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Protecting QBs is inexact science

Michael Vick was right and wrong when he stated officials don't throw penalty flags for him like they do for other quarterbacks.

Where Vick's wrong is that he does get his share of penalty flags. In the past 19 weeks of regular-season games dating to the start of the 2010 season, opposing teams received five personal foul penalties involving hits on Vick. Jay Cutler had eight in that span. Jason Campbell had six. Five is a reasonable number.

Where Vick's right is that pocket passers will draw more penalty flags against defenders than quarterbacks who can run out of the pocket. Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman, quarterbacks who tend to move outside the pocket, received two or fewer flags on their behalf during the same period.

Vick gets hit more because he runs more, and he does raise a point that the NFL needs to monitor. Wisely, the NFL continues to push officiating crews to protect the quarterback from late hits. Officials will flag hits to the head and shots to the knees.

The tricky part is deciding whether to call penalties for hits after the ball is released. Calls have been inconsistent in that regard. Kerry Collins, not a mobile quarterback, took a late hit this past Sunday night that knocked him out of the game because of a concussion. There was no flag, but it should have been a penalty.

Vick gets hit 30 percent of the time he tries to pass. Because he tries to make as many plays as he can, he has a tendency to hold the ball longer than some quarterbacks, giving defenders time to launch their bodies at him. Some of those hits probably should draw flags.

The competition committee, which makes recommendations on rules and interpretations of rules, does make a distinction between running quarterbacks and passing quarterbacks. The committee realizes running quarterbacks have the benefit of using their feet to get out of trouble, and when they are running, they aren't protected like a pocket passer.

Vick shouldn't be criticized for making those statements. His body is speaking for him -- the guy is taking a pounding. But officials do need to be as consistent as possible calling the late hits.

From the inbox

Q: I'm one of the fans in Seattle who has been watching Matt Hasselbeck games shown locally here on the CBS affiliate and rooting him on. I know the Seahawks eked an ugly one out over Arizona at home, but I have no hope for sustained success with Tarvaris Jackson at QB. If anything, wins like that just hurt our chances at getting Andrew Luck. Watching Hasselbeck thrive each Sunday so far only reminds me of what we could have been, especially if he were throwing to Sidney Rice and Zach Miller. Do you think this decision will cost Pete Carroll his relationship with the fan base if Jackson doesn't begin to step up more?

Jeff in Seattle

A: The numbers don't lie. Hasselbeck is averaging 310.6 passing yards a game, has a 102.2 quarterback rating and is completing 69.6 percent of his passes. Jackson is averaging 175.6 yards a game, has a 73.7 quarterback rating and is completing 60.8 percent of his passes. If you compare the QBR numbers, it's not even close. Hasselbeck has a 77.8 rating, among the best quarterbacks in the league. Jackson has a 32.8 rating and is on an offense averaging 10 points a game. Clearly, the Seahawks lessened their efficiency at quarterback by letting Hasselbeck go and signing Jackson. But here is a valid question: Could Hasselbeck have lasted three games behind the struggling Seahawks offensive line? If he could, the Seahawks might be 2-1 instead of 1-2. Staying healthy behind that line is a real issue, though.

Q: Are the Lions really a playoff contender? Although it is loaded with talent, the team is very young, has some question marks in the secondary and lacks a serious running game. Do you think this team can really give the Packers a run for their money?

Isaac in Atlanta

A: I'm starting to believe they can get to nine wins and maybe 10 and make a playoff run. They aren't as good as the Packers, but the Lions are emerging as the best challenger. Go back to last season: They won their last four, meaning they've now won seven in a row. Maybe they caught Tampa Bay on a down day. Sure, the Vikings don't look that good this season. But the Lions won those games on the road. With the talent they have, they should be hard to beat in Detroit. This week's game against the Cowboys will be interesting. They catch the Cowboys banged up and coming off a short week because of the Monday night game. Opening the season with three road games in four weeks is hard. But if they get to 4-0, watch out.

Q: My question is regarding faking injuries. Why not look at something like mandatory use of a timeout for every injury, and say increase timeouts to five per half?

Jake in Ottawa, Canada

A: Although that makes sense, understand the league wants to do everything it can to make sure games don't go longer than three hours. Adding timeouts lengthens the game. That's a problem for fans who want to see two games on a Sunday afternoon. The officiating crews simply need to monitor the players who are injured and then make judgments to see if they were faking. That might be hard to catch on one play, but officials can take note of it and make sure the league follows up with an investigation to make an example of the next team that tries it. This happens on no-huddle plays. Following up the injuries shouldn't be too hard, particularly if everyone can see it on television.

Q: Why haven't the 49ers signed David Garrard? It seems like they are a real, game-managing QB away from being a contender. I know the line is shaky, but they have the ground game and receivers, with the defense to stay in games. But Colin Kaepernick doesn't even look close. How long will Niners fans have to endure Alex Smith?

Spencer in Austin, Texas

A: This will be the last year of the Alex Smith experiment, but so far, coach Jim Harbaugh is getting what he wanted out of Smith. Knowing there was no offseason to prepare a new quarterback for the 49ers' system, Harbaugh gambled Smith could manage the game well enough to win close games and keep the 49ers ahead in a bad division. So far he's been right. Smith is 2-1. He's thrown only one interception. He's not screwing up, giving the defense a chance to win games. You're right, Kaepernick isn't ready. Garrard would help, but Harbaugh's accomplishing what he planned so far.

Q: I have wondered about this for a long time. It seems that every week there is an intense replay review about a play at the goal line. (Did he or did he not score?) However, there are often poor camera angles, which make it very difficult for the referees and fans at home to get a great shot of the actual spot of the ball. Why don't they place one stationary camera on each side of the field at the goal line (four cameras total)? These cameras would be placed at the goal line and never move. Their only job would be to capture crucial goal-line plays. This is the most important part of the field, why not put some more focus on it?

Tony B in Lackawanna, N.Y.

A: Very good thought, Tony. That has been something always on the minds of members of the competition committee and the league office. As you know, a network night game will have more cameras than the third or fourth best Sunday afternoon game on Fox or CBS. The TV networks control the camera positions because they want to present the best game. If the networks would sign off on a goal-line camera, then fine. What the league wouldn't want to do is have goal-line cameras Sunday and Monday night and not have them for some of the regional games. Keep thinking those thoughts. It's a great idea.

Q: Could you see the league ever changing the defensive pass interference penalty to just a spot foul? Why reward the offense an automatic first down if it managed to put itself in a third-and-20?

Colin in Milwaukee

A: I don't see that happening because it would take away the offense. Good cornerbacks who get beat by a receiver on a long pass would simply tackle the receiver before the pass arrives, knowing the spot foul would be much better than having the long completion. Officials aren't calling a lot of illegal contact fouls now. The league wants a game of plays, not penalties. That would promote more penalties and fewer big plays.

Q: The Giants have received a lot of attention because of their injury situation, and rightly so. But what about the Panthers? They have 10 players on IR, including five starters?

Brian in Charlotte, N.C.

A: I don't know how this season will go for wins, but you have to like what is happening in Carolina. Cam Newton has far exceeded everyone's expectations. Steve Smith looks young and re-energized. Ron Rivera looks like the perfect coach to come in after John Fox. The injuries are a problem and the team still needs lots of help at cornerback, wide receiver and defensive tackle. It's hard in a division that has Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. The injuries will hurt. But I think the team is heading in the right direction.

Q: Do you think Mark Sanchez is finally ready to make that step into elite status? His main job is to just keep the rig on the road, but it's clear Rex Ryan wants to get him much more involved. Does Sanchez use the opportunity to silence the naysayers, or does he prove what everyone has been saying about him?

Justin in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: The criticism could be made Sanchez is too involved. He's attempting 39.4 passes a game and the running game has been nonexistent. He is growing as a quarterback. He's completing 63.1 percent of his passes, an 8.3 percent jump from last season. The Jets seem to be rolling him out of the pocket more. He's getting better and better in fourth-quarter situations. I believe the offensive line is a problem. The Jets can't run to the right side and protection on that side is bad. They desperately need the return of injured center Nick Mangold because they have rookie Colin Baxter going against two 3-4 nose tackles in the next two weeks. Is Sanchez elite? Not yet, but he's moving up the charts.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter
@ClaytonESPN