Can Vick find balance as a runner?

Michael Vick set a career high, averaging 8.3 rushing attempts per game last season. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

When Michael Vick takes the field in St. Louis in a couple weeks, we'll begin to assess once again where he is as a passer.

In 2010, he delivered the best year of his career in that respect, completing 62.6 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns, six interceptions and a QB rating of 100.2.

But judging Vick by the same criteria we use for other quarterbacks doesn't make sense. And that's because his legs set him apart.

After entering the game in Week 1 against the Packers last year, Vick ran for 103 yards on 11 carries. Against the Redskins on Monday night, eight rushes for 80 yards and two touchdowns. And in the epic comeback against the Giants, 10 carries for 130 yards. In the fourth quarter alone, he burned the blitz with three carries for 90 yards.

Overall, at the age of 30, two years removed from serving time in Leavenworth, Kan., Vick delivered as a runner too.

There were 46 NFL players last year who carried the ball 100 times or more. None of them had a higher yards per carry than Vick (6.8). keeps a stat called Big Play Rushes, which measures how many carries went for more than 10 yards. Vick had 27 of them. That ranked 15 among all NFL players. It was one fewer than Darren McFadden and LeSean McCoy. Four more than Ray Rice.

But how did Vick 2.0 compare as a runner to the previous version in Atlanta?

Here's a look at per-game averages for every year Vick has been a starter:

  Att. Yds. YPC
2002 7.5 51.8 6.9
2004 8.0 60.1 7.5
2005 6.8 39.8 5.9
2006 7.7 64.9 8.4
2010 8.3 56.3 6.8

What sticks out? Vick ran the ball an average of 8.3 times per game last season. Hard to believe, but that was a career high.

His career yards per carry is 6.7, and Vick was almost exactly at that mark in 2010.

The question going forward is: How can Vick reduce the number of hits he takes? The answer begins with the linemen in front of him, but also includes Vick's decision-making.

It's tough to compare Vick to other quarterbacks because of his unique skill set. Marty Mornhinweg brought up Steve Young's this offseason. In 1991, when Young saw his first major action with the 49ers, he averaged six rushing attempts per game. And while he used his legs throughout his career, he never again reached that number.

In 11 seasons with the Eagles, Randall Cunningham averaged 5.5 rushing attempts per game. When he resurrected his career in Minnesota in 1998, that number was just 2.1. He also posted a career-best 106.0 QB rating that season.

Regardless of how Vick progresses as a passer, it would be foolish to ignore his ability as a runner. According to Football Outsiders, he ended up outside the pocket on 22 percent of Eagles pass plays last year. That was tops in the league. The Eagles' offense, meanwhile, set a franchise scoring record.

The key for the Eagles will still be to work with Vick on recognizing what he's seeing and making the right reads. There are times when running will be the right move. And we saw time and again last year that Vick's runs can demoralize opposing defenses.

But there will be other times when running is not the answer. Look no further than last year's Vikings game. Vick was blitzed 31 times, and on 10 of those plays, he didn't even attempt a pass. He was sacked five times, fumbled twice and failed to pick up more than 8 yards on any single carry. Those are the situations where the Eagles want him to make the right reads and get rid of the football, rather than rely on his legs.

In a couple weeks, with a new contract in hand, we'll begin to find out what kind of balance Vick achieves in 2011.

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