For the Philadelphia Eagles to succeed this year, quarterback Michael Vick must limit his turnovers and be more responsible with the ball than he was for most of last year. This is axiomatic, and I think we all feel the same way about it.
The key question is whether Vick agrees. It's hard to solve a problem without acknowledging that one exists, and when you hear out-of-context quotes from radio interviews in which Vick says things like, "I don't think anything is going to change about my game," it's fair for Eagles fans to worry. If Vick doesn't accept a certain level of responsibility for the slow start that sank the 2011 Eagles, it's hard to imagine how he’ll do what he needs to do for the 2012 Eagles.
I think Vick does accept that some things need to change, and I'll get to that shortly. But first, I want to offer a recent example of proximity that could help Vick in this effort. A year ago, similar things were being said about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He threw 25 interceptions in 2010, a stunning number and one that, in the minds of many, prevented him from being considered among elite quarterbacks in the NFL. I remember speaking to Manning about that number in training camp last year, and I remember him rolling his eyes when it came up. He wasn't annoyed that I was asking. He was annoyed that he'd put up such a number and that it would live on his career stat line forever.
"Just still got to figure out how to be aggressive and take our shots that are there, but also find my checkdowns," Manning told me at the time. "Some things are forced, and some things depend on the game and the situation, like when we're down a bunch and trying to throw and trying to make too much happen. Some are bad throws that'll just happen, and some are bad decisions. You try and get rid of the bad-decision ones."
It's fair to say Manning did that. His interception total dropped to 16 in 2011, which still isn't fantastic but is more than acceptable in light of all of the positives he brought to the table. Manning had an excellent season, and part of the reason for that is that he was more responsible with the ball than he had been the year before -- that he realized and appreciated the importance of that responsibility and set out to make it a defining aspect of his season. Given the injuries and other issues the Giants dealt with in 2011, it's fair to say they would not have been in position to make their Super Bowl run if Manning had not made this important adjustment. Manning wasn't too proud to know and admit he had a problem he needed to correct, and he understood how important it was to correct it.
So, to Vick, then. Can he do the same? I believe it has to do with the root of his annoyance when the topic is broached. Is he annoyed at those who ask him about changing his risky style of play because he believes they are wrong and he doesn't have to change? Or is he annoyed because he threw 10 interceptions in his six losses last year and has to wear that? If it's the former, you have reason to believe he doesn't understand his task. If it's the latter, there is reason to believe he could make things better.
Go back to that radio interview from last week on 97.5 FM in Philadelphia. Vick said much more than "nothing's going to change." He said a lot about the things he knows and believes must get better for him in 2012 if the team is to succeed.
"When I break out of the pocket, I have a tendency to talk to myself while I play the game," Vick said. "So all I've got to do is tell myself when I'm scrambling to get down and protect myself. I think it's that easy. You just have to be able to do it in the moment, and that displays discipline. The best players that have played this game have been very disciplined in certain aspects of the game. And there's just certain areas that I've got to get better in."
Now, that's encouraging if you're an Eagles fan. That's a lot better than a brazen, arrogant assertion that nothing needs to change. If Vick believes what he's saying about improved discipline -- if that's the message Andy Reid and the coaches are drilling into him, and if he's really hearing it -- then that's the first step toward putting it into practice. Vick has the raw talent to accomplish anything he wants to on the field. His long-term success will be determined by the extent to which he appreciates the quarterback position as a craft to be honed and perpetually worked on.
"You continue to be coached," he said in that same interview. "You get coached even more now than you get a chance to be during the season. Now is the time for us to really focus on the things we need to improve on. Hopefully, I'm going to be even better than I was the last couple of years. I feel like I'm learning a lot about the game of football, having fun playing the game of football, and just hoping that the hard work will pay off, and I think it will."
Vick threw six interceptions in 12 games in his incredible 2010 season. He threw 14 in 13 games last year. Some will tell you he had good interception luck in 2010 and some bad interception luck (I think of the Buffalo game, for example) in 2011. Regardless, there are what Manning would call some "bad-decision ones" on which Vick could cut down. And if he does, as Manning did last year, realize the importance of doing that, he and the Eagles will be in a position to do the great things of which they believe themselves capable. At least at this point, it's up to Vick to decide.