GAME 3, 1990 season. Yes, this is a visit to the way-back machine. The Eagles had a new offensive coordinator that season, a fellow named Rich Kotite. Little did we know what would happen in the future, but people on the inside could not help but read the significance of team management picking Kotite and handing him to coach Buddy Ryan for what turned out to be his final season.
The first two games did not go well. The Eagles lost them both. Randall Cunningham threw five interceptions in those games, and was sacked eight times, and ran tentatively and largely ineffectively. Kotite had tried to add some structure to an offense that had been all about Cunningham making five big plays a game, mostly with his legs, and the quarterback felt trapped, confined to the pocket.
In the week before the third game, at the Los Angeles Rams, Ryan met with Cunningham and told him to forget about the new stuff and turned him loose. Kotite said he met with Cunningham, too, and told him he never intended to cut his legs out from under him.
The result became known as the "Let Randall Be Randall" game. The Eagles won, Cunningham pronounced himself liberated, the offense went on to be No. 3 in the NFL in yards and points, the team went 10-6, and then the Eagles couldn't score a touchdown in a wild-card playoff loss at home to the Redskins. It was their third straight postseason loss and second straight when the offense was neutered.
There is a lesson there for today.
It is not time to let Michael be Michael.
We all are trying to figure out if this Michael Vick business was a one-game blip or something more serious. It is a more than fair question. Vick knows the answer - he is trying to do too much. He said it himself after the game. He is locking onto receivers from the moment he takes the snap, and he is tracking them with his eyes throughout their routes, and then he is throwing the ball come hell or high water or corner blitz or triple coverage. That is how four interceptions happen.
There are people who believe it is time to turn him loose again, like the old days, unleashing the dynamism of his game. But it is not a winning style - partly because it gets a quarterback hurt and partly because it is just so wildly inconsistent. It can be exciting, and it can be a panacea - often for weeks at a time - but it is doomed to failure.
The answer is not for Vick to become a rambling, running machine again. It is to play the position prudently, and thoughtfully, and to accent that style with runs. His legs remain a significant threat - but the games are still won and lost in the pocket.
With that, the Eagles have three options here:
1) To count on Vick to get it. If you watch the games, there are secondary receivers and easy throws available as an option on most of the Eagles' passing plays. Everybody can see it, just as they can see Vick refusing to give up on his first option. Last year, 25 percent of his throws were behind the line of scrimmage. Sunday against Cleveland, it was half that many, a low number by any standard.
Here are two other points: The Browns did not blitz Vick like crazy, and the pass protection was not bad overall. Vick just needs to get used to getting rid of the ball quicker. Maybe those easy throws need to be called more often as the first option, at least for a little while.
2) As a second option, the Eagles could lean more on the running game. They can talk all they want about the penalties putting them in throwing situations, and there is some truth there, but only some. On first-and-10 in the first half, before the score became any kind of an issue, they threw the ball 72 percent of the time. It was an absurd number, and that's on them.
At the same time, even as unbalanced as the playcalling turned out to be, LeSean McCoy touched the ball 26 times. You cannot push it much further than that - not for multiple weeks, anyway; not if you want McCoy to be upright in November. Getting Bryce Brown some clock was an important part of that Cleveland game, because another back will be needed if the Eagles are to lean on the ground game.
You need two backs to do it that way - and you also need a reliable defense. After the Eagles play Baltimore on Sunday, we will have a much better idea about that defense, and about the feasibility of playing it this way.
3) As a third option, they could go to the kid. Nobody wants to do it - it really would be a total crisis move - but if Vick doesn't get it and the running game/defense can't handle it, Nick Foles is the best option. Because re-creating the Michael Vick of old just will not work.
However it goes, though, we should probably have a good idea where this thing is headed by about halftime of the Arizona game in Week 3.