(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
Atlanta Falcons’ head coach Jim Mora must have it in for me. If not me, then he definitely has a plan to stick it to the long-suffering Falcon fans.
Maybe he caught wind of my preseason NFL picks where I predicted the Falcons and the Colts to meet in the Super Bowl.
Since my column is a litmus test of how to wager, and eager bettors flooded Vegas to lay down cash on Atlanta after it was published, my guess is he bet a lot of money on the Falcons not to make Super Sunday so he could rake in some more cheese.
I don’t know how else to explain the going-ons down in Hotlanta. I’ve never seen someone take a diamond and force it into a lump of coal before.
I wonder if Mora’s ever heard the phrase, ‘If it ain’t broke, then stay the heck away from it or you’ll find out why your daddy said, “the NFL stands for Not For Long”’.
Mora stepped into a coach’s dream for his first gig. He was hired by a city hungry for a winning football team and by owners who want to throw cash at the problem. He inherited a squad with the new prototype for NFL quarterbacks just begging to be refined.
Note I said refined, not remade.
Anyone who has followed the NFL for the last five years knows that Michael Vick is as breathtaking a runner as anyone who has ever played his position. He’s a better runner than Archie Manning, Steve Young and Randall Cunningham combined.
But the knock against him by purists and fuddy-duddies has been that he’s not a good passing quarterback. They’ll consent to amazing arm strength, then say he’s not accurate. These same people believe the two-handed set shot is the best way to score in basketball and the designated hitter is one of the seven deadly sins.
My reply is, “who cares as long as you’re winning football games”?
Opposing teams don’t fear many quarterbacks other than the one that is currently completing passes in Indianapolis.
However, teams do fear a quarterback than can turn a broken play into a 70-yard touchdown run. And there’s only one quarterback like that in the league.
So, what does Mora do? After winning more games than any other coach in his first year, he decides to weight Vick down with becoming a pocket passer in a west coast offense.
Vick is at his best throwing little dink and dunk passes for short gains to setup the run, and for demoralizing defenses with 15-yard bootlegs and quarterback draws for touchdowns. That type of game plan sets up the three or four times he can use his impressive arm strength for deep strikes to keep the defense honest.
The Falcons started off pretty well this year. They were 6-2 headed into a week 10 showdown with Green Bay. Their two setbacks were a three-point loss at Seattle – who is one of the better teams in the league – and a three-point loss to New England in which Vick didn’t play.
The most pass attempts by Vick headed into week 10 was 27 in a drubbing of Buffalo and 31 in a win over Miami. I guess Mora thought that since he won by passing 31 times against the hapless Dolphins, that it would work against Green Bay. Wrong.
Then he decided to throw the ball against Tampa Bay’s stingy defense. Vick threw 38 times, ran only four and the Falcons lost by three.
The next week they got better against the Lions (22 pass attempts, six rushes by Vick), but then followed that up with 35 pass attempts and three Vick rushes and five sacks in a humiliating 24-6 loss to Carolina.
So basically, when Vick passes 30 or more times this year, the Falcons are 1-3. In the 11 games he’s played this year, Vick has attempted 282 passes and 77 rushes. He’s on pace to challenge his career passing attempts (421) set in 2002. But that year he still averaged only 28 per game.
2002 was his best year, and it’s no coincidence he rushed 113 times for 777 yards that year. Last year he rushed 120 times for 902 yards and averaged 21 pass attempts per game.
I guess my point is why are they throwing him 30 times a game? Why not go with his obvious strength? Sure, defenses are geared up to stop him from running, but defenses are also set up to stop Randy Moss from catching the ball and for keeping Indianapolis out of the end zone.
It’s up to the head coach and offensive coordinator to come up with clever ways to get Vick 12 to 15 rushes per game. That’s the only way they are going to win. You can’t change Vick and expect to be successful.
Imagine if Slingin’ Sammy Baugh’s coach back in the day tried to keep him from passing, because back then teams won by running the ball for three yards and a cloud of dust. What would the game have become if Baugh would have been forced to feed the running game every down?
You don’t make Magic Johnson a post player simply because point guards aren’t 6’9”, just like you don’t make Donovan McNabb, Dante Culpepper, or Byron Leftwich linebackers because quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be that big.
Vick is a runner who just happens to line up under center.
If the Falcons are going to make the playoffs, they can’t do it as a pass happy west coast offense. Their last three games are at Chicago, at Tampa Bay and at home against Carolina.
Which Vick do those teams want to face? The one that throws 30 times a game to a subpar receiving corps, or the one that has averaged 7.1 yards per carry over his career?
I think the answer is as plain as the diamond in Jim Mora’s backfield.