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Bob Ford: Does Eagles' Michael Vick really have a fumbling problem?

Brett Favre fumbled 166 times in a professional career during which he set numerous records, but none that might stand as long as that one.

Michael Vick said after Sunday's loss that he "never really had a problem fumbling the football." (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Michael Vick said after Sunday's loss that he "never really had a problem fumbling the football." (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

Brett Favre fumbled 166 times in a professional career during which he set numerous records, but none that might stand as long as that one.

Not counting however many balls he dropped while playing touch football in Wrangler jeans, Favre is the all-time NFL fumbler, one of only three men in the league's long history to put it on the ground more than 150 times. (Warren Moon, 161, and David Krieg, 153, if you must know.)

When Favre is remembered over time, though, the fumbles probably won't be what comes to mind. He brought too many good things to the field and the backyard, and, anyway, quarterbacks fumble. They just do.

Quarterbacks fumble because - aside from the odd direct snap here and there - they touch the football every play. The law of averages is against them. Of the all-time fumbling leaders in NFL history, the top 20 are quarterbacks.

And as much as quarterbacks fumble in general, running quarterbacks, those whose game brings a rushing component, are even more vulnerable to losing the ball as they make their way down the open field.

Which brings us to Michael Vick and whether he is being unfairly castigated based on a short sample of fumbling this season, or whether the Eagles and their fans really have a legitimate Milk-Bone to pick with him.

Vick has fumbled eight times this season and the Eagles have lost possession on five of those, including two last week in a two-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first of those cost the Eagles at least three points and, as Andy Reid famously said once, we can all do the math.

The thing about Vick over the course of his career, however, is that the math doesn't always add up in his case. Historically, when he gets out of the pocket and runs the ball, that added production to the offense outweighs the danger of losing the ball.

There is no denying that Vick is the active leader in career fumbles with 84, of which 39 were recovered by the opposition. On the other hand - the hand that keeps hold of the football, presumably - Vick has gained a total of 5,365 rushing yards, or 64 yards for every time he loses control of the ball. Among the seven quarterbacks in league history who gained more than 3,000 yards, and it's an impressive list, Vick has been the least likely to fumble per yard gained.

That's a very nice statistic, but is it still relevant in 2012, with a 32-year-old Vick playing for a coach who mostly wants him to remain in the pocket? A good question, and not one that can be answered after five games this season, even though the evidence is starting to stack up against Vick.

"I've never had a fumbling problem before," Vick said after the Pittsburgh game.

From the raw number of fumbles in his career, that seems ludicrous, but when you factor in the production he amassed while risking those fumbles, and with the number of times he risked it, maybe he's right.

Vick has averaged 7.1 yards per rushing attempt in his career. Among that list of the top seven running quarterbacks, only one other is over 6 yards per rush (Randall Cunningham, 6.4). That's an amazing average, particularly when you consider that quarterbacks are charged for a rushing attempt on a kneel-down and are called upon to run the occasional sneak where the intended outcome is only a yard or so.

Still, those numbers were compiled mostly back in the days when Vick could buy dog biscuits and no one would think twice about it. To determine whether Vick has a fumbling problem now - one that outweighs his production - you would have to know two things: Is Reid going to turn him loose and let him run, and, are the eight fumbles in five games a statistical aberration?

Those questions will be answered in the next 11 games, assuming Vick stays on the field to complete them. There has been some indication in the last couple of games that Reid is willing to call more runs for Vick, and some indication that the quarterback himself is not enamored of hanging around in the pocket waiting to get clobbered. Given the state of the offensive line - and, no, it isn't improving - Vick is often better off if he improvises now and then.

As to whether the number of fumbles this season is an aberration, Vick's career suggests that is the case, unless he has simply forgotten how to hold a football. Over his career, coming into this season, he fumbled 3.4 times for every five games played. To more than double that doesn't make sense. At this rate, Vick would break the single-season record of 23 held by Kerry Collins and Daunte Culpepper. His previous season high was 16.

Of course, there are going to be sharks in the water every time he runs it now. The test is only beginning.

"I expect everybody who gets close to me to be reaching for the football," Vick said. "It's just a situation that I created for myself and I definitely have to take care of it."

The bottom line might be that if you are going to live with a quarterback who fumbles, you might as well get as much production out of him as possible. In Vick's career, that means using his running skills to both gain yards and keep opposing defenses off balance.

It's worth a try. Whatever happens, he still won't catch Favre.

Bob Ford: Quarterbacks With the Ball

Rushing (ranked by average yards per carry)

QUARTERBACK   Att.   Yards   Avg.

Michael Vick   761   5,365   7.1

Randall Cunningham   775   4,928   6.4

Steve Young   722   4,239   5.8

Donovan McNabb   616   3,459   5.6

Fran Tarkenton   675   3,674   5.4

Steve McNair   669   3,590   5.4

John Elway   774   3,407   4.4


*Running backs


1. Brett Favre    166

2. Warren Moon   161

3. Dave Krieg   153

4. Kerry Collins   139

5. John Elway   137

T6. Boomer Esiason   123

T6. Drew Bledsoe   123

8. Vinny Testeverde   116

9. Dan Marino   110

10. John Kitna   109

11. Dan Fouts   106

T12. Roman Gabriel   105


T12. R. Cunningham   105

T14. Kurt Warner   102

T14. D. Culpepper   102

16. Steve McNair   99

17. Chris Chandler   98

T18. Johnny Unitas   95

T18. D. McNabb   95

20. Phil Simms   93

T21. *Franco Harris   90

T21. *Tony Dorsett   90

23. *Walter Payton    86

T24. Michael Vick    84

T24. T. Bradshaw    84

T24. Len Dawson    84

T24. Fran Tarkenton   84