Michael Vick: Is the Philadelphia Eagles' QB Rusty, Bad or Both?

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 09:  Quarterback Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws to a receiver throws to a receiver as he is pressured by defensive back T.J. Ward #43 of the Cleveland Browns during the season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 9, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

On the plus side for the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick did throw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns in the 17-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Vick did lead the Eagles on a 91-yard drive in the fourth quarter to win the game—on the road—against a good defense. He also competed passes to seven different receivers, five of whom caught four or more balls in the game.

Vick did all of those things, and he did some of them well. He also threw four interceptions—the most in any game of his career—and looked completely and utterly lost throughout the game, chalking it up to rust after the game.

"Obviously I had plenty of throws that I would like to have back," Vick told reporters after the game. "[I was] sort of rusty out there, you know, but I just fought through it and that's all I could do. When we scored that last touchdown it was a sigh of relief."

The Eagles better hope it's rust, or nerves, or something Vick will be able to shake off before the season gets too far along and the defense can't keep them in games like they did against an equally-anemic Browns offense.

Listening to the post-game quotes, it just feels like "rust" was the Eagles' codeword for bad. Replace the word "rusty" in this quote by head coach Andy Reid with the word "bad" and see if the statement is any less true about Vick's performance: 

"I thought he was rusty. I'm stating the obvious," Reid told reporters, "but I thought he was rusty and I thought it was important that he get back in the swing and work his way through it.

"He did; he kept competing he kept shooting, which you have to do and came up on the positive side of it." 

It looked at times like Vick was playing the game in a parking lot, slinging side arm passes, forcing throws into spots he had no business attempting and avoiding the Cleveland rush by tossing balls into random areas on the field where an unsuspecting receiver just happened to be standing near multiple defenders.

Vick threw four interceptions in the season-opener and was lucky he didn't throw more.

Even the game-winning touchdown pass was preceded by one of Vick's worst throws of the game, a sure-fire interception that was dropped in the end zone by undrafted rookie linebacker L.J. Fort. 

The thing is, it wasn't Vick's arm that looked rusty. It wasn't his legs either, as he rushed seven times for 32 yards while being sacked just twice despite a heavy barrage of pressure that had him getting hit over and over again behind some depleted and relatively ineffective pass protection.

Despite being hurt in each of his two preseason games, Vick looked fine physically. If there was rust, it felt like it was more mental.

Vick constantly made poor decisions with the football when under pressure, trying to force balls where they couldn't fit. If his struggles were physical mistakes, one might understand the explanation of rust. But Vick was making mental mistakes, something a veteran quarterback shouldn't be hampered by at this stage of his career.

"The game is fast," Reid told reporters," and it picks up after the preseason and [Vick] didn't have any preseason. 

"It's a fast game. This was an important game for him to get in and play and endure and toughen it out, which he did. If you take a positive out of this you saw a good defense and you saw a tough football team that hung in and trusted each other." 

Vick was 29-of-56 for 317 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions on the day, but if he really was rusty—if he really did need to get back up to game speed—he certainly didn't shed it until the absolute last moment possible.

In the second half against Cleveland, Vick was 12-28 for 108 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, noticeably worse than his 17-28 for 209 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the first half. Even worse, Vick's second-half numbers were buoyed significantly by the Eagles' final drive, which had him complete 6-of-11 passes for 55 yards and the game-winning touchdown. 

Before the final drive, Vick was 6-17 for 53 yards and three interceptions in the second half, one of which was returned for a go-ahead touchdown by the Browns. 

If that was just rust, Vick better shake harder before next game.

The positive to take out of the season-opener for the Eagles—other than leaving Cleveland with a win—is that Vick is mature enough to see he needs to get better. The 32-year-old knows that the goals of this season depend on his success.

"You look over at the sideline and you hold yourself accountable for making positive plays and it doesn't happen," Vick explained in his post game media availability. "I have a responsibility to this team and it's to lead them not to hurt them. So I was more disappointed in that than anything and I just wanted another chance at it to get the ball back and try to make things right." 

Nobody in Philadelphia should panic just yet. Of course fans will, (and if you listen to sports talk radio, already are) but they shouldn't. Vick was probably just rusty, albeit mentally, seeing no more than a dozen or so preseason snaps before sitting out of game action for nearly three weeks.

That being said, if Vick has a similar performance in game two, rust can't be an excuse. In a division with Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, Vick is suddenly being seen as the weakest quarterback in the division, especially after the Week 1 performances by Romo and RGIII.

Vick and the Eagles need to look at the upcoming schedule—with games against the Ravens, Cardinals, Giants, Steelers, Lions, Falcons and Saints in the first half of the season—and realize they can't afford any more rust.