The Out Route despises Michael Vick. We were impressed when he became the first QB to ever beat the Packers in the playoffs at Lambeau Field, but it's evident now that that had more to do with Brett Favre's slow decline into sub-mediocrity than anything great about the "phenom."
Year after year, Vick spends the season hurt or posting mediocre numbers that fall more in line with Aaron Brooks than Donovan McNabb. And yet, each offseason, "experts" continue to predict big things for Vick, praising his revolutionary style and making excuses as to why he hasn't been successful yet and why this will be the year. First it was the natural development of the QB--it takes a quarterback about three seasons before things officially lock in. Then it was the ineptitude of his receivers--yet the Falcons have always had a serviceable group that includes stand-out tight end Alge Crumpler. Next was the adjustment Vick had to make to Jim Mora Jr.'s West Coast offense, which would need another couple of years or development. Now it's Year 6, and it's time for the nation to wake up and realize that Vick is just no good. He's got the same problems as Brooks--inconsistency, poor decision-making skills, rocketing passes instead of putting the "touch" and placement on a ball necessary for a receiver to catch it. Look, before he was drafted Kyle Boller threw a football through the uprights from the 50-yard line, from his knees. That's certainly athletically impressive, but no one's confusing Boller for Marino. Yet Vick's escaped the media's ire by the aforementioned "revolutionary" style of play, which equates to nothing more than bailing out of a play at the first sign of resistance and taking off into the open field. On passing plays Vick ignores his receivers, looks to Crumpler as his first option, and takes off if he's being covered. This style of play ensures two things:
1 - The Falcons will never win a championship until Vick learns to pass (IF he can)
2 - Vick will have a career lifespan closer to a running back's than a pocket passer
Vick's best season came in 2002, the year he beat the Packers, when he threw for 2,936 yards and ran for another 777 with 24 combined TD's (16 pass, 8 rush) and only 8 INT. He's never topped 3,000 passing yards in a season (or 1,000 rush yards, for that matter, although he ran for 902 in 2004). Only one of his seasons, 2002, did he have a passer rating above 80, and discounting '02 as an abberation, Vick has a career TD-INT ratio of 35-31. Most importantly, Vick has never played a full 16-game season. These are not numbers befitting of a superstar. So why does he continue to get superstar treatment?
The NFL could ill-afford another big QB bust ala Ryan Leaf, who was drafted three years prior to Vick and is widely considered the worst draft pick in NFL history. This isn't to say that VIck has been as inept as Leaf, but the hype surrounding Mike was extraordinary and the league continues to need his name power for people who don't know enough to realize he's not the MJ-esque player everyone thought he'd be. The NFL media OD'd on hyperbole and it came back to bite them, so year after year people either deny the truth or make excuses for it. The most common defense I've heard of Vick is that it isn't about his passing numbers--it's about the adjustments he forces a defense to make and his multi-faceted skill set. I'm not sure about multi-faceted, as running seems to be his only true skill, and defenses--good defenses, at least--seem to have no problem figuring out how to play Vick. In the playoffs, where the victories count, you'll find that every team has at least an above-average defense and most are stellar. They aren't fooled by Vick, know he can't pass, and usually throw a spy on him to make sure his run attempts and yards are kept to a minimum.
The other defense I hear regarding Vick is that his stats are inconsequential because his record as a starter speaks for itself. He's lead the Falcons to a couple of impressive seasons, this is true, but Len Pasquarelli points out that a closer look isn't as impressive. Vick's 31-19-1 career record loses its luster when you break it down--he's 24-6 against teams that were .500 or lower at the time the Falcons played them. Against teams with winning records he's 7-13-1. This goes to show that Vick takes advantage of beating up on bad teams but can't stand up to stiffer competition.
Besides, many average QBs have had great success in the wins column, because a quarterback does not a team make. A true barometer for a team's talent is on their lines--a good rushing attack and rush defense can mask a lot of deficiencies elsewhere, and the Falcons have had both in recent years. This is the same formula that got Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer Super Bowl rings in recent years. The difference is that those two quarterbacks were "game managers," meaning they made the requisite minimum of plays to put their teams in a position to win without turning the ball over or making bad decisions--two things Vick has struggled with. Truth is, we've seen just about all Michael Vick has to offer, and it's not spectacular. At this point in his career it's pointless to try to convert him to a pocket passer, and the Falcons will never achieve the ultimate success with the way he plays.
The real winner in all of this Vick hoopla is the San Diego Chargers, who were in position to draft him before trading down with the Falcons, in the process acquiring All-Everything running back, worldly talent, and eventual successor to Barry Sanders in LaDainian Tomlinson, who's consistently been at the top of the NFL's running back pile while Vick sits in the middle of his pack.