Phil Sheridan: Michael Vick is pivotal to Eagles' success

MICHAEL PEREZ / Associated Press
MICHAEL PEREZ / Associated Press
Posted: October 24, 2012

When the Eagles were the class of the NFC East, they happened to have the best quarterback in the NFC East.

That was more than a coincidence.

This is not to say that Donovan McNabb was perfect, or that other factors didn't contribute to the Eagles' five division titles in six seasons. In some ways, it says much about the parade of QBs that marched through Dallas (Vinny Testaverde, anyone?), Washington (Patrick Ramsey), and New York (Kerry Collins).

But the correlation was pretty obvious: Having the best all-around quarterback in the division translated to playoff appearances in six of seven years, with four trips to the NFC championship game and one Super Bowl appearance.

As the Eagles returned from the Longest Bye with a practice Monday, that equation was painfully relevant. The day before, the division's best quarterback, Eli Manning, outdueled the division's soon-to-be best quarterback, Robert Griffin III. It was impossible to watch that game without concluding that Michael Vick is in competition with Tony Romo to avoid being the division's fourth-best quarterback.

At the moment, at least, that unfortunate competition is the only one Vick is winning. With his turnovers and his offense's embarrassingly low point production, Vick is at the bottom of the NFC East QB chart. If the team is going to emerge from this bye week, finish strong and extend Andy Reid's tenure here, Vick is going to have to move up that chart with a bullet.

That means he is going to have to play like the quarterback who flashed across the sky for half of the 2010 season. The question, of course, is whether the 32-year-old Vick is capable of being that guy again. Maybe the pounding he has taken the last few years has slowed him down some. Maybe NFL defensive coaches have solved the problems he presented. Maybe it's a combination. Maybe it's something else.

"Quite frankly," Vick said Monday, "I know what I can do when I'm out there and I know what has to happen when I'm out there on the football field. That's just my approach now, to go out there and get the job done. We'll see what happens."

In a perfect bit of scheduling, we'll begin to see against Atlanta on Sunday. Not only is that the franchise that drafted Vick, but it is now led by Philadelphia-bred Matt Ryan. To make the matchup more intriguing, the Falcons are 6-0 and coming off their own bye week.

The game is very close to a must-win for the Eagles. They have lost two in a row. They changed defensive coordinators over the bye week, placing enormous pressure on that unit to elevate its play. To fall below .500 with a Monday night game in New Orleans looming would be to stroll along the brink of disaster.

This is where the quarterback has to assert himself, as a leader and as a clutch performer.

"You know that things are being evaluated and people are being evaluated," Vick said. "That's the way this game goes. I think everyone just has to look at the film and you'll see who is doing it right and who's not. This game is not that complicated."

Over at SI.com, Peter King asked Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus to analyze Vick's turnovers this season. Hornsby concluded that Vick was to blame for eight of nine fumbles (five lost) and six of eight interceptions. Conclusion: Vick is the main culprit here.

That said, he could use some help, starting with Reid and the coaching staff. The pass protection simply has to be better. No quarterback can operate in the middle of a stampede, and Vick has had to do that too often.

But quarterbacks can make their offensive lines look better, too. Aaron Rodgers was savaged in the first half of a game in Seattle last month. With the help of good play-calling, the Packers QB was able to settle his offense down and perform very well in the second half - a Green Bay victory if not for the infamous replacement-ref blown call at the end.

Can Vick play at that level? It is a lot to ask, but that is what Reid and the Eagles believed when they gave him the contract of an elite franchise quarterback. Ultimately, that decision looks as doomed as Reid's decision to promote Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator.

The difference is that Vick still has a chance to prove himself. With his own job hanging in the balance, Reid has better odds of getting greatness from a quarterback who has displayed it before than from a rookie third-round pick.

Those odds are always changing. The only constant is that the odds favor the team with the best quarterback. In the NFC East, many years ago, that team was the Eagles.


Phil Sheridan: NFC East Quarterbacks

                  COM   ATT   PCT.   YDS   TD   INT   RATING

Robert Griffin III   133   189   70.4    1,601    7    3      101.8

Eli Manning         169   265   63.8   2,109    12 7      92.5

Tony Romo         150   221   67.9   1,636    8    9      84.6

Michael Vick      136   231   58.9   1,632    8    8      77.7


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe

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