Michael Vick is.
The Eagles’ speedy QB hasn’t even reached the regular season yet, and he’s already dealing with significant pain, if not a sidelining injury. Why? Because he finds no problem in risking his season on scampers and heaves, all with the hope that he may get a few more yards or points as defenders come crashing in.
McNabb was never a safe, pocket quarterback. He did his fair share of running, and he took his bruises with it. But McNabb never missed as many games as Vick has in his time in the NFL, or worried fans every time he rolled to the turf. McNabb, unlike Vick, was never a bigger liability to his team than he was an asset.
Vick tries to be uber-awesome every play, but the results affect more than himself. For every breathtaking long throw or daredevil run through the defense, Vick puts his entire team’s fortunes within the limited protection of his slim body. And more times than not, Vick has squandered the Eagles’ potential by taking hits that put the team out of contention before it really has time to get going.
Vick’s ribs are not broken this time, after he took a nasty shot in a win over the Patriots in preseason action Monday. But he’s already starting this season from behind, having to play through pain — and he’s already taking away his team’s mental edge by having the most important position on the field become a scampering, sliding question mark.
Vick’s style of play has been criticized before, with even President Obama telling him to let plays go once in a while. But a distinction should be drawn between Vick’s style and his decision-making. His style — his running, ability to create plays outside the pocket and electric feet — is fine. He has tools that no other NFL player has ever had at the position, and he knows how to use them well and find wins where they otherwise wouldn’t be.
It’s Vick’s decision-making that has been a problem. He should be able to play within his style without recklessly throwing his body into situations where he may be snapped in two. Plenty of players find ways to get through a tough NFL season without breaking multiple body parts, and even quarterbacks who get hit all the time aren’t missing every other game. It’s not that Vick is especially brittle or not tough — he just finds himself in far too many situations where the best-case result is broken ribs or worse.
Of course he’s going to get hurt. Of course he’s going to miss games. Of course he’s a warrior — but the NFL doesn’t hand out wins on toughness ratings. Wins go to the team that scores the most points, and Vick and the Eagles can’t be scoring points if their plays are busted because their quarterback is underneath a defender’s body, or because the quarterback isn’t even on the field due to injury.
For one of the best arguments on why chronically injured players should get their act together and adapt to their games, consider Rafael Nadal, who basically removes himself from Grand Slam contention not because he loses, but because he can’t even show up to matches anymore because he’s so hurt.
The Eagles have other options at quarterback, but Vick is the best choice by far. He can also — when healthy and making plays — be a level above his NFL counterparts. Vick on fire is a multithreat laser show that can’t be rivaled.
But Vick injured is beyond bad for Philadelphia. Not only do the Eagles have to go without Vick’s talents if he’s hurt, but they also have to go without a starter. They have to pull in spot starters and get them and the rest of the team adjusted. Then, because Vick often misses only a few games, they have to adjust everything back when Vick returns. A healthy Vick is great. An injured Vick is a double, triple or quadruple negative.
Even worse for the Eagles is the fact that they play in what has perennially been one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions and the Cowboys are certain spoilers if not contenders. This year’s Redskins with Robert Griffin III promise to at least look better than previous renditions. A couple of lost games for the Eagles can easily mean a drop to the bottom of the division and missing the playoffs.
McNabb had his faults as a quarterback, the biggest being that, despite his numbers and ability, the Eagles could never quite get over the hump and win big. But, despite his critics, McNabb’s resume is still impressive. Most important, he led the Eagles to the playoffs and NFC championship regularly.
Vick has yet to come close to that standard, and it’s not because he’s not capable. This is the guy who looks built for video games, who can make moves no one else has imagined at the pro level. But he’s also the guy who isn’t doing that week in and week out simply because he’s playing at less than healthy. He chooses to recklessly take hits, and that demolishes his team’s chances.
Talent is no good unless it’s on the field every week. This is the preseason, and Vick and Philadelphia should consider it a wakeup call. The Eagles have the tools to be aiming for the postseason, and that should be their goal — starting with having Vick on the field for every single game to get them there.
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