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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Jim Brown had a certain style the rare times he was tackled. The Hall of Fame running back used to gradually unfold his body and return to the huddle in a measured, deliberate way after it took seven defenders to drag him down.
Brown did it by design—a great psychological ploy intended to make defenders feel they got the better of the great Jim Brown. That they were beating him up. Bending his will.
They were wrong.
If only Michael Vick got up from every tackle with the same intention on Sunday each time the Arizona Cardinals clobbered him, or when Kenny Rhodes ripped through his back and almost through his chest like the creature in Alien.
Brown was able to withstand the incredible pounding NFL players endure. He was a runaway freight, playing at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds. Vick, however, is listed at 6-foot, 215, though he may be closer to 5-10, 200.
To Vick’s credit, he appears to have an adamant will. His body, however, may not be so complying. It forces the question can Vick withstand the pounding if the course of the season follows the Eagles’ first three games?
Vick is not Jim Brown. When the Cardinals manhandled him, he got up slower and slower, and it wasn’t by design. It was because his bones and joints were screaming from the beating he received.
He’s been hit 60 times already, and even Eagles’ coach Andy Reid openly acknowledges it has to stop. At this rate, can Vick survive 16 games?
“I’ll tell you, he’s getting hit way too much,” Reid agreed during his Monday post-game press conference. “That’s what I can tell you. At this point, it’s way too much, so that part’s got to end. We’ve got to limit that. Everybody’s got a little piece of this. To say that there’s not a play here or there that [Vick] might hold the ball too long, I can’t tell you ‘no’ on that and he’d be the first to tell you. That’s not the case every time he throws or gets hit. That’s not the case.”
The last time Vick played 16 games was the 2006 season when he was with Atlanta, his last season in the NFL before he went to prison.
Against Arizona, Vick finished with 217 yards on 17-of-37 passing, despite running from defenders. He entered the game second in the NFL with 688 yards passing, averaging 331.5 yards over the first two games for what was the NFL’s top-rated offense.
Keeping Vick upright the remainder of the season will be a three-pronged process involving: a solvent offensive line, more balanced play-calling from Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Vick’s blitz pickup.
The biggest concern that could tear down the season before it gets started is the depleted offensive line. Neither center Dallas Reynolds, making his first NFL start, nor left tackle Demetress Bell, making his first Eagles’ start, did well against the Cardinals.
Arizona ran wild through the center-guard gap of the Eagles’ front.
A healthy mix of run and pass may ease some of the heat on Vick. Reid admitted Vick and the Eagles are bound to see more blitz packages, based on Arizona’s success.
“Listen, you’ve got to answer that, right?” Reid said. “Teams have had some [success]; in particular right here, this team had some success there, so you figure the next team will try it until you answer it. Then once you answer it, then it will be put on hold.
“You saw some of the actions that we used up front. You saw us move the pocket. The protections that we used I thought were to the advantage of the offensive line where they could really tee off. It didn’t work. That’s where I stand here and tell you that’s my fault. I thought one of the things we could do [is] we could go down the field with them. We had a couple early calls to do that. We put some protections in we thought the guys could really tee off and do it but it didn’t work out that way.”
Finally, no one will question Vick’s toughness. But a fact that can’t be ignored is the brutality of the NFL. Another detail is Vick is 32 years old. He’s not as spry as he once was.
“People always ask what it’s likes being in an NFL game and what it’s like the next morning, and I tell them go ahead and jump down your stairs a few times and tell me what you think; it’s mental, it’s physical, it’s a tough thing to go through,” said Dan Klecko, 94 WIP host and eight-year NFL veteran who has three Super Bowl rings. “It’s unlike anything you’ll ever go through. The objective of the game, and this may sound barbaric, but it’s to destroy the guy in front of you—to make him quit and make him not want to play the next play. There’s the one thing I’ll never question about Mike Vick, he’s one of the smallest guys in the NFL, and he’s one of the toughest, absolutely one of the toughest.
“But how much can he take, though? Marty and Andy are going to have to start taking care of Mike. The thing you begin to question is that Mike’s older now and his body just can’t react to the pounding like it used to. How long will his body eventually just shutdown and he won’t be able to do it anymore?”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.