It is at once his biggest attraction and his greatest undoing.
Watch Michael Vick scramble out of danger, see an opening and gain huge chunks of yardage. Or watch him slip through the grasp of a defensive lineman and sprint toward the first-down marker. There are few players more thrilling to behold.
But throughout his entire NFL career, his greatest asset also is his biggest risk. The more he takes off and runs, the more he exposes himself to injury.
Such has been the case throughout Vick's career, as evidenced by the fact that he has started 16 games in a season only once in his 11 years. His most recent injury forced him out of the lineup early last October, and he never got back in as Nick Foles performed well.
Fearless and at times reckless, Vick can be one of the best things about an offense. And one of the worst, because he risks injury every time he steps outside of the pocket and invites hits from men much more imposing than his 6-foot, 215-pound frame.
Vick has dealt with an assortment of injuries, including concussion, rib, and hamstring issues, and managed to stay healthy from wire-to-wire only in 2006, his final season with the Falcons. Even during his career year with the Eagles in 2010, he suffered a rib injury that forced him out of three games early in the season.
The risk-reward ratio was on display Thursday night in Vick's first live action after he replaced starter Geno Smith in the second quarter. He immediately led the Jets on a touchdown drive, and two plays particularly stood out:
The first came on third-and-9 from the Jets' 41. Vick dropped back to pass but didn't find an open receiver. He took off to his left and could have made the first down and still gone out of bounds to protect himself. Instead, he cut to the inside to finish off a 15-yard run at the Colts' 44. Vick wasn't hurt, but his predilection for extending a play by cutting to the inside instead of taking the more cautious approach and running to the sideline wasn't the correct decision.
Vick himself has talked about wanting to be smarter on the field in terms of risking injury, but there appears to be a default mechanism in him to forsake his own safety in the interest of gaining a few more yards. Sometimes he just can't seem to help himself. And sometimes -- too many times -- he pays the price by taking too many shots. If he's still doing that at age 34, it's safe to assume he simply won't -- or can't -- stop.
Play No. 2: Facing a third-and-8 from the Colts' 12 and again finding no one open, he chose to run rather than be patient. He took off to his left and raced for the first-down marker. He dived and held the ball out as far as he could but still came up four yards short.
"I played well,'' he said. "I did all right. It could have been better. I wanted to get some throws down the field. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. So we'll see what happens next week.''Vick has become a human highlight reel, but quarterbacks who win in this league do so mostly from the pocket. Almost all of the great Super Bowl quarterbacks were pure pocket passers. Even the more mobile Russell Wilson, who won it all last season with the Seahawks, is far more judicious when he takes off on a scramble.
There already have been suggestions that Vick is the better quarterback to run the Jets' offense because of his experience and his mobility. And that may turn out to be the case if Smith can't take a decisive step forward in his second season. But the percentages go with Smith, who also has good mobility but is much more inclined than Vick to stay inside the pocket and stay with his reads.
Vick has always been very quick to come off his reads and run, which makes for big plays and big excitement. But it also creates an environment that leads to mistakes and injury, which has been the case with Vick since he came into the league in 2001. Thirteen years later, that's not going to change.