Rich Hofmann: Vick, not defense, will be Eagles' key in 2012

Picking Michael Vick to be starting quarterback signaled where Eagles' priorities lay.
Picking Michael Vick to be starting quarterback signaled where Eagles' priorities lay. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: January 13, 2012

IT HAS BEEN more than a week now since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told us Andy Reid would be back for a 14th season as the team's head coach. Since then, the question that continues to hold the most traction with the public is whether defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will be replaced and whether fired Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo will be the replacement.

It makes sense - because Castillo was such an unconventional choice for the job, and because of all the fourth-quarter leads the team saw evaporate early in the season, and because Spagnuolo is so highly regarded following his work here and in New York as an assistant coach. If you are in the business of winning, you cannot possibly surround yourself with too many good minds, and that is what Spagnuolo is, whatever his title. So it is a big deal.

It misses the central point, though.

When Lurie spoke, he said there were "no ultimatums" about next year for Reid, meaning it wasn't a Super Bowl-or-bust situation for the head coach. Most people believe otherwise. Lurie's whole statement has been parsed and picked over, mostly because it was so parse-able (and, especially, so pickable). Lurie was trying to thread an impossible needle by simultaneously telling you he felt your pain but was nonetheless in for a 14th season with Reid. For many people, it was no sale from the beginning.

A guess is that this is what Lurie would have said if injected with truth serum:

That we're not sure. That we share your doubts. That this cannot go on forever. But that we have one chance to win the Super Bowl next year, and that is if Michael Vick plays like the league's most valuable player - and that the best chance of Vick playing like the MVP next year is if Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are his coaches.

 That's it.

The key four-letter word is Vick, not Spag.

You can repeat the mantra "defense wins championships" over and over until you fall asleep, but that doesn't change the fact that the three best teams left in the NFL playoffs are the Packers and Saints in the NFC and the Patriots in the AFC - and that there is no D in any of them.

By any significant statistical measure, the Eagles already have a better defense than any of those teams. They already had a better defense back when they blew all of those leads in September and October. More than ever, the NFL is in the business of star quarterbacks and big numbers on the scoreboard, and the trend is not reversing between this season and next.

Aaron Rodgers . . .

Drew Brees . . .

Tom Brady . . .

Michael Vick?

This is the question. In 2010, when Reid decided that Kevin Kolb was no longer his guy and that Vick was, this is the moment to which we were headed. Reid chose a shorter term over a longer term that day. He chose a gut instinct over a careful plan. He chose the potential for improvisational genius over a by-the-numbers technician. And after the season Kolb just had in Arizona, often injured and sporadic when healthy, it would be exhausting to attempt to mount much of a defense for the other guy.

But that does not change the fact that Reid and Vick were wed when that decision was made, and that this is it. And while it looks as if the Eagles have a chance to have a good defense, it is unlikely to be special, even with Spagnuolo in charge - which means Vick is where all eyes must fall.

Maybe Rodgers has a down season in 2012. Maybe Brees has a down season. Maybe. But both are unlikely to go away - which means that if Reid is to get to the Super Bowl, Vick and the Eagles' offense would likely have to score 30 points in the snow at Lambeau Field or maybe 40 points in the Superdome. And while we all know there can be surprises, that is the current state of the NFC.

The issues with Vick are oft-discussed. He and the offense were not dynamic enough in 2011; some of it was physical and some of it wasn't.

You want tight end Brent Celek to catch enough, and LeSean McCoy to run enough, and Vick to run enough that teams cannot forever sit in those zone defenses that stifle the Eagles' explosive pass plays. At the same time, you want Vick to be prudent enough that he doesn't get banged up so often.

It is the highest of high wires this quarterback needs to walk, but there is no choice, not anymore. His success only means everything.

With that, back to Spag Watch.

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