Phil Sheridan: Vick taking too much pounding

Michael Vick, who absorbed heavy hits from the Texans, comes up short trying for a first down.
Michael Vick, who absorbed heavy hits from the Texans, comes up short trying for a first down.
Posted: December 03, 2010

Michael Vick achieved a rare double Thursday night, winning an NFL game and completing a leg of the Tour de France at the same time.

Vick was taking such a beating during the football portion of his evening, he was forced to ride a stationary bike for those long stretches when the Eagles' toothless defense was on the field.

"His legs," coach Andy Reid said, by way of explaining the cardio workout Vick seemed to require. "He was taking some shots in the legs. That was to keep him going."

There are other ways to keep a quarterback going: running the ball more than a handful of times a quarter, competent pass protecting, playing defense well enough to sustain a significant lead. The Eagles were incapable of all of those against the Houston Texans, and so Vick pedaled more miles than Lance Armstrong in a mountain climb.

The Eagles didn't seem to realize it, but this game was the last bit of kindness shown them by the NFL schedule-makers. With a grueling four-week home stretch ahead, they needed to check this one off the to-do list with as little strain as possible.

Instead, they got caught in a firefight, and Vick absorbed most of the enemy fire. Even with a 17-3 first-half lead and Vick getting up more slowly after each big hit, the coaches declined to run the ball enough to take some heat off.

Stop us if you've heard this one before.

The Vick we all saw in that 59-point spectacle in Washington was not the Vick we can expect to see every week. That's OK, because no quarterback in the history of the game could do that every week. It was remarkable enough to do it once.

Starting with the Giants three weeks ago, defenses have found ways to knock Vick and this offense out of their comfort zones. The Eagles' defense was good enough for the Birds to beat the Giants, but nowhere near good enough to beat the Bears.

The Texans tried to do the same things - drop their safeties and attempt to contain Vick with a four-man pass rush and only occasional blitzing. But the Texans simply don't have the defensive talent of the Bears and Giants. Once it became clear they didn't have to worry about the run, the Texans' defenders cranked up the pressure another notch. And Vick paid the price again and again.

Toward the end of the first half, especially, he took a savage beating. Antonio Smith crushed him as he threw one pass. Mario Williams got him just as he released another. Vick lay sprawled on the hard cold ground, looking very much like he wanted to be elsewhere.

That makes his fourth-quarter performance all the more impressive. After the Eagles' defense reprised its slapstick efforts in Chicago, allowing the Texans to take a 24-20 lead, Vick directed two touchdown drives to win what was, under the circumstances, a must-win game.

"Guys made plays," Reid said. "We buckled down and made plays. I loved Michael's energy in that second half. He brought a lot to the table. He's a quiet guy, but he was very vocal."

Vick's resilience is not an issue, but the need to claw their way back in a game they led by 17-3 and 20-10? Against the Texans, who lost four of their last five games? That is a major issue.

The Texans, unlike the Eagles, kept running the ball even when they were trailing. They wore down an Eagles defense that wasn't exactly intimidating to begin with. With the Eagles' front seven forced to account for Arian Foster, Matt Schaub did a Jay Cutler impression on the secondary.

Two third-quarter Houston touchdowns left the crowd at the Linc restless and frustrated. But that wasn't the Bears' defense out there. Vick, who nearly brought the Eagles back in Chicago on Sunday night, led two touchdown drives between stints on the bike.

The Eagles got to 8-4, raising the bar for the Giants in the NFC East. That's good, because things get bumpy very quickly. The Eagles play back-to-back road games against Dallas (DeMarcus Ware) and the Giants (Osi Umenyiora). Then they get the Vikings (Jared Allen) and Cowboys, the two teams that changed head coaches in-season and are playing better, at home to close out the season.

The Eagles probably have to win three of those games to lock up a playoff berth. They will have to play a lot better than they did in two games this week in order to accomplish that.

The blueprint is there for beating them. The Texans weren't good enough to follow it.

Unfortunately for Vick, the blueprint means pounding on him mercilessly. He seems up to the challenge. A little help from his coaches, his pass-dropping receivers, and that back-pedaling defense would help.


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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