There’s No Scramble For Vick’s Bandwagon

By Paul Daugherty
Updated: October 27, 2006

Mike VickCINCINNATI — The NFL has never known what to do with quarterbacks like Michael Vick. Anyone who saw Vick play in the 2000 Sugar Bowl – 225 yards passing, 97 more running – swore he’d seen the future of pro quarterbacking. It didn’t happen. Probably, it never will.

The NFL is a protect-the-passer/kill-the-quarterback league. It isn’t given to flights of fancy, unless the flight is an 80-yard bomb after a five-step drop. Michael Vick is a freak. The Atlanta Falcons are here Sunday, so you wonder: Are Bengals fans more intrigued by their team? Or by the other team’s quarterback?

“He’s changing the mold,” Marvin Lewis said of Vick.

Is he really?

The NFL is a copycat league. If Vick’s added dimension of being able to run like a halfback – more than 3,200 yards in five-plus seasons – really were the new wave, wouldn’t every team be trying to surf it by now?

In a New York Post interview this month, Vick called himself “electrifying, innovative (and) like nothing you’ve ever seen.” All of which is true. Here’s what else is true: The only Falcons QB to have played in a Super Bowl was Chris Chandler, who had the mobility of a La-Z-Boy. Jim Plunkett ran like a raindrop down a windowpane. If Mark Rypien moved any slower, he’d have been a blocking sled. Plunkett and Rypien have rings. No scrambling QB has ever won a Super Bowl, be it Fran Tarkenton or Randall Cunningham or Kordell Stewart.

A few who have converted from runners to mobile blitz-dodgers have won it all: Steve Young comes to mind. To a lesser degree, Brett Favre. Donovan McNabb got to the Bowl, after he determined he’d be known as a passer, not a runner. John Elway could run, but he didn’t want to. The best quarterbacks leave the pocket about as often as their wallets do: only when they have to.

Vick is the best show in the league. But unless the league changes drastically – or Vick does – we’ll never see him on the last Sunday of the season. That’s not to say he can’t win games by himself or that he doesn’t scare defenses. “Nobody sleeps Saturday night who has to play against him the next day,” said Bryan Robinson who faced Vick several times as a Chicago Bear.

The idea for teams each week is to make Vick work the center of the field. Trouble arrives as soon as he turns the edge. Coaches tell their players to stay disciplined and keep Vick in front of them. Coaches assign one player to shadow Vick. They spend a whole week in a state of nightmare. And still Vick finds ways to beat them. He’s 35-21 as a starter.

But here’s what beats him. Here’s why the end of January eludes him: The NFL rewards high-completion percentage QBs, not those who can run 30 yards without being touched. Vick’s career percentage is 54.1, six points lower than what is considered efficient. This year, Vick’s at 52.4, even after a monster game against Pittsburgh last week.

You have to be able to throw the ball downfield successfully more than 52 percent of the time. When it’s third-and-8 and you’re behind by six with two minutes left, you’d better be able to complete a 10-yard pass 75 percent of the time. Running is nice, but it’s icing. It also can get you lame. When asked why more teams don’t have running QBs, Lewis said simply, “You try to protect that asset, that guy who’s eating up 10 percent or more of your salary cap.”

Vick was the 28th-best passer in the league, until last week. Since 2002, he has thrown for more than 200 yards just seven times in 41 starts. Maybe at some point, the NFL will have a quarterback who combines the recklessness of a runner and the precision of a pocket passer.

Maybe it’ll be Vick. For now, Vick is the NFL equivalent of a trapeze act: compelling, but not enough to carry the circus.