Commentary

Michael Vick is again at a crossroads

Future of Eagles quarterback and head coach Andy Reid on the line this season

Originally Published: September 28, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- This is not the start he wanted.

Michael Vick wasn't planning to be a turnover machine this season. Risky passes. Sloppy footwork. Holding the ball too long. All of it has been a problem for Vick so far this season. He's been sacked. He's been hit. He's gotten up, but the hits are mounting, and his completion percentage is dropping, and, sure, the Eagles are 2-1, but they were lucky to beat Cleveland and luckier to beat Baltimore, and then they got their heads handed to them by Arizona and what will the defending Super Bowl champs do to them Sunday night?

Eagles fans are impatient. They yearn for a winner. They're sick of their coach, and not everyone is sold on the quarterback. Naturally, the noise level has risen. On Monday, the Eagles were close to having a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands after Andy Reid failed to give Vick, who has thrown six interceptions and fumbled five times in three games, a ringing endorsement, saying, "Right now we're with Michael, and that's what we're doing. We'll evaluate as we go."

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEagles fans are expressing doubts about him, but Michael Vick says he's unconcerned. "It's cool. It is what it is. It's a part of the game."

Bam. "Right now" and "evaluate as we go" ignited a firestorm, particularly for the vocal Eagles fans who are in love with rookie backup quarterback Nick Foles, who is 6-foot-6.

Reid quickly backtracked -- or clarified, depending on your read of the situation for a 14-year veteran head coach who never says anything he doesn't mean and has a firm understanding of the media market in which he works. On his weekly radio show later Monday, Reid said Vick was his starting quarterback, something he reiterated Wednesday when he explained that the "semantics" of the situation were misinterpreted.

Maybe so, but the misunderstanding is an example of how hot the cauldron is in which Vick is working. His margin for error is slim. He essentially is playing for his football future and for that of his coach. Vick knows this. He gets it. He is driven to succeed and motivated by the goal of making a Super Bowl run, but the results so far have not been what he expects or what his coach demands. And the criticism, at least from the Philadelphia fan base, has been withering.

"I don't care," Vick said, standing in a hallway at the Eagles' practice facility Wednesday. "I don't care. Words can never hurt me. It's just people talking and listening or saying what they want to say, people who've never played the game before. But obviously they're going to comment on what they see. It's cool. It is what it is. It's a part of the game."

Vick isn't one to lack confidence or acknowledge publicly a problem, but it is fair to wonder what's going on with him. Are the hits and knockdowns getting to him? At 32 years old, has he lost the burst he showed in 2010, when he dazzled after essentially not playing for three seasons? Is Vick pressing, trying to do too much, because he knows this is such a huge year for him and Reid? Is the offensive line, which is without its starting left tackle and center and its backup left tackle, simply ill equipped to protect him?

Or is it just that Vick can't be what the Eagles need him to be: an accurate pocket passer about to go through his progressions and take care of the football?

They all are fair questions, particularly when you examine Vick's statistics this season. Overall, he's completed 55.2 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks. Four of Vick's interceptions have come when he's been throwing from inside the pocket and four when in the shotgun formation, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His highest completion percentage is when he throws off play-action, and he's been accurate with screen passes (9-of-11) and dreadful in the red zone (4-of-11).

Although Vick has been more accurate against a four-man rush, when teams send an extra blitzer, he has the second-worst completion percentage (38.9) in the NFL, ahead of only Seattle rookie Russell Wilson. When defenses rush a defensive back, Vick's completion percentage drops to 26.3 (5-of-19), worst in the NFL. By comparison, Ryan Fitzpatrick is 13-of-13, Ben Roethlisberger is 13-of-20 and Eli Manning is 13-of-21 when a defensive back blitzes.

Vick dismissed the notion that he or his teammates are having trouble against the blitz. "We had no trouble with blitz recognition," he said. "Everything is good with our offense. Everything is in sync. Everything is intact. We just have to get better. [If] we eliminate turnovers and start fast, we give ourselves a chance to win games."

That is what everyone with the Eagles seems to be holding on to, that the turnovers will even out and, when they do, the Eagles will be dominant. They have the weapons on offense. Their defensive front seven is as good as it has been in years. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have designed plays that work -- on the first play against Arizona, DeSean Jackson was wide open deep, but left tackle Demetress Bell missed a block and Vick had to scramble -- but the execution hasn't been there.

Asked whether he thought the turnovers would even out, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said, "You would like to think so.

"I think it has to in order for us to be successful," Maclin added. "We have to take care of the football. We're still top tier in offense. What is killing us is the turnovers. I don't think turnovers [signal] a lack of connection or anything like that. I just think that it's either them making a good play or us being too careless with the ball."

Which comes back to Vick and Reid. Was Reid sending a not-so-subtle message to his quarterback earlier this week to eliminate the turnovers or else? Or was it merely a matter of semantics?

"I didn't exactly hear what he said or how he said it, but I'm just going to go out and continue to do my job until somebody tells me otherwise," Vick said.

The season hasn't started how Vick would like, but there is still time for it to end right.


INSIDE SLANT


This mess we won't forget. This debacle the National Football League allowed to happen by locking out its officials won't diminish with time. This is a permanent mark on Roger Goodell's record. There should be an asterisk on Green Bay's loss to Seattle on Monday night, and a red "X" on Goodell's term as the NFL's commissioner and steward.

This should never have happened. Goodell should never have allowed what became a national embarrassment that reached mainstream America to occur. The NFL should not have been on the evening news because of the officials. President Barack Obama should not have weighed in. It should never have gotten to that point. The NFL should have come up with a creative compromise with the officials in July or August, not this past Wednesday night.

Goodell is ultimately to blame because he could not get the owners to budge soon enough. He could not facilitate a consensus until things got out of hand. He has done many good things in his tenure as commissioner, but he could not avoid a colossal compromising of the game's integrity. That is on him. That will not be forgotten.

•  •  •

The Packers need to forget about the Monday night debacle and quickly, because they have a desperate New Orleans team coming to town Sunday. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers eloquently slammed the league during his radio show Tuesday, apologizing to the fans for the product they were forced to watch with replacement officials, and then on Wednesday again criticized the league's support for how the Packers-Seahawks game ended. OK. We get it. The Packers were robbed.

The important thing now is for the Green Bay players to put it behind them. The issue understandably lingered into the beginning of their work week -- Wednesday -- because of the severity of the issue. But it must not linger anymore. Although 0-3, the Saints are a talented team that is desperate for a win. They will bring a sense of urgency to the game. If the Packers aren't ready, they could be looking at 1-3 when the day is done, which would be a significant hole given the division in which they play.

•  •  •

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jeff Siner/Getty ImagesCam Newton needs to stop sulking if he wants fans to forget a mocking cartoon.

Hello Kitty? Seriously? Hello Kitty? Cam Newton got clowned by the local newspaper in the city where he plays. What does that tell you?

It should tell Newton that he needs to shape up. He needs to lose the towel over his head on the sideline, the pouting on the bench when things aren't going well, the bad body language, the pathetic post-loss news conferences. He is the leader of the Carolina Panthers. He is the franchise. And yes, Newton had a rookie year in 2011 against which all rookies from here on out will be judged, but he's still only 7-12 as an NFL starter. He still has a lot to learn.

Clearly, if the Charlotte Observer is mocking Newton with a cartoon that depicts Newton with a Hello Kitty T-shirt under his jersey and Newton in the Superman pose with a thought bubble that reads, "I like to pretend there's a big 'S' on my chest ..." well, he needs to refine his reputation. He needs to act like the franchise in everything he does and says, from his body language on the field to what he wears in public to how he comports himself when things are going well and when they are going badly.

That's what leaders do. And if Newton does that from here moving forward, that damning Hello Kitty cartoon will be forgotten.

•  •  •

Ahmad Bradshaw's return from a neck injury doesn't necessarily mean the Giants are going to shelve Andre Brown against the Eagles. And they shouldn't. Brown is coming off a game against Carolina in which he rushed 20 times for a career-high 113 yards. He gave New York something it desperately lacked last season: balance.

"There's plenty of room for talented people, and there have been years in which we've had three running backs make major contributions," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday. "With Andre's emergence here in the last two games he's played and how well he's played, he's certainly indicated that we would have another weapon that we might take advantage of. In our opinion, the more playmakers we have, the better we're going to be."

Balance certainly would help Eli Manning, whom the Giants relied on last season for what Coughlin called "fourth-quarter type of dramatics." Although Coughlin credited Manning for being able to "put his team on his back and help us win," Brown has given notice that he deserves a role in that, too.


ALL-22


Minnesota's second-year quarterback, Christian Ponder, has the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL at 70.1, behind only Atlanta's Matt Ryan (72), and he has yet to throw an interception this season. According to Greg Cosell, executive producer of ESPN's "NFL Matchup," the Vikings are playing to Ponder's strengths, using Percy Harvin as "the ultimately movable chess piece" and expanding the role of tight end Kyle Rudolph.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesChristian Ponder seems to be playing with more poise this season.

On the opening drive against the 49ers last Sunday, the Vikings had the ball at their own 34-yard line facing second-and-10. Rudolph lined up in the slot. Ponder's first read was to the wide receiver on the left side of the field, who was covered. Ponder's second read was to Rudolph in the middle of the field. Rudolph was wide open. Ponder delivered the ball, and the Vikings got a first down.

"This is not an X and O point, but I thought he showed great poise," Cosell said. "He was very calm, very composed. I thought he looked truly like he belonged. Last year, I thought as the season progressed after some early success, he started playing really fast. You could see that on film. This year, I'm not seeing that. He's a much more composed player."

Up next for Minnesota are the Detroit Lions. Cosell said he expects the Vikings to expand on the concepts they've shown the first three weeks: Run the ball with Adrian Peterson, make the Lions identify and account for Harvin on every play, play to Ponder's strengths, and use Rudolph and tight end John Carlson.


STATS & INFO


With the regular officials back, games should go back to lasting 3 hours, 6 minutes, on average. In the first three weeks with replacement officials, games stretched to 3 hours, 16 minutes, and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there were eight games that took more than 3 hours, 30 minutes, to play. That's double the total from Weeks 1-3 from 2008-11 combined.

Overall, replacement officials called fewer penalties than regular officials called in the first three weeks of last season, but they called 23 more defensive pass interference penalties, 18 more personal fouls, 13 more offensive holdings and 12 more defensive holdings.


#theytweetedit



The Indianapolis Colts' owner is prolific on Twitter, but he is wrong here. The NFL owners and management locked out their officials. The regular refs missed games. The replacement refs cost Green Bay a win. That didn't please anybody.



On Wednesday, when it looked like the NFL and the NFL Referees Association were close to a deal, Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, suggested everyone take a breath.



The NFL loves to fine Belichick. Pro Football Talk's @daringantt tweeted that he could see Belichick "paying with a truckload of nickels." Great line and so true. In 2007, the NFL fined Belichick $500,000 for his involvement in the Patriots' Spygate scandal.


PICK 'EM


All games Sunday unless otherwise noted. All times ET.

New England (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1), 1 p.m.: The Patriots haven't been here in a while. The last time they had a losing record was Week 2 of 2003, after a loss to ... the Bills. They won't lose this one. Patriots 35, Bills 21.


San Francisco (2-1) at New York Jets (2-1), 1 p.m.: Darrelle Revis means everything to the Jets, and now he's out. The 49ers will be the first of many teams to take advantage. Niners 24, Jets 12.


Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2), 1 p.m.: A win is a win, whether deserved or not. And beating the Packers is a big boost to Seattle. Seahawks 17, Rams 14.


Carolina (1-2) at Atlanta (3-0), 1 p.m.: The Falcons don't lose at home. They have been money on their opening drives. They don't turn the ball over. They're a tough, tough out. Falcons 35, Panthers 17.


Minnesota (1-2) at Detroit (1-2), 1 p.m.: Going back to Week 6 of last season, the Lions are 6-9, including a playoff loss at New Orleans. They aren't exactly lighting it up. Lions 21, Vikings 17.


San Diego (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2), 1 p.m.: Even though they won last week, the Chiefs haven't had a lead in a game this season in regulation. That's remarkable and about to change. Chiefs 24, Chargers 21.


Tennessee (1-2) at Houston (3-0), 1 p.m.: The Texans' defense has excelled at getting off the field on third down. Tennessee won't put up 44 points against it. Texans 35, Titans 17.


Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2), 4:05 p.m.: This Bengals team is moving the ball and scoring a lot of points. They've got dynamic offensive players. What fun. Bengals 31, Jaguars 13.


Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2), 4:05 p.m.: The Broncos need a W badly, and they'll have to get this one without linebacker Joe Mays, whom the league suspended for a game. Broncos 24, Raiders 21.


Miami (1-2) at Arizona (3-0), 4:05 p.m.: The Cardinals are hot. Kevin Kolb is playing well. The defense is tough. The train rolls on. Cardinals 31, Dolphins 17.


Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2), 4:25 p.m.: The Redskins need to evolve and change, because teams have seen Robert Griffin III on tape. They will. Redskins 24, Buccaneers 14.


New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2), 4:25 p.m.: Boy, do the Saints need a win. They won't get one at Lambeau Field. Think Packers fans will be lathered up? Packers 27, Saints 21.


New York Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia (2-1), 8:20 p.m.: A classic win situation for the Eagles. Coming off a bad loss, with fans livid and downtrodden, against the Giants at home on national TV on a night when the franchise honors the beloved Brian Dawkins. Eagles 31, Giants 27.


Chicago (2-1) at Dallas (2-1), 8:30 p.m. Monday: Jay Cutler has one touchdown and five interceptions in the past two games. The Cowboys' much-improved secondary is waiting. Cowboys 24, Bears 20.


Idle: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh.


Last week: 7-8.Season: 26-20.


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