Eagles-Texans: How Michael Vick Proved Himself Thursday Night In Philadelphia
It is impossible to ignore the game-breaking speed and brilliant play-making ability of Michael Vick. He has remarkable vision, a cannon arm and the ability to change a game at any given moment with a breakout run. He has always been electric, and the temptation is to focus on his game-changing athleticism.
Vick has always had those things, though. He has always been able to run and throw; he has always seen the field well. Vick is now an MVP candidate, though, because he has added something substantial and remarkable to that array of skills: Michael Vick has learned how to run an offense.
That impressive intangible, the most important one in Vick's now complete arsenal, was on full display Thursday night against the Houston Texans. He and the Eagles marched down the field time and again, and Vick never seemed over-eager.
He never seemed harried. He never seemed to make an ill-measured move.
Read on for five exemplars of Vick's maturation and leadership from Thursday night's win.
1. Driver's Seat
Vick led touchdown drives of 88, 72, 72 and 60 on Thursday night. Two of the drives (both in the first half, to set a tone) went for 11 plays and lasted over seven minutes. In the past, Vick might have made mistakes on long drives like those: He could make the big 40-yard play, but he struggled to consistently make the crucial four- and five-yard plays and take care of the football. Though he threw his second interception of the season Thursday, Vick clearly has learned how to calmly string together enough plays to score, even when the big play does not come.
2. Captain Comeback
The Eagles jumped out in front early, and the one deficit the team did face Thursday was innocuous enough: The Texans scored to take a 24-20 lead with under a minute remaining in the third quarter.
That does not seem like much: Closing four-point gaps in the final 16 minutes was not the foundation of Brett Favre's or John Elway's legacies as gritty, effective late-game quarterbacks. Nor will this win build such a legacy for Vick.
In his previous NFL incarnation, though, Vick was given to playing a bit too fast when his team fell behind. He began to look to run the ball more; he rushed his decisions. He often vacated the pocket prematurely or overthrew receivers in an effort to do more than the defense would allow.
On Thursday, as he has all season, Vick showed the confidence he once lacked in his own ability to make plays as they come. Vick forced nothing, and drove the Eagles to two fourth quarter touchdowns. He now seems aware, as neither he nor any young player in NFL history has ever been aware, that he is athletically superior to the point that he need never accelerate his rhythm in order to make a play, even under intense defensive pressure. That helps a lot when the team trails and the opposing defense pins its ears back and comes after Vick.
3. On Target
For all Vick circa 2006 did well, he was never an accurate passer in his previous life. He never completed more than 56.4 percent of his passes, in fact. That is not such an ugly number for a passer who so often moves outside the pocket, but in order for Vick to take the next step toward greatness, it was widely understood that he would need to learn how to consistently put the ball in the right spot.
This season, without compromising his ability to make plays in the running game, Vick has become an exceptionally smart and accurate passer. Through nine games (12 team games, but his numbers alone are what we need for comparison purposes), he has rushed 74 times for 467 yards: Those numbers would put him on pace, if he played 15 or 16 games, for the most carries and second-most rushing yards of his career. Yet, he has completed 63.8 percent of his passes en route to averaging a career-high 8.4 yards per attempt. The combination of his natural tools with that kind of precision makes Vick utterly dominant.
4. Picking His Spots
Vick is less eager to run than he used to be, but he seems to pick critical moments in which to make plays with his feet. After he coolly picked apart Houston in the early going, the Texans brought the heat and and flushed Vick out of the pocket as often as possible. Vick responded by gouging the defense with a 13-yard run the first time he touched the ball in the third quarter. The drive did not result in points for Philadelphia, but thereafter the Texans seemed unable to generate a pass rush substantial enough to even pester Vick in the pocket.
5. The Leader
Vick always showed intensity on the field, even during his first football life. His fire, though, seemed always to be focused upon the next play he would get a chance to make. In fact, that burning desire to make plays sometimes blinded him to open receivers during his time in Atlanta and caused him to sprint toward relatively inopportune creases.
This version of Vick seems only to care whether or not the ball keeps moving; he gladly gives up the ball, and he marshals the team effectively. The leadership trust he has built in one season seems more complete than the respect commanded by Donovan McNabb in a full decade of leading the offensive unit. His apparent off-season conditioning and his skill set seem to have combined to bring the entire Eagles team under Vick's spell.