Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Mike Vick and 20 Wins

Where there is Philadelphia sports, there is controversy. It just seems to be the way of it. Whether it's Charles Barkley throwing a bar patron through a glass window, Allen Iverson releasing rap singles or talking about practice or throwing his wife out of the house, the annual goalie controversy for the Flyers, Curt Schilling wearing a towel over his head, the Utley-Werth rumors, the Carter-Hartnell rumors, or the T.O.-Donovan soap opera, this city is accustomed to some controversy when it comes to its sports. Now add Vick-Kolb to that list.

When the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins, it was assumed and proclaimed that this offense was handing the reigns over to Kevin Kolb, Andy Reid's hand-picked successor to his first draft pick as a head football coach in the National Football League. Kolb had waited patiently for his turn, studying under Donovan McNabb for three seasons, performing admirably in his first two career starts last season, biding his time. Along the way, the Eagles inexplicably and surprisingly brought Michael Vick in for his chance at redemption. I was stunned and confused, not understanding where Vick would fit in with Donovan McNabb already on the roster and having another year on his contract, not to mention Kevin Kolb as the entrenched backup and starter-in-waiting, whenever the Eagles and McNabb finally parted ways. The only logical conclusion was that they hoped Vick would retain some of his big-play ability and that they could trade him in a league full of teams desperate for a quarterback. Other than that, this was McNabb's team in the present, and Kolb's team in the future.

After back-to-back unceremonious losses to Dallas to end the season, the Eagles brass took a long, hard look at the team and decided it was time for a face-lift. After 11 years of always coming up just short, the Eagles decided it was time to trade the face of the franchise, to try something new. That something new was Kevin Kolb.

Everything was all set up perfectly for the second-round pick out of Houston. He threw for over 300 yards in his two starts last season, and every young player on offense was endorsing him once McNabb made his way down I-95. Philadelphians, eager to see what the new guy had, started to rally around Kolb. Tales of him killing rattlesnakes and hunting wild boar made him a media darling. He was the new man in town.

Then the first game happened.

In one half of football, it all came crashing down for Kevin Kolb. He was under relentless attack from Green Bay, getting pounded time and time again. With no protection, Kolb looked dreadful. He was missing throws, staring down receivers, making terrible reads. He looked nothing like the confident guy who stepped in last season. To make matters worse, he suffered a concussion, ceding the field to Michael Vick … who played brilliantly and nearly led the Eagles back from a 17-point deficit against a team many believe is a Super Bowl contender.

With Kolb still on the sidelines this past Sunday due to the concussion, Vick was tremendous again, leading the Eagles to a 35-32 win over the Lions by throwing for 284 and 2 touchdowns on 21-34 passing, and adding 37 yards on the ground. Just as importantly, his play inspired tremendous confidence in his teammates, and opened up room for them with his threat to make a big play with his arm or his legs. LeSean McCoy, an afterthought against Green Bay, gashed Detroit for 120 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. DeSean Jackson ran free for 135 yards and a score, creating the big plays you expect from him, and Vick distributed the ball all around, hitting eight receivers in all.

As well as he played, and as good as he looked, Andy Reid kept saying this was Kevin Kolb's team. That Kevin Kolb was the starting quarterback. And I agreed with him. Kevin Kolb would be back in there. He had to be. He needed his fair shake at starting, deserved the opportunity to show what he could do. But damn, Mike Vick was playing well. Really well. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to watch him play some more.

Then stunningly, Andy Reid did a very uncharacteristic thing: He named Vick the starter last night. Even with Kevin Kolb cleared to play. Even though he had drafted Kolb and traded McNabb for the very purpose of making Kolb the starter for years to come. Even after publicly declaring that, despite Vick's great play, Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not anymore.

If we're talking strictly on the field right now, going with Vick is not that hard to justify or figure out. Kolb has far less experience than Vick, played one terrible half of football and suffered a concussion. Meanwhile, Vick has played six tremendous quarters of football, notched a win and has looked, surprisingly, as good as just about any quarterback in the league thus far, albeit with one of those games coming against Detroit. Add to the fact that Philadelphia's offensive line is in shambles and looking like swiss cheese, and it makes perfect sense. Vick can create something out of nothing, escape pressure, make things happen on the move. Kolb is a pure pocket passer, a sitting duck, and with a shaky offensive line, he's sure to get pounded and maybe even injured again. Like I said, football-wise, this move makes sense, especially if the Eagles think there's a chance (there isn't) that they can contend for the NFC.

But down the road, is this a good thing? I don't know, but I'm leaning towards no. Kevin Kolb was drafted to be the next starting quarterback in Philadelphia, and he was extended through 2011 after McNabb was traded. Now he's been relegated to backup again. What does that do for his psyche? What does that do for his morale? Does he even want to be here anymore? Either way, it can't be good. Regardless of whether or not the Eagles are still confident in Kolb, it sure comes off like they're not. It's almost as if they saw all they cared to see in that one short half of football, which seems crazy.

Beyond that, Mike Vick is a free agent after the season. If he plays well, do the Eagles try to re-sign him? Is he the new heir apparent? And if so, is that a good thing? If the Eagles were tired of Donovan McNabb and his team always coming up just short, what makes them believe things could get better with Michael Vick? Over his career, Vick has been nowhere near as effective of a passer as McNabb, nowhere near as good in the playoffs, and lest we forget, Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons continually were bounced from the playoffs by Donovan McNabb and Eagles, with McNabb playing far superior football in every conceivable way than Vick.

I don't know what the future holds for Vick, Kolb or the Eagles. What I do know is none of this would have ever happened had they not traded Donovan McNabb and just waited the year out to make a decision on the quarterback of the future. But they did, and they got Nate Allen in return, a free safety who has two interceptions in two career games. They also got themselves a major quarterback controversy. One that we have absolutely no idea how it will play out.

What is not controversial is the greatness that is Roy Halladay. Last night, he picked up his MLB-leading 20th win of the season, defeating the Atlanta Braves 5-3 by tossing 7 innings of three-run ball to extend the Phillies' lead in the NL East to five games and cut the magic number down to six.

He is the first Philadelphia Phillies pitcher to win 20 games since 1982, when Steve Carlton won 23. That means Roy Halladay is the one and only Phillies pitcher in my lifetime to win 20 games in a season. And it hasn't been a hollow 20 wins either. Truth of the matter is, if the Phillies could have scored any runs for the guy earlier in the season, he could have another five wins, easy. When you look at the numbers and watch him on the mound, there is no debate: Roy Halladay has put together the single greatest pitching season for a Philadelphia Phillie in my lifetime.

Halladay is 20-10 on the season with a 2.53 ERA, which is good enough for third in National League and fifth in all of baseball. He's thrown 8 complete games, more than anyone else in the game, tossed an MLB-best three shutouts and leads the majors in innings pitched — his 241 and two-thirds is eight innings more than second-place Felix Hernandez, and 17 and a third more than Adam Wainwright, the next closest in the NL. Halladay leads the NL in strikeouts with 213 (good for third in baseball behind King Felix and Jered Weaver), his 1.07 WHIP trails only Mat Latos, Wainwright and his teammate, Roy Oswalt, in the NL. And his 7.10 strikeout to walk ratio is the best in National League, trailing only the greatest man who ever lived's ridiculous 10.88. Oh yeah, he pitched a perfect game too.

Add it all up, and Roy Halladay is your 2010 NL Cy Young winner. With all due respect to Adam Wainwright and Mat Latos and Ubaldo Jimenez, no one has been as dominant, as reliable and as good as Roy Halladay. Wins don't really tell the whole story of a pitcher. We all know that. But the truth of the matter is, you have to be really good and play for a good team to win 20 games. It's no coincidence that the only two 20-game winners right now just so happen to play for the last two World Series Champions, and the teams that met in the World Series last year (CC Sabathia and Halladay). However, when you combine those 20 wins with all the rest of those ridiculous numbers, you have yourself a Cy Young winner, which would be another first in my lifetime: a Phillie winning the Cy Young.

Whether he wins it or not, I couldn't be happier that Roy Halladay is a Philadelphia Phillie. With him leading the three-headed monster along with Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, this team is starting to run away with things. The Phillies have the best record in the National league, are second behind only the Yankees' 92 wins with their 91 wins. And with Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt shutting down every batter in the land, and with Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge looking like their 2008 versions, and the bats really coming back to life in the deepest lineup this team has ever had, well, a third straight trip to the World Series is looking like a very distinct possibility. So is another parade down Broad Street.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's just enjoy the 20 wins of Roysmas and be thankful that we have the honor to watch Doc pitch every five days for our favorite baseball team.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Two thoughts:

    1) It is amazing how much better this Phillies team is than the previous three outfits, solely because of our rotation. Kendrick won't sniff the post-season roster and Blanton will be used as a long man. I hope we can clinch early and monitor some innings a bit. In my non-professional opinion, I think Doc may be going through a bit of a dead arm stretch right now.

    2) I'm glad Vick is starting. The NFC East looks unexpectedly weak this year. Hell, we're 1-1 now; we may as well try and win many games as possible.

    Also, Kolb is coming off a concussion. Didn’t Westbrook suffer a concussion last season, returned, and then suffered another one? I understand Kolb’s injury is not the reason #4 is now back-up, but I’m all for being overly cautious when it comes to head injuries.

    This is my first time here. Good stuff.

  2. Thanks for the comment David. I agree with you on both points, but I don't understand Reid's insistence on saying Kolb would start, then flip-flopping.

    As you said, given this team's history with Westbrook's concussion problems, Andy could have just said Kolb is responding well, but we want to be careful with him and his concussion. So we're sticking with Vick until we feel 100 percent certain and comfortable with Kolb's recovery. But he didn't.

    I thought it was a bad way to handle the situation, especially with a built-in excuse at his disposal.