By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
About a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column in the Philadelphia Tribune about how Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was beginning to turn the corner as a pro signal caller. He had a couple of good games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Against the Steelers, he was 18-of-30 for 232 yards and four touchdown passes in the Falcons 41-38 win. In a 29-27 win over the Bengals, Vick was 20-of-28 for 291 yards and three touchdown passes. In both of those games, he threw zero interceptions.
Looking at his yards, his passing percentage and the fact that he did it over a two-game period, I was thinking that this was the beginning of Vick’s maturity as a complete quarterback.
But four weeks later, I might have been a bit premature in my assessment. Vick is still a work in progress as a passer. For him to be in his sixth year in the NFL, he should be beyond the point of being a work in progress. He should be an accomplished NFL passer by now, but he’s not there yet.
In the four games since their win over Cincinnati, Vick has had some really bad games and the Falcons have not a won a game in the month of November. Two of those games were against terrible teams-the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. He threw a combined four interceptions in both those games-2 in each game.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, he was 11-of 22 for 127 yards and no touchdowns. The Falcons were just 2-of- 18 on third down conversions against a tough Ravens defense. Atlanta lost 24-10.
Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the former Virginia Tech star might have hit rock bottom for this season as a quarterback. In a game where he gained 166 yards rushing, he was 8-of-24 for 84 yards passing. A visibly frustrated Vick capped off his bad day by giving the crowd at the Georgia Dome,the middle finger salute as headed into the Falcons locker room . The FOX television cameras captured him saying, “F— you” while flashing his middle finger. That ‘s a terrible thing to do. It was completely unprofessional and out of character for him. Vick knows better than that. The NFL fined him $10,000 and they were correct in sanctioning him. Vick later apologized for his actions which came from the frustration of losing four straight games.
In Vick’s defense, his receivers are awful and his team overall is mediocre. They dropped five passes against New Orleans, including a drop by Roddy White at the Saints 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter with the Falcons behind 21-13. None of their receivers are in the top 30 in receptions, touchdowns or yardage. Tight end Alge Crumpler is the team’s leading receiver with 36 receptions. Their leading wideout, Michael Jenkins has just 26 receptions and one touchdown.
The Falcons defense doesn’t help things. They are 20th in the NFL in total defense and 29th against the pass. Drew Brees took the Falcons defense to school last Sunday. He passed for 349 yards and 2 long touchdown passes. But the Falcons defense is wracked with a bunch of injuries, including linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and defensive end John Abraham.
All the above said, Vick is 25th in passer ratings (74) and has to work on consistency in the passing game. Something’s amiss there and I don’t pretend to know what the problem is because Vick is in his sixth year and some of the throws he makes has me scratching my head. He should be a more accurate passer at this point in his career. By now, he should know how to dissect defenses the way a veteran quarterback should. His lack of consistency as a passer makes it difficult for the Falcons to move the ball even with a strong running game and his ability to run.
Guys like Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair didn’t have receivers who were world beaters as they were developing their passing skills. But they still had better completion percentages than Vick and they are both mobile quarterbacks.
It could be Jim Mora Jr.’s schemes. I don’t think the West Coast offense is suited for Vick’s skills. The Falcons coaches need to come up with a way to take advantage of Vick’s unique ability.
But ultimately it’s up to Vick himself. He has to figure out a way to make his receivers better and to gear his mind on becoming better as an all-around quarterback. I don’t mind Vick’s ability to run the ball, but if he can become a better passer he’d really be dangerous and he would wreak havoc upon opposing defenses.
He is also reaching the point in his career when his run first, pass second mentality is going to take its toll on his body. As he gets older, he is going to rely less on his legs and more on his ability to read defenses and throw the football.
To be honest, it could be a number of factors as to why Vick hasn’t been a consistent quarterback. While coaching and bad receivers are a huge factor, I think Vick needs to take a look a himself and figure out a way to become a better passing quarterback before it’s too late.