OF ALL THE FAITHS the Eagles beseech from their following, the hardest to practice is faith in Michael Vick.
No quarterback in the NFL today is more difficult to quantify, to grade, to measure by effectiveness and performance.
Predictably, Michael Vick lacks a No. 1 receiver.
Alarmingly, he lacks a viable offensive line.
Remarkably, as the quarterback of a 1-3 team outclassed in its last two games, he lacks bad stats.
Vick's 93.2 passer rating after four games not only is more than 10 points higher than his career rate, it would be the second-best rating of his nine seasons as a starter if it remains that high.
He has run for 228 yards and two touchdowns, with a career-high 61-yarder that helped boost his average per carry to 8.8, which would be the best of his career.
"For real?" Vick asked, when informed of his current statistical efficiency.
Perhaps most important, Vick has learned to both throw the ball away and to take sacks - he has only two interceptions; and to avoid contact - he has zero concussions and no broken ribs.
"I think I've played pretty good," Vick said.
His coaches think he's right, too.
When the Eagles insist that, say, Trent Cole is adapting to his new linebacker spot, it's hard to believe. Cole has no sacks and was invisible the last two games.
When the team says Riley Cooper, the replacement for injured No. 1 wideout Jeremy Maclin, is getting open and is blocking well and is running precise routes, it's tough to swallow. Cooper has just eight catches.
When the club says rookie tackle Lane Johnson is playing better every week, it's difficult to agree. Johnson has surrendered four sacks in as many starts.
There is virtually no measurable proof that those players are playing well.
When the Eagles tell you that Vick is not the problem, well . . . maybe they're right.
And they will tell you.
With great earnestness and with pointed words in well-prepared statements, they will quash any hint that Vick's play caused 1-3 to happen.
"I thought Mike played well," coach Chip Kelly said after Sunday's loss in Denver, where the offensive line again foundered. "We've got times when he's at the top of his drop and putting his foot in the ground, and there's pressure on him. I thought he threw the ball very accurately. I thought he put the ball in good places. I thought Mike played very well."
Vick was 14-for-27 for 248 yards, with no touchdowns, three sacks, and 41 yards on eight runs. His receivers dropped key passes. His teammates incurred killer penalties.
Where Vick clearly was the problem when Andy Reid returned with the Chiefs in Game 3, he now has logged three games in which he played well enough to keep his coaches faithful - and keep his job.
Asked if he considered replacing Vick, Kelly replied, "No. Not at all."
If anything, Vick appears to have reinforced the decision made by Kelly and Co. to make him the starter over second-year project Nick Foles.
They have seen Vick contribute intangibly; a voice of reconciliation through the Cooper controversies; a voice of focus when Reid returned and Donovan McNabb was honored; a voice of strength, now, in an 0-3 skid following a season-opening win. On the plane ride home from Denver Sunday night, Vick spoke with his teammates about remaining eager to improve, and spent the last part of yesterday's practice discussing measures to get big-play weapon DeSean Jackson open more often.
But is Vick doing enough?
For instance, one of Vick's problems throughout the years has been his habit of locking on one receiver (usually a big-play threat), ignoring the other targets, then abandoning the pocket. This season?
"He's going through his progressions [before] he takes off," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.
Vick's capacity to take off has helped keep him off the ground. Only two quarterbacks have been sacked more than him, but without his elusiveness surely he would have hit the ground more than 14 times. The offensive line has been bullied the past two games, but is Vick not recognizing facets of the pass rushes?
"Mike's doing a good job [of calling protections]," Shurmur said. "He did a lot of things well [Sunday]."
What he didn't do was get rid of the ball. None of his eight runs was a called run. Kelly says he wants the ball gone in 1.4 seconds. Vick is taking longer . . . by design?
"We time up our throws by whether it's a plant, or a hitch and throw, or two hitches, or as he goes through his progression," Shurmur said. "The [optimal] time changes."
Shurmur snorted at the assertion that any independent statistic service could accurately grade the quickness of Vick's delivery, or even properly time it. Asked pointedly whether Vick was holding on too long, Shurmur was blunt:
"I think he does a good job of getting the ball out."
Shurmur, like Kelly, pointed to the offensive line, assumed to be a strength entering the season but clearly the team's biggest disappointment.
Shurmur, like Kelly, pointed to the receivers, who struggle to shed coverages, then struggle to hold on once Vick delivers the ball.
Shurmur, like Kelly, does not believe Michael Vick is the problem.
They want everyone else to believe it, too.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch