They say the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and you don't have to look any further than the Steelers offensive production since Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Week 3 at St. Louis to see why that's the case.
The sports car that was supposed to be Pittsburgh's 2015 offense has been sputtering the past few weeks, and why? Because the regular driver isn't behind the wheel. This is not a new phenomenon, by the way. While filling in for the injured Terry Bradshaw in 1976, backup quarterback Mike Kruczek had a total of zero touchdown passes in six games (and a 6-0 record, thanks to some of the best defense ever played in the history of the league).
In 2014, Pittsburgh's upcoming opponent, the Cardinals, watched their season go down the drain after Carson Palmer was lost with a knee injury and his backup was also soon injured. Once a 9-1 team with aspirations of playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium, Arizona was down to Ryan Lindley at quarterback and was just looking for a soft place to land once the postseason started, which they did following a 27-16 loss to the sub-.500 Panthers in the first round--Lindley contributed just 82 yards through the air in the game.
There's no way around it, a team just isn't going to be the same without its starting quarterback, and the higher the pedigree and production of said quarterback, the swifter the fall. Roethlisberger averaged 360 passing yards per game through his two full starts, before suffering the MCL sprain in the Week-3 victory over the Rams. In stepped Michael Vick, who has averaged just over 163 yards per game through the air as a starter.
The truest barometer of the importance of a top-shelf NFL passer may be the steep drop in production of all-world receiver Antonio Brown since Week 3. After setting a record for catching at least five passes for at least 50 yards in 35-straight games, Brown has a grand total of 87 yards the past two weeks with Vick as the starter.
But you know what? The Steelers made the right move by signing Vick in August following the injury suffered by Bruce Gradkowski in the third preseason game. Vick may not be an elite quarterback with a great passer rating and completion percentage, but he's also not a quarterback that has done a whole lot to make his team lose the two games he's started.
Any way you slice it, the Steelers should be 2-0 with Vick as the starter, and they would be if not for those missed field goals by Josh Scobee near the end of regulation in the game against Baltimore on October 1. Vick may have only passed for 124 and averaged a paltry 4.8 yards per attempt, but he took care of the football, made a nifty block that helped spring Le'Veon Bell for Pittsburgh's first touchdown in the first half and threw a laser to Darius Heyward-Bey for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second half. No, Vick didn't carry the Steelers, but he managed them to what should have been a victory.
Monday night in San Diego, Vick looked basically awful for most of the game, passing for only 87 yards by the middle of the final period. However, from that moment on, Vick passed for 116 yards and added another 24 with his legs, as he led the offense to its only two touchdowns--including the game-winner on the final play of regulation. No, Vick didn't throw a touchdown pass--Le'Veon Bell scored from one-yard away when he wouldn't be denied--but Vick made the necessary plays to put his team in position to win.
Vick's signing was and is a very controversial one for obvious and well-documented reasons. From a pure football standpoint, if you want to criticize the signing, fine. But who would have been a better alternative?
Sure, Vick's overall career numbers--including an 80.5 passer rating and a 56.2 completion percentage--don't stand out, but which quarterback sitting at home in August would have owned numbers that indicated he could replace someone of Roethlisberger's caliber and lead the Steelers' offense just as superbly?
Fact is, if Roethlisberger's injury was that of the season-ending variety, the Steelers would be in big trouble, even after these past two games. Your backup quarterback isn't supposed to step in and lead the way to a Super Bowl--especially in 2015. No, your backup quarterback is supposed to give your team a chance to stay in the hunt in the event that the star quarterback is out for a short period of time.
It would have been easy for the Steelers to totally fall off of the table in the absence of such an important piece of the puzzle, but Vick's teammates have rallied around him--including a defense that has contributed four takeaways and a score in the past two games--because they respect him as a veteran player.
That's the important part. Regardless of what the fans think of Vick, his coaches and teammates believe in him, because of his experience as an NFL player.
Do you think the coaches and players would have had the same confidence in Landry Jones to get the job done as they clearly have in Vick? Or what about another veteran quarterback without the same career resume?
It may have been understandable for the organization to cave-in to public pressure because of Vick's past, but where would it be today? Instead of a 3-2 record that should really be 4-1, the team could be 2-3 and in a position to rush Roethlisberger back before he's healthy enough to return.
It's not going to be easy for Vick and his teammates this week, with a 4-1 Cardinals team coming to town along with yet another superior quarterback in Palmer leading the charge. But the NFL is the ultimate team sport for a reason, and the way his teammates have responded to Vick is what you want in your backup quarterback during a crucial time like this, when just surviving week to week is the goal until the best player returns to the lineup.
Mike Vick has already proven to be a very valuable asset in the Steelers' 2015 campaign.