Michael Vick rewarding Eagles
Quarterback's transformation could net accolades, draft picks for Philadelphia brass
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My hat is off to Roseman, Andy Reid and Eagles president Joe Banner. I was highly critical of the Donovan McNabb trade to the Redskins. Giving a franchise quarterback to a division rival and handing his job to a young quarterback (Kevin Kolb) should move a franchise backward. The Packers sent Brett Favre to the Jets, and even though Aaron Rodgers was the real deal, the Packers dropped to 6-10 after being in the NFC title game the previous season.
But we didn't know about the hard work with Vick behind the scenes as Reid and his staff transformed him from a running quarterback into a West Coast offense quarterback. Vick has earned a big contract in Philadelphia. If the Eagles make the playoffs with him, they could sign him long term and keep Kolb as a backup or trade him for first- and third-round picks. It would not be a bad situation either way.
Vick deserves an Emmy for his Monday night show, and a second award needs to go to the director if the show continues.
From the inbox
Q: In your Nov. 10 mailbag, you had an interesting stat regarding "elite" quarterbacks. Brett Favre and Jay Cutler are each running offenses that are scoring fewer than 20 points per game, but some lesser-known starters are averaging a bit more than 20 points per game. I think you may be on the right track with your recent comments about rethinking or tweaking your definition for "elite." But don't feel bad -- that kind of designation is a moving target except for a select few.
Mike in Pittsburgh
A: For consistency, you'd like to keep the elite quarterbacks elite, but you're right, things change. Favre is a Hall of Fame quarterback, one of the greatest of all time. But this clearly can't be an elite season for him with all the interceptions and a 3-6 record. I had Cutler in the elite class during his final season in Denver. I couldn't make him elite for the work he's done in Chicago for two years, but at least he has the potential to rejoin the elite class. The one I'm struggling with is Carson Palmer. Is this just a bad season for him, or is he dropping out of the elite class? His numbers this season indicate he has dropped.
Brad in Las Vegas wants to know why I had no mention of Kyle Orton in the midseason report. Simple. The Broncos were 2-6. He's had a great season, but his team hasn't. Michael in California wanted me to explain my omission of Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons from my All-Pro team. He was my third choice, and I went with Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis. If the list were broken down into conferences, Timmons would have made it. Remember, we'll do one at the end of the season, too. Mark in Greensboro, N.C., thinks Eric Mangini would be the perfect replacement for John Fox in Carolina. I don't see the fit. My money is on Russ Grimm of the Cardinals and Ron Rivera of the Chargers as two main candidates. Garren in Clifton Park, N.Y., suggests that Buffalo bring back Wade Phillips to be its defensive coordinator now that the team has a 3-4. Phillips will have a lot of options and will be the hottest defensive coordinator on the market. Don't be surprised if he's in Houston before the end of the season. Brad in Tampa, Fla., notes that Dolphins coach Tony Sparano likes to defer when he wins the coin toss. That fits the conservative nature of the staff, which likes to see what it's facing. It's not bad coaching; it's just team strategy. Gary in Middlebury, Ind., can't understand why the Lions haven't cut wide receiver Bryant Johnson. I'm sure he won't be back next season, but if he's cut, they'd have to pay his whole salary ($2.6 million). Plus, they probably feel there isn't anyone on the street good enough to replace him. James in Gillette, N.J., I agree with you that it would make sense for the Broncos to bring in a general manager to help Josh McDaniels. They lost value by giving up too early on Peyton Hillis and Alphonso Smith, and some of McDaniels' other moves. I don't know if they will do that, though. Michael in Belleview, Fla., believes that worst penalty in football is giving the return team the ball at the 40-yard line if a kickoff goes out of bounds. I don't have a problem with it. What would be worse would be having a second kickoff, risking players to injury and fans to the boredom of a repetitive play.
Sean in Los Angeles
A: Feagles is a great directional kicker who doesn't have the powerful leg of Lechler. There have been a lot of great punters throughout the years, and most aren't going to get the respect because they are on the field only seven or eight times a game. That's one of the reasons Ray Guy hasn't made the Pro Football Hall of Fame and probably won't. When you're talking greatest punters of all time, you have to go with the power of the leg and the net average. Lechler has had four consecutive seasons in which his net is above 40 yards. Feagles' career net is 31.7. His only 40-plus net season was in 2008. Lechler's career net is 38.8. His numbers are unbelievable.
Q: My question is regarding the NFL rule that applies to receivers needing to maintain possession of the football and essentially get up with it in the end zone. If that rule applies to receivers, why doesn't the same rule apply to runners? Often times you see a runner lay out or a QB dive over the goal line only to have the ball pop out once he hits the ground. How is it a touchdown for the runner but not a touchdown for the receiver? They both should have to maintain possession of the ball, in my opinion, for the rule to make any sense at all.
T.J. in Pittsburgh
A: The difference is a receiver is trying to gain possession. The runner already has possession if he's running with the ball. Even if the line of scrimmage is at the 1- or 2-yard line, the back will have taken a couple of steps with the ball in his hands. Where we are both right is that the definition of possession in the end zone is getting ridiculous and needs to be reviewed. Did you see Kevin Walter's touchdown catch in Week 10? He was on his back with possession, and he was reaching up with both hands to show the official he had the ball. A defender knocked it away. It was ruled incomplete. The Texans had to challenge to get the touchdown. This might be the one of the biggest interpretation issues since the tuck rule.
Q: As a Bengals fan, I am astonished at the lack of production this season, especially after sweeping the AFC North last season. How much of the blame for this season's output is to be placed on the coaching staff? Do you think the Marvin Lewis/Chad Ochocinco/Carson Palmer era in Cincinnati is over?
Eric in Chicago
A: This is a total team meltdown, and I think the Marvin Lewis era is over. I think he will leave after the season. Palmer and Ochocinco will stay because owner Mike Brown won't think his team requires a complete rebuilding project. Terrell Owens has done good things catching the ball, but his presence seemed to throw off the feel of this offense. Last season, the chemistry was as good as I've seen it in years. Owens hasn't caused any problems, but the chemistry is missing. The defense also has underachieved in what has been a horrible season.
Q: People love to knock the Colts for their lack of a running game, which I understand from a statistical perspective. However, the offense under Peyton Manning (as well as the Patriots' offense under Tom Brady) likes to run short passes, or "long handoffs." Is this new aerial running attack becoming the new trend in the NFL?
Matthew in Indianapolis
A: I wouldn't include the Colts, but this is the new trend in the NFL. You see that when Brady has Wes Welker take a bubble screen near the line of scrimmage and try to run with it in the open field. Manning is at his best when he has a running game. He needs the stretch play to help with the play-action passes downfield. He also needs good run blocking when he spots six defenders in the box and wants to gash a defense with the run. The way the offensive line is built makes it hard for the Colts to win a game of power running. The Colts win because of Manning, and the system works.
Q: My roommates have been arguing about your midseason grade for the Buccaneers for well over an hour now. One roommate says there's no way they deserve an A because they haven't beaten a good team yet and doesn't think they should be graded above the likes of Pittsburgh or Atlanta. The other roommate thinks they deserve the A because you've graded them with other criteria than just performance. He says you've taken things like preseason expectations and talent level into consideration. Can you please explain your midseason grade for the Bucs so they'll shut up?
Nick G in Missoula, Mont.
A: This one is elementary. The Bucs won three games last season, and they've won six this season. Does that merit a C? They are one of the most improved teams in football. In Week 10, they started seven rookies against the Carolina Panthers and won by 15 points. You have to figure in preseason expectations, and for this team, there wasn't much expectation. This team was supposed to be lucky to win six games. You don't have to be a playoff team to get an A. I think the Bucs will fall short of the playoffs, but I can see them winning nine games.
Q: Watching Matthew Stafford get injured makes me sick to my stomach as a Lions fan. What I'm curious about is, how much do injuries have to do with how the player lands? It seems like that is Stafford's problem. He seems to think this is high school or college, where he can land in any position and be OK. Instead, he needs to protect his body rather than let the lightest of hits in the NFL (if there is such a thing) cause him to land on his shoulders.
Gary in Middlebury, Ind.
A: Stafford had a second-degree separation entering the game. Anyone with a second-degree separation is vulnerable to turning it into a third-degree injury with any kind of impact -- even from what seemed to be a not-so-hard landing in the Jets game. Clearly, there isn't time during the season for the area around the separation to strengthen. Each player who tries to play with that kind of injury knows he would have to sit out the rest of the season to let everything heal properly. In some ways, it's like a concussion. Once you suffer a first concussion, you're vulnerable to a second one. Stafford gambled, and unfortunately for him and the Lions, he lost.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
NFL WEEK 11 PREVIEW