Vick (Gulp) Remains the Obvious Choice at QB for Eagles

What controversy?

The Eagles’ rose into a tie for the top spot of the NFC’s Island of Misfit Toys Division with a win over the hapless Giants, established some life for the previously floundering team and started their stretch of five games against the league’s soft underbelly in fine fashion.

But their gift-wrapped win courtesy of Little Eli’s suddenly wayward right arm did not come without a price. Michael Vick’s hamstring injury may not be serious (an MRI will determine that Monday), but Nick Foles’ play in relief of the hobbled starter will no doubt increase the cries of his supporters, who will say his 16-of-25 passing and two touchdowns demonstrate his fitness for the position.

But despite Vick’s shaky passing performance against the Giants–6-of-14, 104 yards–and his at-times underwhelming play in the previous four games, there can be no denying he is the man for the starting job–Sunday in Tampa Bay and for the rest of the season.

This isn’t about Vick’s overwhelming talent. It’s about Chip Kelly’s system. Period.

The Eagles rushed for a total of 10 yards in the second half. Ten. LeSean McCoy, who had a respectable 13 carries for 50 yards at halftime, ran seven times for minus-4 yards after intermission. The reason was obvious. In Kelly’s system, which requires at least the threat of the quarterback’s being able to run on the inside and outside zone read plays, Foles’ presence means defenders can forget about him and focus entirely on McCoy. If Foles does pull the ball out of McCoy’s belly and take off, he can be tracked down easily, as he was on the three occasions Sunday when he took off and gained a total of one yard.

Vick told us this week that anybody who thinks he holds onto the ball too long doesn’t “know anything about football.” It makes no sense to argue with Vick about whether he does or doesn’t release the ball quickly enough, even though Kelly is on the record saying that the optimal release time for his quarterbacks is under two seconds, and heading into Sunday’s game, Vick was taking an average of 3.4 seconds to get rid of the ball. The number that matters with Vick is 53.8. That’s his completion percentage, and it’s way too low for a successful starting QB. Foles’ 64 percent figure Sunday is more in line with what is expected.

Still, Vick has to be the starter, simply because of his value as a runner. Before he limped off Sunday, Vick had run for 79 yards on seven carries. Much more than that is a recipe for disaster, and even those seven carries resulted in his early exit. But as long as he is putting the ball in McCoy’s belly on the zone read plays, the defense must account for him. Because of that, it’s easier for McCoy to get to the second level, and that’s when the magic happens.

The problem is that when the Eagles aren’t running the ball, they’re passing it, and that’s not always a good thing when Vick is at the helm. Even though the Eagles are the first team in NFL history to have at least 1,200 yards passing and 875 yards rushing through five games, Vick is not completing passes at a rate necessary to lead a team to the playoffs. He can argue all he wants about whether I know anything about football, but I can tell you this: 53.4 percent isn’t going to get it done. And there aren’t too many “experts” who say it can.

But he must start, because the Eagles are wedded to Kelly and his system. And that system mandates that the quarterback is a threat running the football. Foles never will be, so the running game is compromised. The Eagles don’t use a fullback often, rarely line up in two-tight end sets and lack a power game that can spring McCoy when defenses are loaded up to stop him. Without a successful running game, the Eagles’ offense will stagnate. Not every defense is as hapless as the Giants’, and not every quarterback is going to cough it up three times in the fourth quarter, as the Littlest Manning did Sunday. The Birds must be able to spring McCoy, and to do that, they need a mobile quarterback.

They need Michael Vick.

Kelly has already announced Vick will be his starter against Tampa Bay, provided he is healthy enough to go. Foles’s supporters should understand that while he played well in relief Sunday, he doesn’t fit this offense. He’s not a long-term solution, no matter what scheme the Birds use. That person will likely come during the next off-season.

For now, it’s Vick. And in this awful division, he might just be enough.

Sucker Punches

• The Sixers have raised ticket prices 10 percent this season, after freezing fees last year. That’s not the best way to attract people to see a team that is trying to lose as many games as possible. This year’s slogan is “Together We Build.” With higher prices to see the mess, it ought to be “Hello, StubHub!”

• Anybody who received NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s email missive last week detailing all the league has done to protect its players had to laugh. The photo of Goodell standing amid a group of smiling youngsters was pretty funny. More hilarious was the obvious attempt to mitigate the impact of the new book, League of Denial and Tuesday’s Frontline documentary, both of which detail the league’s refusal to address the long-term dangers of concussions and blows to the head. It’s unfortunate that a large portion of fans will consider the league’s efforts as something more than an attempt to lessen future liability. Let’s hope the book and documentary expose the NFL for what it really is: interested only in its own bottom line.

• Since the Flyers’ offense could awaken and lead it to a 79-3 record this season, it’s silly to consider the opening trifecta of losses a reason for panic. But it would be nice if someone could score a couple goals (the Flyers have three), the better to avoid the need for defensive perfection. And let’s hope GM Paul Holmgren doesn’t try to pin these problems on coach Peter Laviolette. Adding just one forward of consequence to last year’s team – which failed to make the playoffs – wasn’t exactly the perfect way to gin up the offense. (However, according to reports spreading across Twitter, Laviolette has been axed, which the team will reportedly announce at 11.)