PHILADELPHIA -- In 2010, the Eagles finished 10-6, won their division and pushed the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to the limit in the NFL playoffs.
In 2011, the Eagles finished 8-8 and didn't even make the playoffs.
There was obviously a big difference in those two seasons and the main difference was the quarterback, even though he was the same guy. In 2010, Michael Vick had the best season of his career and made the Pro Bowl and his statistics reflected that -- he threw just six interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 100.2.
In 2011, Vick looked like he was lost much of the time and his statistics reflected that -- he threw 14 interceptions, turned the ball over in the red zone six times and finished with a QB rating of 84.9.
That's why the big question for the Eagles coming into this season -- actually, it's the only question that really mattered -- was this: Which Vick will they see in 2012?
Well, if the first game means anything, it looks like the Vick who struggled so much last year, the Vick who struggled so much at times during his career in Atlanta. Vick threw four interceptions in the season-opener at Cleveland and he could easily have thrown two or three more.
Vick did rally the troops for a last-minute drive that won the game, 17-16, but even that was tainted because he fumbled once during the possession and was lucky to recover the ball himself, and then he threw a horrible pass in the end zone that hit Browns linebacker L.J. Forte in the hands for what should have been interception No. 5, but Forte dropped it.
Vick won the game on the next play, hitting tight end Clay Harbor for a touchdown, and coach Andy Reid pointed to that as a positive while ignoring the two mistakes Vick made in the final drive that should have lost the game.
Reid also said it wasn't all Vick's fault and the linemen and running backs have to block better and the receivers have to run better routes and the coaches have to call better plays. Besides, Reid said, Vick came in early on Wednesday and "worked on fixing the problems."
"It's always going to fall on the quarterback's shoulders and we have one that takes that responsibility and he takes it to heart," Reid said. "But, in reality, everybody's got to do their job."
Still, none of that changes the fact that the Eagles' franchise player had one of the worst days of his career and the Eagles almost lost a game they were expected to win easily. Vick admitted he didn't play well and he pressed at times and forced passes at times and made bad decisions at times, but he also said he prefers focusing on the future -- the Ravens -- rather than the past.
"I can't dwell on what happened in that last game," Vick said, "because I don't intend to have that kind of ballgame ever again."
He'll have to prove that this Sunday against a much better team than the Browns. The Eagles won't beat the Ravens if Vick struggles like he did in Cleveland and they won't make the playoffs if he struggles like that throughout the season.
So, once again, the big question: Which Michael Vick will we see this season? Will it be the one from 2010 or the one from 2011?
The biggest difference between those two seasons is the big plays with which Vick and wide receiver DeSean Jackson dazzled the NFL in 2010. Now enemy defenses play two kinds of defense against the Eagles -- deep and deeper, and Jackson's yards-per-catch average fell from 22.5 in 2010 to 16.6 in 2011.
An even more telling statistic is the number of big plays Jackson made in those two years:
Yards 2010 2011
20-plus 20 13
30-plus 11 7
40-plus 8 3
50-plus 6 1
That's a significant drop in big-play production and with his favorite option taken away, Vick has had problems playing the quick-release, intermediate passing game that's the staple of the West Coast offense.
If he continues to have problems, the Eagles won't win. Even Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie acknowledged that when talking about Vick right before the opener.
"We expect him to have a terrific year," Lurie said. "That's why he's the starting quarterback. That's why he's been signed for a number of years. I have to say that Michael has been everything we could have asked and more in terms of the intangibles. Now, we just need him to maximize that incredible God-given talent, stay healthy, and deliver the kind of offensive performance that great quarterbacks can.
"This is a quarterback driven league," Lurie added, "and we will go as far as our quarterback play can take us."
So, there it is. The Eagles added a bunch of new players this year and the ones who joined the team last year, like cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins, have had a full offseason and preseason to learn the Eagles' system and each other. But none of that will mean anything if the quarterback falls flat on his facemask again.
And we're not even getting into the constant injuries, which is always an important factor with Vick, who has played all 16 games just one time in his 10 years in the NFL.
"I think there are things that Michael can do to lower the chances of injury," Lurie said, "but it's a volatile game and that's a rough and tough position."
At least the way Vick plays it. Even though he keeps saying he'll play smarter and not take the chances -- and the big hits -- that he's taken in the past, it's hard to see this tiger changing his stripes at this point in his career. Recent history certainly doesn't show much improvement -- Vick was limited to 12 snaps in the preseason because of two different injuries and even though he made it through the opener in Cleveland, he was hit an estimated 16 times.
You can't play well if you can't play at all, but even if Vick stays healthy for 16 games, nobody really knows how well he'll play. Will it be 2010 or 2011? That is the question and the answer will determine the Eagles' future.
"I'm not into prognosticating," Lurie said. "I'm just saying that we hope to see the elite Michael Vick that we saw the year before."
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!
|Best of Yardbarker||NFL News||MLB News||NBA News||NHL News|
Today's Best Stuff