, or under it. His team no longer stinks, and the vital cog in the machine, that makes the whole thing go, is defective. And so they will be forever stuck in limbo, unless someone cripples the scampering knucklehead on the umpteenth broken play extravaganza, and his lousy backup, whoever it is, does the job of the QB. And then, like the Ravens of a few years ago, and the Buccaneers, they can win it all because a steady, competent player plays the position.

I've been watching teams try to win with players like Ron M since Fran Tarkenton. It don't work.

by tim (not verified) :: Sun, 06/19/2005 - 3:42am

do you think the idea of a mobile QB's lack of accuracy comes from misplaced footwork, as attributed by their natural inclination to run?

by zip (not verified) :: Sun, 06/19/2005 - 4:07am

Re: #9
there’s a guy standing behind Ron, and his job is to run the ball, and block on passing plays, and sometimes catch on passing plays. He’s called a halfback. Look into it.

I realize that exaggerating is fun an all, but ridiculous statements like this do nothing but undermine any point you might actually be making. Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett were the other 2/3rds of Atlanta's running attack, and it's not like they didn't contribute more rushing yards than Vick. What you're trying to say, I think, is that they should leave the running to their backs and get a QB who can throw. Which is a valid point.

He was a star before he ever played, and for no reason.

No reason? Come on.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Sun, 06/19/2005 - 8:28am

I like Dr. Z...he's slightly senile. Lotsa fun.

by sippican (not verified) :: Sun, 06/19/2005 - 3:55pm

Hi Tim-
That's an interesting question. I can't remember which observer noticed it, it might have been TMQ, who notices lots of things commonly overlooked, that Vick was often actually looking at the ground under his feet while dropping back. That's astonishing in a NFL QB. He's not even considering doing his job, scanning the field, sizing up the defense. He was gonna run- pass play, run play, redzone, 30 yard line, whatever.

Well, that worked in High School, and College, but it won't fly in the NFL. His game is irrevocably flawed, and will remain so. I remember a play from two years ago, when Vick did a highlight reel scamper all over the last twenty yards of the field, and started cakewalking on the two yard line. A linebacker came out of nowhere, and leveled him on the goal line. That's the NFL. Your physical skills are not enough, and he never cultivated any others. The Defensive ends in the NFL are faster than safeties in college, and he can't get by on speed alone in the bigs. If you could, Bethel Johnson would be the Pats QB, and Brady would just be Bridget Moynihan's boyfriend.

Marino, Brady, Manning, guys like that, aren't scampering off with the ball. But they know, or sense, exactly where they are, and where everyone else is on the field. And they step forward, sideways, back, just enough, to elongate the play and find the man who's open. Guys like McNair, and Young, et al, kill teams because they don't think run first, second and third, but take what is offered to them when there's nothing to throw at. And they murder you near the goal line, because if everyone is covered, there's no one left to cover them, and they score. And if you blitz, someone's open, and you're dead.
Vick is just running instead of his backs, not in addition to them. And he subtracts from the potential passing game, and thereby diminishes his team's potential offense.

by cynic (not verified) :: Sun, 06/19/2005 - 8:16pm

Zimmerman has been mailing it in for a long time now and doesnt add any value with his articles anymore. If people like his stuff and the way he writes, then fine they have the right to their opinion, but it annoys me that there is a type of groupthink that to be a serious football fan you have to say how great he is. He's an extremely lazy writer and I don't trust his evaluations anymore - Brian Urlacher is "Mr Softee" at the point - yeah Dr Z that was three years ago, you might find he's improved a bit since then. I don't see anything in his evaluations to suggest he really does the type of research and filmwatching its suggested he does.

by Phil P (not verified) :: Mon, 06/20/2005 - 12:46pm

One of the theories on why McNabb's accuracy jumped so much last year (64% vs. sub-60% before) was because he spent a large portion of the off-season improving his footwork. Either that or he finally had a decent WR to throw to. There's no reason to think Ron Mexico's passing can't be suitably improved.

by Brian M (not verified) :: Tue, 06/21/2005 - 5:37pm

1) Well, I for one think Dr. Z is the most informative and insightful columnist around. I would like Sippican to point out some who does a better job. I have, on numerous occassions, read things in Dr. Z's columns and then, having been alerted to them, seen the exact thing in games. I get tired of reading people like Len Pasquarelli and Peter King who don't even seem to know the first thing about the game. They're like the Dan Dierdorfs of the written word.

2) That having been said, I agree that Vick is BADLY overrated in general. The guy can't read defenses AND lacks the accuracy to be an effective passer. On the other hand, to say that he isn't a major factor in his team's wins and losses is outrageous. Just look at the last three years. They made the playoffs with Vick, he gets hurt and they were suddenly one of the worst teams in football, and last year he was back (admittedly with a suddenly solid defense and running tandem) and they were winners again.

3) I think the general problem with mobile QBs is exactly that though. A pocket passing rookie has to learn to read defenses quickly or get killed. A mobile QB has an escape. He has a means to be unusually competitive and avoid those necessary growing pains. McNabb, McNair, Vick, or any mobile QB, they almost all had unusually good W-L records prematurely by running around to keep drives alive and relying of defense to win in the end. Their passing skills developed later than they otherwise wuold have if they'd been subjected to the crucible of staying in the pocket and learning. Contrast this with Culpepper who dutifully stayed in the pocket to throw because his WRs would chew him out if he didn't. I think the WORST thing a coach can do to an athletic young QB is to encourage him to run. He should tell him that he can only scramble if he's in IMMINENT danger of being sacked, and can only cross scrimmage if he's run through all of his progressions.

by zip (not verified) :: Tue, 06/21/2005 - 5:53pm


"I get tired of reading people like Len Pasquarelli and Peter King who don’t even seem to know the first thing about the game. "

WTF? Pasquarelli doesn't know the first thing about football??

by Pat on the Back (not verified) :: Tue, 06/21/2005 - 6:07pm

is that as in Marion, Ma "sippican", or is that just something random you chose for a name?

by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 3:29pm

I have big doubts about Vick, myself. But one thing that's tough to argue with:

2004 - Atlanta 11-5 NFC runner-up
2003 - Atlanta 2-9 without Vick, 3-2 with Vick
2002 - Atlanta 9-6-1 lost in Divisional playoffs

Superficially, he seems to make the team better.

by MDS (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 3:53pm

I agree, Richie, and I have a tough time understanding it. The Falcons have definitely been a better team with Vick in the lineup, and yet no one seems to be able to point to why, exactly, that is.

by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 4:01pm

Maybe it's just a psychological thing for the rest of the team. When they step on the field without Vick, they assume the worst.

Maybe it was his backup, Doug Johnson who deserves blame, but his numbers aren't completely horrible.

by Pat on the Back (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 5:44pm

Could also be that the defenses play differently with him in there. Having a spy or two gives better looks on passes and might put guys out of position for the run.

by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 7:00pm

Could also be that the defenses play differently with him in there. Having a spy or two gives better looks on passes and might put guys out of position for the run.

Well, if just having him in the lineup makes the rest of the offense better, then so be it. I guess that system may eventually quit working if he doesn't actually become a better player, as defenses figure out that he's a fraud.

by Cory (not verified) :: Wed, 06/22/2005 - 7:57pm

I'm still a fan of Dr. Z's. Pasquarelli and King are both a lot better at getting scoops about people, but I can't think of a national writer who talks about what's happening in the games themselves as much as the good doctor does.

Is all of Dr. Z's stuff good? No, but whose is anymore, when in addition to print stuff, writers often have to write a couple of weekly net bylines as well. Sippican may call it lazy sportswriting, but even 5 years ago, there wasn't the demand for new content that there is today. Peter King's stuff has been really bad lately, but who else needs to fill a weekly byline on pro football and can do it well every week during the dog days of summer?

TMQ, MMQB and the Power Rankings/Mailbag/Wine column are all the same basic schtick that each has been doing for three or more years now. It's never going to be as fresh as the first few months I read each, but I still enjoy reading all of them. The Simpsons won't ever be returning to the glory days of seasons 3 and 4, but I'm still there most Sunday nights, even if I occassionally grimace. It's still better than most alternatives.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 06/23/2005 - 10:00am

Vick's backup last year was Matt Schaub.