It may have been a while ago, but there was a time in Atlanta when an up-and-coming superstar would revolutionize the game forever and take the league by storm. It was known as the Michael Vick experience.
Jim Haslett knows about this all too well. Although, he wouldn’t call it the Michael Vick experience. In his case, it would be the Michael Vick nightmare.
Due to injuries, Vick only played five games against the Saints in the five years that Haslett was coaching the New Orleans Saints, from the time Vick entered the league as a rookie. The Saints would lose all five games.
Haslett got his first taste of Vick in the young sensation’s second year in the pros. Boasting a 6-1 record at home, Haslett’s Saints were riding high. Meanwhile, Vick took an inexperienced 3-3 Falcons team into the Superdome and pulled off a surprising upset, leading the Falcons to a 37-35 victory.
The Falcons would go on to sweep the Saints in 2002, Vick’s sophomore season. From there on, Vick would continue to have Haslett’s number.
Vick’s stats against the Saints weren’t eye-popping. He consistently struggled with accuracy and never lit it up with his arm, but he methodically wore the Saints defense out with productive games with his legs. The least amount of rushing yards he amassed was in Haslett and Vick’s final clash in 2005, a game in which Vick had 38 rushing yards. However, he did reach the end zone twice.
In the five games against Haslett, Vick’s Falcons averaged 31 points whenever he started. His impact went beyond the numbers, as his overall athleticism opened up the playbook and allowed for the likes of Warrick Dunn to effectively contribute.
Five years later, the chess match between the Redskins savvy defensive coordinator and Michael Vick will play out once again. Much can happen in five years, and in the cases of Michael Vick and Jim Haslett, this is an understatement.
From 2005-2007, Vick continued to frustrate everyone in Atlanta with his inconsistency, and then got caught in a dog-fighting ring that would send one of the most marketable players of his generation to jail for two NFL seasons.
Haslett wasn’t much more fortunate. Although he avoided jail time, he stepped in as the Rams defensive coordinator a year after the Saints fired him. In 2008, he would be promoted to interim head coach following the firing of Scott Linehan. After the Rams pulled off back-to-back upsets in his first two games as the new coach, they would finish the season with 10 straight losses, prompting Haslett to be out of a job once again.
Haslett would then have a one-year stint in the UFL as the Florida Tuskers head coach, but it was clear Haslett wanted to be back in the NFL.
Mike Shanahan gave him that opportunity. On January 12th, Haslett officially signed on as the Redskins defensive coordinator.
The paths are remarkably different, but for the sixth time Haslett will face off against Vick. And it may be their most important matchup yet.
Lost in the Donovan McNabb homecoming saga is the fact that the Redskins desperately need a win on Sunday. If they go into Philadelphia and win, the losses against the Texans and Rams are virtually erased. They would be 2-0 in the division, and would be in first place in the NFC East. If they lose, then they would be 1-3 with three straight games against the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, and Chicago Bears looming.
In order to do so, they must stop an athlete who is playing up to the potential that has been cited since he was drafted in 2001. Granted, Vick’s two-and-a-half dominant performances were against a team that didn’t prepare for him and two sub-par pass defenses, but he looks remarkably poised and is blessed with two dynamic receivers on the outside, as well as a terrific tight end.
Redskins players have said that Haslett plans on using a defensive back to spy Vick all game. When Vick was in Atlanta, this would be an appropriate strategy. After Vick’s first-read failed to get open, he would tend to tuck the ball away and use his amazing speed to accumulate yardage. At this point, a fast defensive back can close in on Vick and hold him to a minimal gain.
With the Eagles, Vick is scanning through all of his receivers, as long as the Eagles suspect offensive line gives him enough time. Even when Vick is avoiding pass rushers he is keeping his eyes down the field, a sign of incredible growth as a quarterback since he was the Falcons franchise quarterback.
Therefore, utilizing a defensive back to spy may not be the sure-fire answer it used to be. Given DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin’s ability to get behind the secondary in the blink of an eye, having one defensive back dedicated to simply watching the quarterback could pay huge dividends for the Eagles.
More importantly, it may confirm 31 teams’ fears that Vick is on the cusp of emerging as a truly elite quarterback. It’s your move Jim Haslett.
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