Michael Vick has been one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league since taking over for a concussed Kevin Kolb in the first game of the 2010 NFL season. The only problem is, he can’t stay healthy. Vick has left both of the Eagles’ 2012 preseason games with minor injuries, and his most recent, a blow to the ribs, should keep him out until the regular season. More worryingly, though, this injury is an echo of problems he’s had for the last couple of years. And this is the kind of consistency that will scuttle any chance of the Eagles winning a Super Bowl.
In both 2010 and 2011, Vick left games because of injuries to his ribs. In 2010, his Comeback Player of the Year season, the Washington Redskins knocked him out of their week 4 victory over the Eagles, and he sat out three games before returning. In 2011, Vick sustained broken ribs in a week 9 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He finished the game, but his injury kept him out of the Eagles’ next three, only one of which they won.
Part of Vick’s problem has to do with his style of play: over the past two years, he’s rushed 176 times, more than any other quarterback, and been sacked 57 times, the 11th-most in the league. The other part is compounded by Vick’s style of human body: he’s tiny. Per the 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac, Vick is one of only three quarterbacks 6’0” or shorter to be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 1991. (The other two are Drew Brees and rookie Russell Wilson. Brees has been sacked 49 times in the last two years — 33% fewer times per game than Vick. He also hasn’t missed a game.)
Even though Vick wears extra rib protection, these consistent injuries show that the only real way to minimize his chance of getting hurt is to minimize how often he gets hit. There’s no real precedence in the NFL for a rushing quarterback of Vick’s caliber and type — as a Falcon, he became the first QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. And compared to bruisers like Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, who’s a full five inches taller, Vick’s a paper-thin player.
Simply enough, keeping Vick healthy is more important than letting Vick run. If the only way for Vick to start 16 games would be for him to take less than 25 sacks and run fewer than 50 times, that’s what needs to happen, even considering the dip in offensive versatility and production it would mean. You know what the common denominator is in the six quarterbacks (Peyton and Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees) who have won Super Bowls over the last 8 years? Aside from Roethlisberger missing four games in ‘05, none of them has skipped a single game the season he won a Super Bowl due to injury.
For the Eagles to fulfill their potential, Vick needs to stay healthy. He also needs to throw a number of interceptions closer to 2010’s six than 2011’s 14. But mainly, he needs to stay healthy, and if this means that he runs the ball less often, then so be it. When the Eagles finally seemed to right the ship last season, ending the year with four straight wins, Vick threw 6 TDs to 2 INTs and had a 61% completion rate over the last three games while running very little. Philly knew what they were getting into when they handed the keys to Vick, and now his health is their great problem to solve.