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Michael Vick Emerges as a True QB With the Eagles

Michael Vick put on one of the greatest performances in the history of Monday Night Football with his showing in the 59-28 win over Washington.  Heck, that was one of the best games by a quarterback I've seen on any day of the week.  Vick became the first player in the history of the NFL to throw for more than 300 yards, run for more than 75 yards, throw 4 touchdown passes and run for a pair of touchdowns all in one game.   

Jon Gruden said a few times during the broadcast that Vick looked better than he's ever seen him.  I say Gruden is wrong, very wrong.  Vick isn't better.  He's different.  Completely different.  This is like seeing Pink Floyd in 1970 vs Pink Floyd in 1980.  The guys in 1970 were writing long, complex songs like Echoes that went on for 20 minutes and had an avant garde feel.  The guys in 1980 put out Comfortably Numb, a 6-minute song that was personal, melodic, and radio friendly.  Same band, but very, very different styles of music. 

The Vick we knew in Atlanta is gone.  That player simply doesn't exist anymore.  He wasn't a polished passer.  He didn't work on the craft of being an NFL quarterback with any sense of real effort or dedication.  He paid a lot of lip service to being a great player, but never backed those words up with action.  Vick was focused on living the good life and succeeding in football because of his god-given talent, which there was plenty of. 

Vick was uncoachable in those days.  He was what I would call "athletically arrogant".  Vick had so much success doing things his own way that he wasn't going to listen to a coach that wanted him to run a standard offense and focus on the fundamentals of being a quarterback.  Why on earth would you worry about mechanics, balance, and footwork when you could just run for a long touchdown? 

As Vick found out (and Randall Cunningham before him), playoff football is where running quarterbacks go to get shut down.  You cannot rely on big plays in the postseason.  You must be able to execute a standard offense.  Mix in some big plays and wild scrambles and you've got a Super Bowl team.  Take away the base offense and you're doomed to fail. 

The Michael Vick we're seeing in 2010 is a vastly different player.  He was humbled by his time in federal prison.  Listening to a quarterback coach or offensive coordinator isn't that hard when you're used to listening to a prison guard tell you when you can eat or go outside for some P-T.  Amazing what a difference some perspective makes. 

Vick now isn't an athlete playing quarterback.  He is a quarterback with some athletic ability.  That sounds like a simple manipulation of words, but there really is a difference.  I have always loved Vick's raw talent and potential, but watching him with the Falcons could be torturous at times.  He didn't read his progressions.  He wasn't an accurate passer.  His decision making was iffy at best. 

Let's look at the numbers for a minute.  Here are his career highs from various years as a Falcon:

Yards - 2,936
Completion percentage - 56.4 %
TDs - 20
INTs - 8 (fewest in a full season)
Rating - 81.6

Here are his numbers for 2010 (in essentially 5 games):

Yards - 1, 350
Completion percentage - 62.4%
TDs - 11
INTs - 0
Rating - 115.1

The numbers from his Atlanta days are pedestrian.  That's the kind of passer Vick was back then.  He lived and died with his legs.  Take away his running ability and Vick would have been a mediocre quarterback at best.  The guy we're seeing now is a weapon in the pocket as well as out of it. 

Vick gets credit for changing and you have to give credit to the coaches who have helped him here in Philly.  Head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and quarterback coach James Urban have all done a brilliant job in teaching Vick how to play the position of quarterback.  Those guys have also done a great job of shaping the offense to fit Vick's skill set.  Another person who deserves credit is Donovan McNabb.  Seeing McNabb work hard in practice and the film room helped Vick to understand what a real quarterback did to be prepared to go out and play well.  Pure talent isn't enough.  And that was a huge lesson for Vick.  In Atlanta preparation was something he never embraced.  That showed in his play.  Now he understands the importance of practice, film sessions, and quarterback meetings. 

I can't stress enough how different it is to watch Vick play quarterback these days.  Back in 2005 or 2006 ESPN went around to various training camps and did features about the team during the summer.  I remember watching the Falcons in a 7-on-7 drill.  That is the quarterback, skill players, and center going up against the back seven on defense.  It is a simple passing drill.  There is no pass rush so the quarterback simply has to find the open guy and get him the ball.  Vick would take the snap, drop back, scan the field, and then take off running.  He did this several times in a row.  A guy with several years of experience should have that drill mastered.  Vick struggled.  He wasn't reading his progressions well.  He wasn't finding the open guy.  He didn't even bother to check down to a running back.  He just took off running because that was the easy thing to do. 

This year I watch Vick sit in the pocket and execute a complex passing offense brilliantly.  He makes good reads.  He throws the ball accurately.  His receivers aren't lunging to the ground or jumping up high.  They are able to catch the ball and get RAC yards.  Some throws are off target, but many of those are thrown that way by necessity.  You want to put the ball where your receiver can make a play, but defenders can't get to it.  Vick isn't feeding the ball to just one workhorse receiver.  He's spreading the ball around.  He might go deep to DeSean Jackson on one play and short to Owen Schmitt on the next.  Vick is truly running the offense. 

Vick isn't any more talented than he ever was.  The difference is that Vick has bought in to the notion of being a true quarterback.  He listens to his coaches.  He works hard in practice.  In the games he runs the offense the way it is designed.  The coaches give him the freedom to improvise, but he doesn't abuse that freedom.  He sits in the pocket when he can and takes off running when that is needed.  He's playing quarterback as much with his mind now as his arm and legs. 

I don't know where things will go from here.  The first point of focus is Vick staying healthy.  He's got to be smart about going down or getting out of bounds when he does run.  He's shown progress in that area, but needs to really err on the side of caution.  If he stays healthy, there is no reason Vick can't play at an extremely high level for the rest of the year.  It isn't as if he's living off lucky plays right now.  He's not benefiting from blown coverages or defenders falling down or tipped balls.  Vick is playing great football. 

Vick and the Eagles will worry about the future when the season is over.  If he's able to stay on the field and play well, you can bet the Eagles will keep him around.  If the team continues to play at a high level, that makes him even more valuable.  And Vick will be somewhat defined by what he does in critical games down the stretch and hopefully how he plays in the postseason.  If Vick delivers a division title and a postseason win or two, his value goes through the roof. 

All of this is somewhat tempered by his off-field issues of the past.  Vick has been a solid citizen as an Eagle.  I've not heard a bad word about the guy from anyone around the Eagles.  His teammates love him.  The coaches don't have any complaints.  Still, you can't ignore his track record.  You have to ask some tough questions before committing your franchise and a lot of money to him.  Vick is a different person and player than he was in Atlanta, but how will he handle success?  That was his greatest weakness in the past. 

Whatever happens, I'm going to trust the Eagles.  I thought they were crazy for signing Vick.  I thought they were stupid for not dealing him this past offseason.  There weren't any serious offers, but I think that was because of the asking price.  So far Andy Reid has made the right calls regarding what to do with Vick.  This offseason will be the toughest situation yet, but I now trust Big Red's instincts when it comes to Vick.  Those two guys seem to bring out the best in each other.   Just ask the Redskins