Phil Sheridan: Now Kolb has to show he can take the heat

Michael Vick thrived against the blitzes the Lions threw at him. He passed for 284 yards and two TDs, but Kevin Kolb is due to return as starter this Sunday.
Michael Vick thrived against the blitzes the Lions threw at him. He passed for 284 yards and two TDs, but Kevin Kolb is due to return as starter this Sunday.
Posted: September 20, 2010

DETROIT - After he gets done prying the remote control from the middle of his TV screen, Kevin Kolb can sit down and reassess his predicament.

While he sat at home, Michael Vick led his team to a strangely entertaining 35-32 win over the worst franchise in the NFL. This Sunday, in Jacksonville, Kolb is going to face two very different kinds of pressure.

Facing a young, unproven QB coming back from a concussion, the Jaguars are going to blitz Kolb relentlessly. Then there is the other kind, the pressure of reclaiming his status as his team's No. 1 quarterback after Vick put 35 points on the board here Sunday. Andy Reid can control whether Kolb is the starter, but only Kolb can prove he's the better quarterback. After two weeks, he has a lot of proving to do.

Both kinds of pressure can make or break a young QB.

Vick was very good against the Lions because he did what Kolb couldn't in that disastrous opening-day loss to Green Bay. Vick handled the pressure. The Lions came at him all game, bringing more pass rushers than the Eagles had blockers, and Vick made them pay.

He took some sacks. He threw some bad passes, including two sure interceptions that were dropped by Detroit players. He took more hits than he should have - like Donovan McNabb in his younger days, Vick will absorb a blow rather than slide.

But Vick handled the pressure, and that's why the Eagles won.

"You've got to be able to make plays against the zero blitz," Vick said. "If not, you're going to get it all the time."

This is Kolb's challenge, and it's true of both kinds of pressure. Just as he's going to get blitzed by defenses until he shows he can beat them, he's going to face skepticism about his worthiness to start ahead of Vick until he proves himself.

For now, everyone is saying the right things. Vick said that "it's not going to be difficult at all" to return to his role as the backup and change-up QB.

LeSean McCoy, who rushed for three touchdowns, called Kolb a "great player" and added, "He's our quarterback."

DeSean Jackson, who was his electrifying self for the first time this season, said, "We missed Kolb today."

After preparing all off-season with Kolb as the quarterback, these guys aren't ready to turn on him after one measly half.

It's up to Kolb to prove them right. What Vick did in Ford Field was establish that Kolb is going to have to be awfully good if he's going to be better than his backup. And he can make things easier on himself by starting right away. The Jacksonville game is his only opportunity to build some equity with Eagles fans before that home game against the Washington McNabbs on Oct. 3.

As galling as it may be, Kolb can learn a lot from what Vick did on the field and what he said afterward.

"Defenses are going to throw different looks at you," Vick said. "You've got to be able to handle them. You've got to be able to make plays when you need them at key points in the game. As a quarterback, you can't let the blitz surprise you. You have to continue to keep your eyes downfield and trust in your offensive line."

Vick was talking about himself, but he might have been describing what Kolb did not do before getting injured last week. Of course, trusting this offensive line may be easier said than done, and easier done if you have Vick's mobility. Reid said the line wasn't to blame for blitzing linebackers and defensive backs being unaccounted for. But it sure looked like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, and Corey Williams were winning battles with the Eagles' linemen.

"That's a good defense over there," Vick said. "They made some plays."

Vick made more. He threw some perfect deep passes to Jackson. He spun away from an impending sack and ran for 12 yards to set up the Eagles' go-ahead touchdown before halftime. He stood in and took a hit in order to deliver a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.

It was an impressive performance from a man whose very presence in the league remains an affront to many people. After missing two seasons and playing sparsely in another, Vick was a long shot to be able to play at this level again. If his absence wasn't a result of his own deplorable actions, this would be a much more uplifting story.

"It's been a long road for me. It's been tough, and throughout it all . . . I had to overcome a lot of adversity, a lot of self-inflicted wounds, things that I caused for myself. You've just got to keep fighting."

He played like a starting quarterback again. Next we'll find out if Kevin Kolb can come back and do the same.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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