On Michael Vick’s Return

Tony Dungy, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, commented that Michael Vick may sign with an NFL team as early as this week.  Dungy noted that Vick’s best chances of signing are with teams that have strong fan bases, a track record of success, roster spots, and cap room.  He also noted that Indianapolis would be a nice fit for Vick, except that Vick doesn’t really fit that offense.

Or does he??

Far be it from me to tell Tony Dungy anything about football, but I think that Vick could have some success in Indianapolis running the same offense that Peyton Manning runs.

The Falcons offense in which Vick struggled as a passer, but excelled as a runner and team leader was fatally flawed.  He never played with elite wide receivers.  He rarely even played with good or mediocre wide receivers.  He played behind a mediocre offensive line and did not have the benefit of a lead back capable of 250+ carries and scoring Red Zone touchdowns.  With that said, Vick still propelled the Falcons to a winning record; he had success in the post-season (becoming the first NFL QB to ever win at Lambeau Field); and he also had success against a team that has often baffled Peyton Manning: the Pittsburgh Steelers.   In two games versus the Steelers, Vick tied on the road, 34-34; and won at home 41-38.  (In both seasons, it was the most points surrendered by the Steelers in that season.  The only other QB to put up those points against the Steelers more than once has been Tom Brady.  Brady, of course, had a great deal more assistance on both sides of the ball.)

As a Steeler fan, I mention this because it is important to separate the FORM from the ESSENCE.

The national media and some fans do not like the FORM.  They don’t like completion percentage, the interceptions or the 3rd down conversion percentage.  They didn’t like Vick beating Favre in Green Bay.  They don’t like his leaving the pocket in order to make something out of nothing.  They would have preferred he remain in the pocket for as long as it took his GM to sign high-quality receivers.  Most QBs only have about 3 or 4 seconds.  Most GMs don’t work that fast.  So, the conflict was inevitable.

The ESSENCE, however, is different.  Vick won games.  He won big games.  He is a player that elite teams recognize as a high-quality player.  That sentiment has been echoed by coaches in New England, Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

Exhibit A:

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t saying whether his team is interested in Michael Vick.

After New England’s first practice of training camp Thursday, Belichick was asked his thoughts about Vick’s possible return to the NFL. He praised Vick’s athleticism, but left it at that. Vick said Thursday that he’s getting close to signing with a team.

Michael is an outstanding player, hasn’t played in a couple of years,” Belichick said. “But right now, our focus is on our team and our players and trying to get the New England Patriots ready and so that’s really where my attention’s been. But he’s a tremendous athlete. Where exactly he is right now, I don’t know.”

As you can clearly see, the author of this article has a cognitive disorder.  The New England Patriots football coach affirms that Vick is an outstanding player AND a tremendous athlete.  The author left out the “outstanding player” part because the AUTHOR doesn’t like the form and either does not care enough or know enough to understand the essence of what the coach is discussing.  The author makes up his own facts and his own interpretation — and then proceeds to speak for the coach by telling us what the coach did not say — even though the coach clearly said it.

Given how tight-lipped Belichick has been about all football matters, he is practically gushing in describing Vick as an outstanding player.  He could have used words like “talented” or “gifted” (emphasizing what writers tend to perceive as “god-given” skills which require little cultivation or effort).  Instead, the coach chose the word “outstanding,” and the writer chose to ignore it.

So, from a purely football standpoint, it seems to me that Michael Vick would have tremendous success in the Indianapolis Colts offense for several reasons:

  1. The Colts have an EXCELLENT offensive line.  The line is proficient at run blocking and pass blocking.  They’re often strong enough and skilled enough to match up against elite defenses in New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Baltimore.
  2. The Colts use STRETCH PLAYS and PLAY ACTION passes to extend the defense, create gaps and keep the defense off balance.  Manning’s success at play-action fakes and his quick reads are cornerstones of his success.  Play-action fakes are coachable.  If Vick greatly improved this aspect of his game AND presented the threat of a naked boot leg, defenses would be FROZEN as Joseph Addai attacked the opposite end on stretch plays.  Vick’s presence makes the running game better by as much as .5 yds per carry.
  3. In the Indianapolis offense, Vick need not worry about getting sacked as much as he did in Atlanta.  He would benefit from Indy’s 2 tight-end sets; the stretch plays and play-action passing game and more.  His principal concern would be getting rid of the ball.  He had no problem getting the ball to Alge Crumpler in Atlanta.  That was because Crumpler was a good player who could escape coverage, run good routes, catch the ball and gain yards after contact.  Such was NOT the case with Brian Finneran, Michael Jenkins or other Falcon wide outs.  In Indy, Vick would be able to throw to Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and others.  He has a strong arm — every bit as strong as Manning.  The open questions are related to accuracy and timing.  Regardless of where Vick is on that question, it is likely that he brings more to the table than Jim Sorgi.
  4. For all of the Colts success, their biggest failings have been against teams deploying 3-4 defenses that were able to pressure Peyton Manning and eliminate his ability to make plays by waiting on receivers to uncover.  The Colts lost the past two seasons to the Chargers.  The year that Indy broke through to win the Super Bowl, they required a Herculean effort to beat the Patriots at home.  They didn’t have to run the 3-4 gauntlet of Pittsburgh and San Diego.  Vick adds another dimension for the Colts who will very likely have to beat one, two or all three of these teams to win the Super Bowl.

Ultimately, I believe that Vick will go to a team that has tradition and a real chance of winning the next Super Bowl.  If he goes to Indianapolis, I know that the Colts would be well-served with Vick down the stretch.  The Colts are 1-5 vs. the Patriots, Steelers and Chargers in the post-season.  All 3 of those teams, I believe, will be stronger and faster on defense than they were last year.  Vick has the keys to the castle.

He opens up the stretch, the pitch, the fake pitch, the bootleg and so much more.  He forces teams to play 11-on-11.  Vick, behind a quality line and with elite receivers, puts defenses on their heels.  None of this is to suggest that he’s better than Manning.  It does suggest, however, that certain teams know how to beat Manning and that the Colts need something more than they presently have if they are to change the trends.

Signing Michael Vick won’t be easy for any team – and it is not the best solution for a fragile franchise or for men with fragile egos.  I don’t believe any of that applies to the Colts.  I think they can take the weight and significantly improve their chances of breaking through.

ADDENDUM:

A few hours after I put together this piece on MV7’s potential within the Indianapolis Colts offense, ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky wrote an interesting piece about Indy’s road loss to the Chargers in the 2008 playoffs: the limitations of the running game, an over-reliance on Peyton Manning and the need for them to be regain some spark on the ground.  Here are some excerpts:

“A championship-caliber team, no matter how pass-reliant, needs to be able to turn and hand the ball off and come up with 2 yards on a crucial play. The Colts didn’t even try to run it. Their intention was a short pass.”

From Jeff Saturday: “You know that you did it to yourself,” center Jeff Saturday said. “When you don’t execute on the most important play of the game, it’s insulting. Very few times in Tony Dungy’s tenure as a head coach did we beat ourselves and that was a time that we did. Not to say that San Diego didn’t play a heck of a football game, because they did. But you’re at third-and-2, everything should be leaning your way that you get that.

“Look at statistics and what the chances are of you getting it and they’re high and you can go out and close the game, run the clock. You don’t do it, there is nothing to look at but yourself. You look at the play, we were all disheveled, we didn’t have it dialed in the way that we should have, and that’s a direct reflection of what we have to do as professionals.”

From Ryan Lilja:  “Howard (Mudd, offensive line coach) likes to say most games in that atmosphere are going to be lost, not won,” Lilja said. “And he feels that we lost that game because of plays like that. When you’ve got two good teams it’s going to come down to who can stop who on the line of scrimmage for all the marbles. That’s kind of their symbolic message, I guess.”

“That kind of puts a chip on our shoulder as an offensive line unit, that we didn’t get it done. There are a lot of upset guys in our room when they hear stuff like that because they know that’s on us.”

The 2008 Colts were overly reliant on Manning, who produced his third MVP season despite a slow start resulting from an offseason knee injury that required two surgeries and forced him to sit out all of training camp and the preseason.

They ranked 31st in rushing yards per game (79.6), their lowest since 1992, and dead last in rushing average (3.4 yards a carry), tied for their lowest since 1992.

The stretch play that’s been a hallmark of the run game during the Manning era was ineffective and used far less frequently. Addai missed four games but his counterpart, Dominic Rhodes, shared the exact same 3.5-yard rushing average on the season.

“From my perspective, you can’t have a glaring weakness and be a championship team,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “And we all know you have to be able to run the ball and the way we were running the ball during the year concerned me, it concerned us all. And those things catch up to you. If there are trends that are there in the regular season, when everything is on the line that trend is going to pop up, so you want to try to eliminate it. I thought we weren’t running the ball well enough and it came back to haunt us and that wasn’t a surprise.”

There is a way for Indianapolis to dramatically improve their running game.  The real question is whether or not they believe the risk too greatly exceeds the reward.

5 comments

  1. Just heard that MV7 will sign a 2 year deal w/ the Eagles.

    T3, this one doesn’t make much sense to me. Break it down and help me understand this signing.

  2. It makes sense to me.

    1) Vick, according to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, is “an outstanding player.”
    2) The Eagles ownership and management and coach are stable.
    3) The Eagles have a franchise QB who need not be threatened by this move (in the short term).
    4) The Eagles routinely make unpopular decisions and do not lose their fan base (Dawkins, Vincent, Trotter)
    5) The Eagles will be able to minimize their risk (1 year deal; with 1-year team option).
    6) Vick will pay a Sin Tax (a devalued salary based on his “situation”).

    I believe the situation would have been the same had he signed with any of the leading AFC teams. I thought he’d only go to an elite team with a very, very strong chance of winning the Super Bowl. The Eagles fit the profile.

    Right now, the Eagles have the potential to put Michael Vick on the field with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson and Maclin. Good luck covering all five of them.

    THe biggest benefit of all is that Vick can cultivate a thick skin in a city where he can’t take the booing personally. In Philadelphia, they boo EVERYONE. He should be ecstatic.

  3. I guess I expected him to go to a team where he had a chance of becoming an immediate starter (i.e. San Fran, St. Louie, Carolina, Buffalo, etc.).

    After giving it some thought, I think that this move will greatly benefit him. One of the hits against Vick in the past is that he didn’t put in the time to study film. We all know about McNabb’s work ethic in the film room, so Vick will be groomed in that regard.

    Temple, it’s crazy here in the ATL. My Facebook page is exploding with people buying tickets for the Dec. 6th game at the Dome to root AGAINST the Falcons and Arthur Blank. My wife texted me this morning asking me if I wanted a Vick jersey. The atmosphere here at work is ‘lukewarm’ so far but i’m sure the tension will increase as the day goes on. 🙂

  4. It’s up to the Law to release someone after serving time for animal cruelty.

    But I would expect a professional sports league not to support someone who has done something so heinous.

    Three years in prison is NOTHING for torturing and abusing God’s creatures like Michael Vick did. Forgiveness should come after repenting: something Vick has not shown us.

    I have no personal interest in animal rights. I am not biased. I simply believe in living in accordance with the law, and retribution for breaking the law. Justice has not been served here. Not only has Vick been released after torturing and murdering innocent creatures, but he’s once again a celebrity with an obscene income, idolized by millions???

    I truly cannot believe that the NFL would allow such a disgusting human being to return to be praised as a sports hero again. I am shocked and appalled at the NFL’s decision to allow Vick to return to the league. Once a fan of the Eagles, I personally can no longer support them or the NFL.

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