I feel tremendously conflicted about Michael right now. On the one hand, it's hard to argue with the simple fact that he wins. The Falcons are 24-12-1 over the past three seasons when Vick starts and 3-12 when he doesn't. The Falcons have finished in the top eight and the top four in the NFL in his two seasons as a starter. I'm normally not a fan of attributing team success to one individual, especially in football, which is such a team game. That said, when there is a clear disparity when a player is in the lineup, that can't be dismissed.
Additionally, this Falcons team just isn't that good other than Vick. The defense was decent in '02 and '04, but nothing special. I've never been a fan of the offensive line or the receivers, although they aren't really tested properly, as we'll discuss below. I am a fan of Warrick Dunn, who's a perennially underrated running back. The best explanations I can come up with for the Falcons' success with Vick are two-fold:
1. He inspires the rest of the team because they know they have a freak under center and they play better with him in the lineup. I hate fuzzy explanations like this, but it might have some merit.
2. Vick's presence castrates opposing front sevens. Linebackers can't be aggressive in responding to the run because they're constantly worried about a bootleg. Defensive linemen cannot penetrate into the backfield because they have to stay in their rush lanes to prevent Vick from escaping. If they don't do their jobs, then Vick is fast enough and has good enough moves to turn their mistakes into marathon touchdowns. Because of this effect, the Falcons' running game is far greater than the sum of its parts and they win by outrushing their opponents. This is a novel concept in the NFL, where points come from the passing game and the running game is usually a device to keep defenses off-balance and to run out the clock at the end of a game. If the run-first approach has worked in college, then could it work in the NFL?
On the other hand, I have major reservations about Vick as a passer. Here's an anecdote: a friend of a friend was at a banquet and met Ron Jaworski. Jaws is one of the few NFL talking heads whom I respect because he watches a ton of film and his statements are always backed up by solid facts. (I would KILL for an "Edge College Football Match-Up" show that used game film heavily.) As such, his comment to the friend of a friend that Vick will be out of the NFL within three years unless he learns how to throw as a pocket passer scares me. Jaws watches a ton of film and clearly has the impression that Vick's passing problems are not solely the result of receivers who can't get open or linemen who can't block, but rather, are the result of a quarterback who doesn't do a good job of reading coverages (the most important skill for a quarterback) and then delivering the ball accurately (the second most important skill for a quarterback.) I hold out hope that he'll develop as a decision-maker, but there's a possibility that he just doesn't have this skill, in which case the Falcons' massive investment in him will be an albatross.
Speaking of which, the second concern about Vick is that Arthur Blank has a man-crush on Michael and he coddles him, as does the rest of the organization. Giving him a massive extension after a year in which he finished 13th in passer rating, although in his defense, the NFL's passer rating formula badly overrates completion percentage and Vick finished a more respectable, but still not outstanding 7th in the NFC in yards per attempt. His interception percentage of 3.7% was 14th in the NFC, so it isn't like he avoided turnovers. Anyway, getting back to the point, the organization shelters Vick from the media, they pay him like he's the best player in the league, and they spend first round picks every year to give him receivers. That sort of cocoon could destroy Vick's desire to improve. It all depends on what sort of person Vick is.
The Brady/Vick debate on Mayhem this morning was good, but so much depends on the type of team we're discussing. Brady is perfect on a talented team that is going to be playing in big games, where his "cool under pressure" skill comes to the fore. Brady benefits from playing on the best coached team in the NFL and he has a defense that keeps New England in every game. If he was on a less-talented team, would he still be that successful? We'll never know, unless it turns out that he looks average without Charlie Weis calling the shots anymore. Vick is a fine fit on a team without much talent because he can create a running game from nothing and he can survive with minimal pass protection. That said, on a team like New England with a number of good receivers, Vick would be a bit of a waste because he can't get the ball to all of them. He also doesn't have Brady's "cool under pressure" skill, so he wouldn't win every close game for a good team like Brady does.
The Brady/Vick debate, at this stage, seems to be analogous to the Montana/Randall Cunningham debate of the late 80s. Randall wasn't as good as Vick; his teams had great defenses and yet they didn't advance as far as Vick has. On the other hand, Brady isn't quite Montana yet, although he's getting close if he stays on his current career path. Brady/Vick could also be analogized to Bird/'Nique, right down to the cities involved. In both cases, there is a racial overlay that makes for a lot of irrational defenses and criticism. If Vick is the new 'Nique, then maybe we need to simply accept that he's a very good player, but not the best in the league at his position.
And in the end, it helps to remember that Vick turns 25 this June 26, so we're talking about a player who is still several years from his prime.