He is the most unique offensive weapon in the NFL, making plays no one at his position can. He is doing things that, frankly, we might not have ever seen before. To compare this Michael Vick to the Vick who quarterbacked the Atlanta Falcons from 2001-06 is pure folly. The 2010 version's football mind, patience, decision-making, study habits, dedication, humility, accuracy is eons above his former self. And his arm strength, speed, acceleration, dexterity, and sheer athleticism is as superior as ever.
Barring injury -- and the full-throttle, reckless abandon with which Vick plays the game makes that a very real risk -- I don't see much changing. If anything, as Vick continues to immerse himself in this system and continues his quarterbacking metamorphosis under coach Andy Reid and continues to harness chemistry with super-fast youngsters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the best could still be yet to come for Vick and the Eagles.
"I could have never imagined this," Vick said in the afterglow of the dismantling of the Redskins before a national audience Monday night, a game in which it appeared he could literally do anything he pleased. "I didn't even think I'd be a starting quarterback this year."
Vick has been much more than just a starting quarterback. With Kevin Kolb under center a few weeks back, against these very same Redskins, Washington played a lot of Cover 2 -- often really more like quads with two linebackers drifting back as well -- and turned the Eagles into a dink-and-dunk outfit (the game in which Vick's ribs were fractured on a scramble). The 'Skins won, despite Donovan McNabb completing just eight passes, with Vick's injury altering the entire scope of the game.
This time around Washington had to devote a linebacker -- usually Rocky McIntosh -- or safety LaRon Landry, two of the best athletes on the roster, to spy on Vick. The corners were instructed to beat up on the smallish receivers at the line of scrimmage. They had more time than normal to work on angles and containment. That was the game plan.
"We want to spy him," a Redskins coach told me before the game. "But who has anybody who can do that? You think we have a linebacker or a DB who can stay with him? What team does?"
Coming off the bye, the 'Skins were fresh and had abundant time to prepare. And it was an utter failure to the tune of 600 yards. Vick threw an impeccably perfect 88-yard touchdown to Jackson to open the game -- he's throwing the ball 65 yards in the air with relative ease -- and the Redskins could rarely intercede as Vick accounted for six total touchdowns. Sure, the Redskins are a horribly flawed defense on so many levels, but this was like watching a senior college quarterback deconstruct a JV high school defense, whether running or throwing the ball.
Not since Steve Young in his prime has someone been this dangerous as a passer and a runner.
"I feel like I'm playing the best football only because of the coaches I have," Vick said. "It's because of the guys I have around me ... It all goes hand in hand."
Watching him from FedEx Field on Monday night, I couldn't help thinking back to last summer, and Vick's first preseason game with the Eagles, and what a complete and utter transformation he has made since then. Then, it was he and the Eagles doing an awkward dance, trying to figure out how Vick and McNabb could both fit into a hybrid Wildcat scheme.
"You watch him on film now, and he is a totally different quarterback from last year," one NFC scout said. "There is no comparison."
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Vick was tentative and unsure. He was sluggish. You could tell that the thinking part of the game -- feeling his way through plays -- was restricting the pure instinctual genius that defined the peaks of his career. Even talking to him after games he seemed stilted and programmed, trying to navigate his way back from incarceration into some semblance of a normal NFL life, just wanting to say the right thing.
All of that apprehension is gone now. He has a swagger, but a healthy, heady swagger not like before. This swagger is stripped down of the outsized ego -- his horrid actions of the past have clearly humbled him. When he speaks about his coaches and teammates now, and what they mean to him and his re-development, it rings as truly sincere.
"I'm just happy for him," said McNabb, whose example in the film room and the weight room helped show Vick the right way as much as anybody or anything else. "I'm happy with the way he's continued to progress. He's confident in himself but he's staying humble."
Vick is a complete matchup nightmare. No space is too tight for him to wiggle from, as he showed Monday night, repeatedly gaining the corner on multiple defenders, breaking ankles with his cuts and running eight times for 80 yards and two scores, touchdown rambles born of brawn, will, and improvisation.
"Is there anything you can do when he hits that second gear?" I asked a Redskins coach. "(Bleep)? Second gear? What about when he hits third and fourth?"
"He is scary fast," said one NFL defensive coordinator who was watching Monday night.
Vick is a complete quarterback now -- able to read and dissect a defense and discern its vulnerability -- yet still able to break off a 50-yard run if a defense is in perfect coverage and there are no outlets to pass available. About the closest thing to a negative critique I heard came from one defensive coordinator who said: "He still has to improvise to be great." Trust me, he can.
Simply put, Vick is thriving in all quadrants of the field, and all aspects of play. Consider:
» He is completing 62.7 percent of his passes; he had never completed more than 56 percent before in a season in his career. He has 11 touchdown passes in just 153 attempts (second best percentage in the NFL).
» He is second in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.8 yards, a staggering 2 yards more than his career average). Vick leads the NFL in interception percentage (he has yet to throw a pick).
» He has the best QB rating in the league, by far (115; he had a rating of 75.7 in 2006, his last season in Atlanta). He leads the NFL in passer rating on balls that travel 21 yards or more in the air (127.7). He is second among all starting quarterbacks in passer rating on third down (117.9). Blitz him at your own peril; besides what he can do on the run, Vick's 113.8 passer rating against the blitz is best among all starting quarterbacks.
» He is unreal in cramped quarters, when the field gets constricted and yards are at a premium. Among all NFL players with at least four red-zone carries, Vick ranks first with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. He has four TD runs in just eight red-zone attempts.
» Vick has 121 more rushing yards than any other quarterback ... despite playing only roughly half the season. He is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. Sixteen of his 44 rushing attempts overall have gone for 10 yards or more -- a staggering 37 percent. In fact, only 12 running backs have more rushes of 10 yards or more than Vick, and they've all had considerably more than 44 attempts.
» He has touched the ball 197 times (153 passes and 44 runs) and has yet to account for a turnover. He has 15 total touchdowns, without a giveaway, in what amounts to five games. If there's a better player anywhere as we head into the holiday season, please, point him out.
At age 30 -- plenty youthful for a quarterback -- Vick has the legs of someone much younger, given his two years away from the game and extremely limited role in 2009. He's just hitting his peak, and there's no way the Eagles will let him get away.
"He's pretty much unstoppable," said Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, a longtime Vick admirer. "You look at him now, and he's a great pocket passer, making the right reads through his three progressions. He can beat you deep -- he throws the ball 60 yards and it doesn't even look like he's trying; flick of the wrist -- and if there's nothing there, then he takes off and you can't catch him.
"After all he's been through and what he's done to himself and paying his debt to society, to work this hard to become a better player and a better person, it's been incredible to watch."
The kid's OK
McCoy is smart enough to know where he can be effective -- playing run/pass option in the bootleg game. He is fearless and unflappable. He stared into the Jets' defense on Sunday for four quarters and a prolonged overtime and never blinked. He led an OT drive, that, if not for a fumble, likely would have won the game.
"That kid played with a lot of poise," Jets' linebacker Bart Scott said of McCoy after Cleveland's heartbreaking loss. "He showed us something out there. You have to respect the way he played."
McCoy played in huge games at Texas, and jitters are not a part of his makeup. "You have to show the team that the stage is not too big for you," he told me. "I know that I can never let my teammates see me rattled."
Despite getting virtually no reps all offseason or in the preseason or regular season until pressed into duty, McCoy absorbed every mental rep possible, begged coaches to watch him throw 100 balls a day after practice and critique his footwork or any nuance. He devoured DVDs of opposing defenses.
"I'm just glad to be playing," McCoy said. "It was pretty frustrating for a while there. I never really did anything."
McCoy managed to survive the Steelers, off a bye, in Ben Roethlisberger's return -- after being forced into his NFL debut due to injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace -- then beat the world-champion Saints, beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, and did everything but beat the Jets, never turning the ball over and leading a perfect two-minute drive to tie the game at the end of regulation, including a crisp touchdown pass.
The Browns don't have playoff hope, but are playing as hard as any team in the NFL. They are maxing out on talent and effort. They love playing McCoy. Wallace and Delhomme are not a part of the future; McCoy has to be in some capacity, even if as a backup.
Team officials know the verdict is still out. Can McCoy withstand NFL defenses? Is he tall enough? Does he have the arm strength to play in that cold-weather city, where the wind swirls in off the lake?
"That's something we'll need to see over time," Browns GM Tom Heckert said. "We don't think that will be an issue, but until it happens and you see it you're never 100 percent sure. We'll see what happens, but there's a lot we really like about Colt."
After Sunday's loss, McCoy repeatedly blamed himself, saying he needed to make more plays in overtime (hardly the case) and told me that while he's dying to keep playing, he would readily accept being demoted again if coach Eric Mangini deemed it best for the team. "If that's the case then I'll work my tail off to give the team the best looks I possibly can on the scout team," he said.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Now is the time to evaluate him.
- Why are the Jags still in the hunt? Offense. David Garrard has been masterful in the red zone with an NFL-best 126.8 rating inside the opponent's 20. He is completing 74 percent of his red-zone passes, with nine TDs and no interceptions.
- DeAngelo Hall got plenty of press for his four picks of Jay Cutler a few weeks back, but his feast-or-famine style of jumping routes hurts more than it helps. According to STATS, Inc, Hall has been "burned" more than any other defensive player in the NFL. He has had 51 passes completed on him, in just 67 targets, for 615 yards and five TDs. Yikes.