Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight the three most important names in the NFL. Our editors debate which player must play his best this weekend.
Who needs to step up the most in Week 4: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson or Drew Brees?
Mark Ross, Athlon Sports: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia
The Eagles are 2-1, so everyone’s happy in The City of Brotherly Love, right? Not so much. The Eagles have been out-scored by 19 points. After posting consecutive one-point victories over the Browns and Ravens to start the season, they got thoroughly out-played by the Cardinals last week, losing 27-6.
What’s more Andy Reid has spent part of this week backtracking/clarifying statements he has made regarding Vick and his job security. That’s what happens when you are currently sporting a 2.3-to-1 turnover-to-touchdown ratio.
At first glance, it appears that Vick, who is third in the NFL in passing yards with 905, is off to a good start throwing the ball. That is until you find out he’s completing just 55.2 percent of his passes (25th in the league), and he’s thrown twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three). Add in his three fumbles lost, and he’s responsible for nine of the team’s NFL-worst 12 turnovers. Put it all together and he’s 29th in the league in passer rating at 66.3. Not exactly the type of production you want from your $100-million man, right?
That said, the Eagles can make a huge statement this Sunday when they host the Giants, their division rival and the defending Super Bowl champions. Vick has had his share of success in his career against the G-Men. He holds a 5-2 record, has completed better than 60 percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns versus just three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 381 yards (6.8 ypc) and four touchdowns in those games.
To be fair, the offensive line, which has given up nine sacks already, needs to do a better job protecting Vick. Also wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have both either missed games or been limited by injuries early on, so you could say Vick has yet to have his full complement of weapons. Still in the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback and it’s up to Vick to silence the critics and put an end to any doubts about his status as the starter. Otherwise, it won’t just be his job security that becomes a hot topic of discussion, right Andy?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Saints quarterback Drew Brees set a new NFL all-time record with 5,476 passing yards last season to go 46 touchdowns passes, and New Orleans finished with a 13-3 record and an NFC South title. However after an offseason bounty scandal that resulted in the suspension of head coach Sean Payton and others, the Saints have shockingly equaled their loss total of last year. Brees’ 904 passing yards and seven scores are solid numbers through three games, but he has already thrown five interceptions and been sacked seven times. The New Orleans defense and offensive line have had major issues this season, but it will have to be the All-Pro signal caller that leads the team out of its current hole if the Saints are going to salvage the 2012 campaign.
The grind gets tougher this week, as the Saints travel to Lambeau Field to meet the 1-2 Packers. The two NFC stalwarts combined for only four losses during the 2011 regular season but have five defeats this year. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also under pressure this week, but Brees and the Saints offense must find a way to recapture some of last year’s magic in Wisconsin on Sunday. With weapons like Marques Colston and Lance Moore on the outside and elite tight end Jimmy Graham, New Orleans still has a shot to outscore its opponents. But since 1990, only three teams that started the NFL season 0-3 have made the playoffs. That’s a daunting statistic for Brees and company as they head to Green Bay this weekend.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee
On Sept. 1, 2011, the Tennessee Titans made Chris Johnson the highest paid running back on the planet by paying him $53.5 million over four years with $30 million guaranteed. Since being drafted in 2008, Johnson rushed for an NFL-best 4,598 yards on 925 carries, caught 137 passes for 1,008 yards receiving and scored 38 total touchdowns in 47 games. That is 5.0 yards per carry and 119.2 yards from scrimmage per game. The Titans went 13-3 in his rookie season and went 27-21 overall in that span.
In 19 games since the contract was signed, Johnson has rushed for 1,092 yards on 295 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt and has scored four total touchdowns. Clearly, the $50-million man has mailed it in since signing his big contract.
The Titans tailback has been completely uninspired this fall, averaging 1.4 yards per carry (33 att., 45 yards) with nary a trip to paydirt in three games. Jake Locker is the team’s leading rusher currently.
After starting 1-2, the Titans go on the road to face the unbeaten Houston Texans in a huge divisional contest this weekend and Johnson needs to revert to his CJ2K form ASAP. In fact, the Titans will play three of the next four on the road with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Minnesota coming up after the trip to Texas.
Locker appears to be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Titans, but if this team wants to challenge the Texans in the AFC South, it has to get production from its rushing attack.