Jul 9, 2012, 11:30 AM EST
With rookies and selected veterans set to report to Lehigh University in 13 days, we are gearing up for the 2012 football season by examining the three most difficult questions facing the Eagles. First up, can Michael Vick survive a full 16-game schedule, plus playoffs?
In case you need any further proof as to just how important the quarterback position is in the NFL, simply look at the list of active signal callers who have won Super Bowls: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger. One of those six was at the helm for each of the nine most recent world championships — 10 of the last 11 — sharing seven game MVP Awards between them. A quarterback’s league, indeed.
A copycat league as well. Every front office in pro football is doing everything in its power to locate the next member of the Super Six. That’s why so many franchises were breaking their necks to sign Peyton back in March, even though he already has a broken neck himself.
The trouble is, and why general managers often fail to find passers who can replicate this level of success, it’s hard to pinpoint any one concrete, overriding skill every member of the club shares — intelligence maybe, though you might argue Big Ben (off-field). However, a common attribute is found almost universally in each of their runs to glory: in all but one instance, the starting quarterback played more than 16 games along the way.
Staying healthy isn’t necessarily a talent, but whether it’s due to his sandlot style or purely bad luck, Michael Vick seldom goes a full season unscathed. One way or the other, if he doesn’t manage to keep his name out of the injury report, history is not on the Eagles’ side.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the extent to which Vick is actually injury prone is entirely circumstantial.
Yes, we are well aware Vick has started 16 regular season games only once in his nine-year NFL career. This is a notorious example where a statistic, or more aptly a carefully-crafted factoid, is parroted often enough until it’s accepted at face value. While technically accurate, it is a very misleading statement.
During his five seasons as the Atlanta Falcons starter, Vick missed only a single game, or none, in four. One of those absences – 2004 – he was held out at least in part because the club’s post-season seeding was locked. Granted, the outlier is a broken ankle cost him nearly three-quarters of a season. Other than that one bad break though, during his early years Vick wasn’t outrageously more injury prone than Rodgers, who has missed a start in two of the past four, and especially Roethlisberger, who has only made it through the slate of 16 once in his career, too. Even Peyton and Brady have lost a full season to injury.
Other seasons where Vick didn’t play 16 include as a rookie in Atlanta, when he served as the backup, and his first year in Philly, where he was used primarily as a gimmick, and owed the league a two-game suspension as well.
That only leaves these past two years with the Birds. Admittedly, Vick has had significantly larger problems staying on the field since going to battle full time in midnight green. He was out three games with rib injuries each of the past two seasons. He also suffered a thigh bruise toward the end of 2010, which contributed to his sitting out a meaningless Week 17 game, and he needed to be removed from the action multiple times last year — twice never to return.
It seems recent data is trumping Vick’s resilience of old. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s coincidence. Either way, the trend has spelled trouble for the Eagles.
In ’10, the Eagles were 8-3 in games Vick started and finished (or exited early for reasons unrelated to injury), 2-4 others. In ’11, the team was 7-4 when Vick completed the contest, 1-4 in the rest. Overall, that’s 15-7 with Vick for 60 minutes, 3-8 in any other result over the past two seasons.
Even if he misses a game or two, those records suggest the Eagles have a strong chance to reach the tournament in 2012, barring the type of misfortune that sidelines Vick long-term.
They definitely cannot afford for him to be out for a great deal longer than that though, and a season-ender for Vick is likely a season-ender for Philadelphia. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only three QBs who replaced the starter because of injury have lead their team to the Lombardi Trophy: Jeff Hostetler for the Giants in ’90, Kurt Warner for the Rams in ’99, and Brady for the Patriots in ’01. In other words, unless Mike Kafka and Nick Foles are Hall of Famers in waiting, odds are it’s Vick or bust.
But the reality is health is impossible to predict. Every player accepts the same risk of injury before the ball is snapped, and while a mobile QB like Vick is subjected to more hits because he handles the ball more frequently, it only takes one to end a season. Guys get hurt, even the ones with the bigger bodies that appear they can absorb the punishment, or the ones who hardly ever take a hit at all. Of the quarterbacks above, only Eli has escaped serious injury up to this point in his professional career.
Point being, Vick probably isn’t quite as fragile as we’ve been led to believe. Sure, every time he takes a shot that sends him either hurtling through the air or crumbling to the turf, you’re going to hold your breath. He plays the game as if there were nothing left to lose — it’s just that more often than not, there isn’t.
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