Eagles quarterback Michael Vick's attempts at playing out of the pocket have not been overly successful. (REUTERS)
It's always been Vick. As in quick. And, the Eagles' quarterback, now 32, may soon have to prove he's still got the winged feet that first made him a football sensation.
He has tried standing in the pocket. It has not been a grand success.
Vick's very survival may depend on whether he still can dance.
Last year Vick was road kill on a team that protected him with about as much dedication as Paris Hilton guards her modesty. He got trampled, suffered a hand injury, battered ribs and a concussion.
Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wants him to stay in the pocket and "be very disciplined within those (movements), because there's plays to be had there."
Mostly those plays exist only in theory and in Marty's mind. Turnovers and an inability to keep Vick on his feet and healthy proved the Achilles heel last year and so far, it seems to be much the same issue that could sabotage the season.
Playing conservatively, Vick is on a pace to throw 32 interceptions and fumble 11 times. He has already been sacked nine times and taken 27 hits this season.
He already has sore ribs. Again. And last week, the Eagles were humiliated in a 21-point blowout to, of all teams, the Cardinals. Face it, Super Bowl quarterbacks don't lose to Arizona. None of this bodes well considering they will face the division-rival Giants this week -- and they will be doing it with a depleted offensive line that is without Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters, replacement King Dunlap, and starting centre Jason Kelce.
For Vick, the pocket is no refuge. Not on this team. The Eagles are leading the league in turnovers with 12 (four more than anyone else) and nine of those are from Vick alone. Part of the problem is his own inability to get rid of the ball quickly enough. The return of receiver Jeremy Maclin, whose absence last week due to injury really hurt Vick, should give him an open target more easily.
Still, against the Giants, the Eagles' best chance for an upset lies in Vick's ability to scramble. Assuming he's still got it.
"I can put on them light shoes and run around still. And you never know when. It could be this week," Vick told reporters. "Anytime I can switch it up."
Switching it up could be the key to success, if not outright survival, against the persistent Giants pass rush. Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul will come after Vick, attacking an offensive line that will start backup left tackle Demetress Bell and second-string center Dallas Reynolds.
Teams no longer seem as concerned that Vick might beat them with his legs.
Instead of attempting to contain him in the pocket, defences have been coming after him. They blitz. And, they have been catching him, like when Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes blew him up, forcing a fumble that resulted in an Arizona TD.
Against the Giants, the Eagles are unlikely to be able to provide pocket protection. So, Vick has two choices -- get rid of the ball quicker than he has been. Or run. At least then, if he does get hit, it'll be on Vick's terms. He can slide. He can use the quarterback's best friend -- the sideline. He can play his game, one he knows, one he understands, one that has brought him success.
"He's going to have to change," Giants lineman Rocky Bernard said of Vick. "He's not inhuman. You can't take that many hits and survive in this league, so they're going to have to change something. I don't know what."
The Bears are 2-1 this season. Looking at the offence, it's difficult to imagine how. Jay Cutler is second to last in the NFL in passer rating, ahead of Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill and the offence is 26th overall in third-down conversion percentage.
Antonio Cromartie doesn't see Darrelle Revis' injury so much as a problem, as it is an opportunity.
Cromartie told the New York Daily News that with Revis sidelined, it now makes him the best cornerback in the league. And, he's aiming to prove it.
"I think I've been playing at a Pro Bowl level so far. I have said that I'm the second-best corner in the NFL," Cromartie said. "I'm not backing off what I said. I don't care what anyone else believe ... It's my confidence in myself. I know what I'm capable of when I'm at the top of my game."
Steven Jackson, who missed every practice last week before playing against the Chicago Bears with a groin-muscle injury, remains sidelined. The St. Louis Rams running back has yet to practice this week. If he can't play, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will share the workload ... Browns receiver/return-man Josh Cribbs was knocked unconscious Thursday against the Ravens. It's unknown how long he'll be sidelined ... Browns linebacker Scott Fujita has denied the existence of a bounty program in New Orleans when he played with the Saints, during his Friday meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell. No word yet on whether he will also deny that the earth is round ... Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is doubtful for Week 4 with swelling in his knee ... Kenny Britt missed his third consecutive practice with a sore ankle and likely won't play ... Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is expected to start against Minnesota despite a sore hip.
BREES SPEAKS, SAINTS LISTEN
Drew Brees talked a pretty good game. The question is, can the Saints still play one.
The New Orleans quarterback tried to rally his 0-3 team this week with a motivational speech.
OK, he basically called them out.
Crap is crap. And, when the defence surrenders 34 points a game and has given up the most yards of any NFL team, it is not a recipe for success.
Brees told the team to stop making excuses and to stop blaming the league or coach Sean Payton's absence for their problems.
"The message was you have to find a way for you to play better," tackle Zach Strief said of Brees' speech.
"Don't look outside of you, don't point at another guy, don't look for the answer anywhere but inside yourself."
WE ARE HUMAN, TOO!
Now there's something nobody will see again.
Feeling the love.
The NFL's regular officials were greeted Thursday night with a standing ovation at the Cleveland Browns-Ravens game.
Meantime, the replacement referees can return to the peace and anonymity of the lower levels of college and high school football. For many the experience turned out to be both a dream, and a nightmare.
"Honestly, sometimes during this whole thing it felt like the national pastime in this country had changed from football to bashing replacement officials," Jeff Sadorus, a Seattle practice referee who ended up officiating one of the team's games this season, told the New York Times.
"Everyone wanted perfection, but come on: the last guy who was perfect they nailed to a cross.
"And he wasn't even an official."
Sadorus said it never was the replacement officials intent to take anyone's job.
"We were there to provide a service," Sadorus said.
"The games were going to get done by someone. It's the old saying: without officials, it's just recess.
"We worked very, very hard.
"As demonized as we were, I hope people remember that we are people, too."
WARNING TO MATHEWS
As running backs go, there's only one thing Ryan Mathews keeps forgetting.
If he's not careful, it could cost him a career. Mathews wouldn't be the first talented ball carrier to wash out because he can't learn to hang onto the football. And, the Chargers' running back is starting to test the patience of general manager A.J. Smith.
"It has to stop. I believe you can improve in ball security. And no one works any harder in trying to get better than Ryan. However, if it continues he will play less," Smith said.
Mathews fumbled in the red zone last week against the Falcons, it was his 11th in 27 career games, and the third he has lost inside the 20.
"What happens to fumblers is, first, they play less. Second, if it continues while they're playing on a limited basis, then you don't play for a while and you get to sit and think about it.
"Third, when you get the call to go back on the field and the fumbling continues, then you will be somebody else's fumbler."
It's the NFL's version of Dancing With The Stars -- featuring Detroit's Nate Burleson and Jared Allen of Minnesota.
ProFootballTalk.com relays how Burleson approached the Vikings' defensive end prior to the 2010 regular season finale, and told him he was going to up-stage his rodeo-inspired celebration.
"So I didn't know Jared, but I just thought, 'He's a Minnesota Viking, and I don't like the guy,' " Burleson told the Detroit Free Press. "I go up to him and I say, 'Hey, when I score I'm going to do your (calf-roping) celebration.'
"So he's like, 'All right. They say imitation's the best form of flattery.' "
Burleson did score, did Allen's dance, and looked at Allen to say -- "What'd you think about that?"
Allen replied: "Um, it was OK, but you've got to get a little bit lower. Your base is too wide. I'll show you how to do it."
Allen intercepted QB Shaun Hill for a touchdown, did the dance, and looked at Burleson and said: "Now, that's how it's done."
Allen has 12.5 career sacks against Detroit, along with two touchdowns and a safety.
BLACKMAIL SCHEME FAILS
Richard Khamir Hurd tried to get Robert Griffin III to just show him the money.
Instead, the 26-year-old former walk-on basketball player with the Baylor Bears, now faces a two- to three-year jail sentence.
Hurd pleaded guilty to extortion Thursday in Texas and will be sentenced Nov. 21.
The U.S. attorney's office said Hurd, a former walk-on basketball player at the school where Griffin won the Heisman Trophy, contacted one of Griffin's agents in June with a demand of $1 million.
In exchange he promised not to release information that could damage the quarterback's reputation.
Griffin was drafted No. 2 by the Redskins this year and signed a four-year deal for more than $21 million.
Hurd, realizing there wasn't a large market for walk-on college hoops' players, wanted a piece of that deal.
Griffin's agent contacted authorities.
Under the FBI's direction, the agent agreed to pay Hurd $120,000. But FBI agents were waiting to arrest him when he showed up to collect the money.
Leaving court Thursday, Hurd responded to a request for comment by the Waco Tribune Herald with, "Sic 'em, Bears."