Thursday, September 30, 2010
Is Michael Vick More Bark Than Bite For The Philadelphia Eagles?
Michael Vick is the top dog of Philadelphia now, the leader of an Eagles pack looking for championship gold, and the alpha male people remembered him being back in 2005.
Vick's recent development as a quarterback can be attributed to maturity and also to finally getting the coaching he so desperately needed. When he was the first pick of the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Falcons, he joined a rapidly aging club entering their third season away from a Super Bowl loss.
Dan Reeves was the head coach of the team at the time, and is best remembered as the guy who helped develop Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. Like Vick, Elway was also an extremely mobile player with an extremely strong throwing arm. Veteran Chris Chandler, a two-time Pro Bowler who had led the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, started 14 games that season as Vick learned.
Chandler joined the Chicago Bears in 2002, so Vick had the job. He threw for a career high 2,936 yards under Reeves, as well as having a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio, as Atlanta made the playoffs. He also led the league with a 6.9 yards per carry average and piled up 777 yards and career best eight scores on the ground.
The future looked extremely bright for the 22-year old kid who just made his first Pro Bowl by electrifying the gridiron with a skill set never quite seen before in the history of the game. All that was missing from his arsenal was the obvious need for more experiences to learn from.
Then things got sidetracked.
He spent much of 2003 injured, only playing in five games. Atlanta fired Reeves at the end of the year and replaced him with the inexperienced Jim Mora Jr., the son of veteran coach Jim Mora Sr. The young Mora specialized as a defensive secondary coach before getting his first head job by Atlanta.
Being so inexperienced with limited offensive knowledge at 33-years old, Mora Jr. seemed to basically keep out of the local hero Vick's way and allow him to do as he pleased. It worked for awhile, as Atlanta won 22 of 33 games and Vick went to two more Pro Bowls before the bottom fell out. The Falcons lost nine of their final 14 games in 2006 despite Vick setting a NFL rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,039 yards and leading the league best 8.4 yards per carry.
Reports started to leak out about his behavior off the field since 2004. A truck carrying two men and marijuana was stopped by police. The truck belonged to Vick. Later that year members of his entourage were observed stealing an expensive watch at an airport.
In 2006, a woman talked about him carrying the alias "Ron Mexico" and giving her herpes. There was a huge run on Falcons jerseys with Vick's number and Mexico's name on the back of it, causing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned any further sale of that type of garment.
Later that year, he walked off the Falcons field following a defeat sticking both of middle fingers up in the air towards fans. It was one of his last acts as a member of the Falcons.
In the early part of 2007, a family members drug activity caused authorities to stumble over a dog fighting ring being held on property owned by Vick. After initially denying all charges, he admitted his role and was sentenced to three years in jail. After serving over a year, he was released.
Because of the loss of endorsements, living an expensive lifestyle, having to give moneys back to the Falcons and other, court costs, and many bad financial moves, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He signed with the Eagles for $1.5 million and spent 2009 barely playing in an undefined role.
Upon his recent explosion in 2010, it appears he was doing more than holding a clipboard for Eagles legend Donovan McNabb. Head coach Andy Reid spent two years as a quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers, who had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at the helm.
He had replaced Marty Mornhinweg, who held the job in 1996 and coaxed Farve to his only Super Bowl win. Mornhinweg then left Green Bay to be Hall of Famer Steve Young's quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers, as well as develop future four-time Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia. He left the Niners after Garcia had the best season of his career in 2000.
After a disastrous stay as head coach of the Detroit Lions, he reunited with Reid in 2003 in Philadelphia. Reid and Mornhinweg, with the help of second year quarterbacks coach James Urban, have obviously taught Vick the much needed intricacies of his position to make him more lethal by taking advantage of his entire skill set.
Vick freely admits his days in Atlanta were spent relying on natural abilities instead of trying to be the best he could. Had he had the work ethic of Peyton Manning, along with a semblance of the coaching he is receiving now, the possibility of him now being on his way to Canton could seem probable.
With Atlanta, he would take off running if his first passing option was covered. He was easily rattled in the pocket, looking for a seam to escape. Now he is hanging in the pocket and taking time to look over all of his options before thinking of running.
Fans of Vick like to point out he now has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek to throw to in Philadelphia. as opposed to Brian Finneran, Peerless Price, Shawn Jefferson, and Alge Crumpler with the Falcons. Only Crumpler was a Pro Bowler, and with Finneran, were the only receivers there for each of Vick's Pro Bowl years. A young Roddy White and Michael Jenkins spent some time with him, and still start with Atlanta.
While an upgrade of talent around him certainly helps his recent success, so does the fact his starts in 2010 have come against two of the weaker teams in the NFL. His first real test against an upper echelon defense may not come until week 12 against the Bears, but fans look forward to his clash with the Washington Redskins next week.
McNabb, now a member of the Redskins, was traded a few months ago because the Eagles planned to go with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Those plans changed in the opening game when Kolb was taken off the field with a concussion and replaced by Vick, who played very well and sparked the Eagles to making the game look closer than it actually was.
Two weeks after the Redskins, he will face the Falcons. Though the game will take place in Philadelphia, it is an opportunity for Vick to show the Atlanta fans and organization what exactly they are missing by having parted ways with him in 2007. Emotions may run high at this game, but Reid and Mornhinweg will try to put together a strategy that leads the team to the more important victory over retribution.
Though Vick is breaking new ground in some areas at just 30-years old, he most certainly reminds Eagles fans of one of their very own legends in some ways. A legend who was put in the teams Ring of Honor last season.
Randall Cunningham was the teams second round draft pick in 1985. Though not quite as fast as Vick, he was very athletic, elusive, and possessed just as strong of a throwing arm, if not stronger.
Like Vick, he was told to run if his first option was covered by a defensive oriented head coach. In 1990, his third and final Pro Bowl season with the Eagles, he ran for 942 yards. It is still the third most rushing yards in a season by a NFL quarterback, and he was when he was named PFWA NFL MVP, UPI NFC Player of the Year, and won the Bert Bell Award.
He did not leave Philadelphia because of legal trouble in 1995, but because of injuries. He found himself on the Minnesota Vikings two years later, then made the Pro Bowl in 1998 by throwing to fellow Pro Bowlers Randy Moss, Robert Smith, and Cris Carter. He enjoyed perhaps his finest season ever, winning 13 of 14 starts, and winning his third and last Bert Bell Award.
The Vikings scored 556 points that season, which was a record at the time. People marveled how Cunningham had settled into an effective pocket passer, no longer relying on just his legs. Part of that reason was his past injuries and due to the fact he was 35-years old.
Now Vick is enjoying his moment in a similar sun, yet he has the ability to stretch this ride out a lot longer than Cunningham was able to. With Reid at the helm, the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL, he knows stability is at his disposal for the first time since his collegiate days at Virginia Tech University under Frank Beamer.
Though he still owes people money, and some others feel more apologies for what he did to canines, the world is his oyster again. If he keeps learning and progressing, perhaps he can win more than happiness from repaying debt.
A football championship is something Philadelphia has sought since 1960, and something Michael Vick can attain to justify his struggle to be relevant again.
Week 4 Picks
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Chad Ocho Cinco might hand out his OchocincO's to Cleveland after this one. Not just for the sugar and nutrition, but for the phone-sex number printed on the box.
Bengals 34 Browns 20
Seattle Seahawks @ Saint Louis Rams
A game only those teams fans will watch, yet they can take solace at the obvious improvements each have had.
Seahawks 24 Rams 21
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
The Lions defense is all banged up and three key offensive starters will not play. Guard Stephen Peterman may also sit out.
The Packers have to happy with this news, considering they embarrassed themselves last Monday with a huge amount of self-defeating penalties.
Packers 37 Lions 13
Denver Broncos @ Tennessee Titans
Chris Johnson might not be killing the NFL like last year, but he does have 401 rushing yards already. Denver's defensive strength is stopping the run, but they are only ranked tenth.
The Broncos passing game is tops in the league, but the Titans pass defense ranks fifth.
It will come down to whose strengths are greater than the others weaknesses, as well as whose weaknesses can compete best against the others strengths.
Titans 27 Broncos 24
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
The Saints are upset dropping a game they should have won last week, as well as the fact their offense hasn't really been that sharp this season.
Expect Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams to load up a complex blitz package to confuse rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen most of Sunday.
The Panthers defense is mediocre and the offense is worse. The running game, their strength, cannot get going because no one respects the passing game and crowds the line. The Saints rank 30th in run defense, so the plan of attack is evident.
Saints 24 Panthers 14
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The best rivalry in the NFL today normally is Game of the Week material, except Pittsburgh is missing their star quarterback. Even so, it is one of the weekends best games,
Defense will reign supreme, as bruises will be handed out easier than Halloween candy.
Though Baltimore's Ray Rice is dinged up, their offense is better than Pittsburgh's right now. Last possession wins?
Win or lose, kudos to the Steelers going into their bye as one of the NFL's best stories so far this year.
Ravens 13 Steelers 10
San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons
The 49ers are desperate. So desperate that they fired offensive guru Jimmy Raye, who got his first NFL job in 1977 with the 49ers, a man who has been an NFL offensive coordinator since 1983. He was replaced by a guy with no experience as an offensive coordinator, but who has been a NFL quarterbacks coach since 2000.
Too bad for them they face a Falcons team fresh off a big win against the previously undefeated defending champions. They love to run the ball, but have been moderately disappointing in the pass so far.
A mediocre 49ers defense will have their hands full.
Falcons 28 49ers 16
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills
The Jets have their swagger back, while the Bills already cut their opening day starting quarterback.
Jets 23 Bills 9
Houston Texans @ Oakland Raiders
Oakland will have previously injured halfback Michael Bush toting the rock more, even though Darren McFadden has been excellent and is third in the NFL in rushing after consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
Houston ranks second in rushing defense, but are last in passing. Oakland pass defense ranks second, but the run defense is 24th.
Expect a heavy dose of Houston's Arian Foster, the leagues leading rusher, and Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski Sunday. The Raiders receivers are the x-factors.
Texans 26 Raiders 17
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Statistically, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is off to the best start of his career so far. Is there anything more he can do?
Jacksonville is struggling with consistency, a prevalent theme the past few years.
Colts 34 Jaguars 20
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins
Game of the Week
How weird will it be for Eagles fans watching Donovan McNabb scrambling for a touchdown wearing the Redskins burgundy and gold colors?
The former Philadelphia legend wants to show everyone what they are missing, but he has so far been suffering with the issue of no running game in Washington that he dealt with most of his Eagles career.
Philadelphia's pass defense ranks seventh, but their rush defense ranks just 23rd. The 28th ranked Redskin rushing offense needs to step up now. Especially since their defense gives up the most total yards per game.
Redskins 28 Eagles 27
Arizona Cardinals @ San Diego Chargers
Arizona, with the exception of running back Tim Hightower, has been pretty bad offensively so far this year. Hightower will have to carry the load against the ninth ranked run defense, because both of his backups are hurting.
They also will be missing wide receivers Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, and guard Alan Faneca is banged up.
Considering the Chargers rank first in offense and fourth in defense in the NFL, it is surprising they have just one victory.
Chargers 34 Cardinals 17
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears
According to ex-Giants star Tiki Barber, now working with the NBC network, many current players told him head coach Tom Coughlin's job is in jeopardy, Why any Giant would talk to a social pariah like Barber may be the bigger mystery.
The undefeated Bears strength is passing, while the Giants pass defense is the fourth best in the NFL. Their run defense ranks 26th, but Chicago's run attack is the third worst in the league.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is the key player this game. He leads the ninth best pass attack against the 28th best pass defense. Chicago has the best run defense in the NFL, so Manning will need to be on his game.
Giants 27 Bears 24
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
A stout divisional battle. New England's defense has been mediocre at best so far. With newly acquired Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall breaking out last week, the Pats 25th ranked passing defense will have their hands full.
Miami's defense has been pretty average so far, giving the seventh ranked New England offense hope.
It may come down to who runs the ball best.
Dolphins 24 Patriots 23
Record 27 - 19