Back in the spring all the talk was about how 2012 would be the year that Michael Vick finally combined his great natural ability with polished quarterbacking skills and took his game to the next level. Vick had a good summer and confidence in him remained high. Then came the preseason opener against the Steelers. Vick was on the field for three plays and didn't look good. He hurt his thumb and didn't play any more. The next game was against the Patriots and Vick once again failed to impress. He left the game early after taking a big shot in the ribs.
All of the positive vibes of the offseason were gone almost instantly. We were right back to discussing Vick's lack of pocket presence and whether he could truly succeed in the Andy Reid offense. The hope was that Vick would then flip the switch in the regular season opener and all of this talk would seem silly.
Vick played poorly, throwing four interceptions at Cleveland. He was lucky to only throw four. The Browns could have had another two or three, including one late in the game that would have really hurt the Eagles chances to win the game. While Vick did struggle, he also led the team on the game-winning drive and did throw a touchdown pass to win the game. You hated the first three and a half quarters of the game, but loved the conclusion.
Vick's poor performance led to lots of criticism. Some fans outright wanted Nick Foles to be given the job. Others wanted there to be an open competition between Vick and Foles - may the best man win. There was a lot more discussion about whether Reid and the Eagles coaching staff were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Were they over-coaching Vick and taking away his ability to run the offense in a basic, but effective way?
Week 2 against the Ravens was a major challenge for Vick and the Eagles. The offense started off great, marching right down the field. I can't speak for everyone, but seeing that gave me a great sense of relief. Vick and the offense might just be okay. And then Vick threw a pass into the endzone. Softly. Into traffic. The Ravens picked it off easily and my heart sank. Was it time to bench Vick and unleash Folesmania on the football world?
The defense got the ball back two plays later so there wasn't too much time to sit and dwell on things. Vick then led the offense on a short touchdown drive and it was 7-0 Eagles. The football gods gave Vick a reprieve and he took advantage of it. He played well for the rest of the game. He was picked off again, but there was some bad luck involved in that. It was a ball that bounced off Brent Celek's hands and found its way to Ed Reed (hard to believe, huh?).
Vick didn't look right in Cleveland. Set the results aside and just think about how he played. He held the ball too long. He wasn't sure of himself. He didn't play with confidence. You could see him hesitate on multiple pass plays. Failing to get the ball out quickly led to at least one of the picks. Vick wasn't sure where to throw the ball. He did a poor job of reading the defense and finding the open man. He forced the ball way too often. Reid said after the opener that Vick was rusty due to the lack of preseason snaps. That was definitely part of the problem.
The Vick we saw against the Ravens was very different. He ran the offense. He threw some really good passes. His laser to Jason Avant was a thing of beauty. That pass went into traffic, but was put where Avant could make the catch. That was aggressive, but not dumb. In the opener Vick forced the ball into coverage when the receivers had no advantage. He basically threw it up for grabs.
I loved the way Vick ran the ball. He was smart, but aggressive when he needed to be. Vick ran out of bounds on a couple of scrambles. There was a play in the second half down inside the red zone. Vick dove for the first down. That's the situation where you don't play it safe. Sell out and go for the first down. He didn't get it, but it wasn't for lack of effort or toughness. That's part of why Vick's teammates love him as much as they do.
On the game winning drive Vick played really well. He made good reads and quality throws. He didn't lock in on one player or one side of the offense. He found the open player and moved the offense right down the field. He ran a quarterback draw on first down that almost got in. Second down wasn't so pretty. Vick held the ball half a second too long and almost got sacked. He was hit as he threw and the ball hit the ground. The replacement officials called it a fumble when it was clearly an incomplete pass. Replay overturned the call, but Vick still made that play riskier than it should have been. He went back to the draw on third down and scored easily.
Vick threw for 371 yards on the Ravens. The Eagles last played Baltimore back in 2008 and the offense didn't come close to putting up those kind of numbers. Donovan McNabb was benched at halftime and Kevin Kolb had an infamous pass to Reed that went from one endzone to the other for a dramatic touchdown. Vick wasn't perfect on Sunday, but he played really well for parts of the game.
The interceptions must stop. Vick cannot keep throwing the ball into clusters of defenders and hoping for things to turn out well. There is nothing wrong with throwing into traffic, but the quarterback needs to have his feet set so he can throw an accurate pass with good velocity. The ball must be put where the receiver can play it, whether that's high or low, in or out.
I came away from the Ravens game very encouraged with the performance of Vick. He made the early mistake, but handled it the right way. He didn't panic. He didn't pout. He went right back to running the offense and moving the ball up and down the field. He made big plays in big situations. I love the fact he didn't go into safe mode and get scared to throw the ball. A quarterback must be aggressive and must play with confidence. You can't let an interception turn you into Captain Checkdown.
It will be very interesting to see how Vick plays on Sunday. Does his game continue to get better? If so, the Cardinals are in for a very long day. Does Vick throw another couple of interceptions? If so, the Eagles are going to have a hard time winning the game. Vick made huge progress from the opener to the Ravens game. I don't think he can be anywhere close to satisfied with his play, though. The tricky part is eliminating the interceptions, but not becoming too safe. There really is a fine line between aggressive and dumb.
I would be lying if I said I had total confidence in Vick. Six interceptions (with even more dropped) do make me nervous. Still, the Vick I saw in the Ravens game looked outstanding at times. This isn't like 2003 when McNabb was struggling and the offense was barely functional. For those who might have forgotten, McNabb didn't have a touchdown pass in the first three games and didn't throw a touchdown to a wide receiver until November. Yes, you read that right - November. That was a quarterback with serious issues. Vick had a bad game and then a good game.
The Eagles offense, for all its problems, is number one in the league in yards. That tells you that they're doing something right. The downside is that they are just averaging 20.5 points per game. Red Zone turnovers are keeping too many points off the board and that must stop. When you consider that the offensive line is already down a couple of starters and that Jeremy Maclin has been banged up in both games, you have to really appreciate the fact that Vick has been as productive as he has (688 passing yards).
Vick's confidence and comfort level will grow each week that he plays well. Hopefully in a month we will barely remember the four interceptions from the Cleveland game. You also have to appreciate the fact that the team is 2-0. While Vick isn't perfect, he's playing well enough to win. He's also coming up big in the clutch. That's something Eagles fans haven't seen in a while.
For now, Vick just needs to keep making progress. And quit throwing interceptions.