Monday, September 24, 2012
Wins, losses likely to determine Vick's fate
By Dan Graziano
I was listening to Andy Reid's news conference live on the radio as I was driving through South Jersey this afternoon on my way home from Washington. And yeah, I heard the Philadelphia Eagles coach say "we'll evaluate as we go" when asked if he might consider a change at quarterback. And yeah, having been a sportswriter for 18 years, I can tell when I've just heard something that's going to blow up to be the big story of the day. I hope you can all forgive me for taking the remainder of the drive home to collect my thoughts, which are these:
At what point will the Eagles conside taking the job away from quarterback Michael Vick?
1. The exact question was at what point, if any, would Reid consider making a change at quarterback if the turnover problem didn't improve. Given the way the question was phrased, there's almost no other way Reid could answer that wouldn't open him to charges of coaching malpractice. Obviously, no matter who your quarterback is, if he continues to turn over the ball three times a game, you have to evaluate and consider other options. If Vick can't get the turnovers under control, he has no divine right to the job that would overcome that. The Eagles can't afford to turn over the ball at their current rate and expect to keep winning two out of every three games as they have so far. Vick is the Eagles' starting quarterback because Reid believes he's the best player for the job. If nine turnovers in three games don't affect your opinion of a quarterback (after turnovers were a huge problem for him last year and he swore up and down that he would correct it), then you're beyond stubborn and likely beyond help.
2. The current other options are Nick Foles, who was the Eagles' third-round pick this year and has never played in an NFL game, and Trent Edwards, who hasn't played in one since 2010. So it's not as though he's got John Elway and Dan Marino sitting on the bench. By leaving Edwards inactive and making Foles the backup so far this year, Reid is expressing that he'd be fine with Foles having to play quarterback for him if it came to that. But Foles has not proved anything to convince anyone he'd turn the ball over less than Vick does. He looked great in the preseason, against backup defenses that weren't game-planning to stop him, and no matter what kind of impression you or Reid has formed about Foles based on what little you've seen of him, no one actually knows how he'd do if thrust into real NFL action. Vick could be benched for poor play, but it'd be a lot easier to do that if the Eagles felt they had a reliable replacement option. And no matter how much they like Foles, they have no idea what they'd be getting.
3. And I think most important: Yes, there is precedent for Reid making a change at quarterback earlier than many would expect. But the two examples being cited -- his benching of Donovan McNabb at halftime of the Nov. 23, 2008 game and his switch from Kevin Kolb to Vick early in the 2010 season -- aren't direct parallels to this situation. McNabb was benched during a loss that would drop the Eagles' record to 5-5-1. The previous two games had been a loss to the Giants and a tie against the Bengals that McNabb famously hadn't understood as possible. McNabb was playing poorly, but the team also was losing games at a critical time in the second half of the season. This is September, and as poorly as Vick has played he is 2-1. When Reid switched from Kolb to Vick in early 2010, it was a jarring departure from his previously steadfast support of Kolb, but the change was based on the way Vick had played in Kolb's place. He'd nearly brought them back from 20-3 down against the Packers in Week 1, and he'd thrown for 284 yards and two touchdowns to beat the Lions in Week 2. Vick was playing at a startlingly high level and had proven -- against real NFL competition -- that he offered something Kolb did not. Such is not the current case with Foles.
In the end, I think it's the Eagles' record that determines this. The reason Reid isn't going to bench Vick for Foles this week is because Vick is 2-1. And as lousy as he has been at protecting the ball, he did lead game-winning touchdown drives in each of the first two weeks. Reid believes Vick can play better than he has played, and the fact that the Eagles have a winning record in spite of the problems likely buys Vick more time. If the Eagles were 0-3, it might be time to take a risk and see if the rookie could rescue them. But they don't need rescuing from 2-1. They simply need to start playing the way Reid believes they can play.
It's possible that Reid was just answering a news conference question as blandly and honestly as possible. It's more likely he knew the comments would be broadcast everywhere, parsed for meaning and heard by Vick himself, and that he's trying to light a fire under his quarterback. Nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with evaluating as he goes. Vick has to protect the ball better, or the Eagles will have to consider making a change. But I don't think it's any coincidence that Reid's first waver on this topic came after the Eagles' first loss. If they're 3-1 after Sunday night's game against the Giants, I imagine he'll go right back to full-support mode no matter how Vick played. But if they're 2-2 and Vick lays another egg, "evaluate as we go" might be about the nicest thing Reid's willing to say about his quarterback situation.