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Policy of Containment Neutralizes Vick

Eagles' Defense Gives Falcons Nowhere to Run

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2005; Page D10

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 23 -- Atlanta Falcons Coach Jim Mora was only a few questions into his postgame news conference Sunday when a reporter asked him about quarterback Michael Vick's performance in his team's 27-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game at Lincoln Financial Field.

"You're making too much about Michael Vick," Mora said. "This is a team game. If we were out there playing basketball, you'd say they neutralized Allen Iverson. It's not like that. This is a team sport. It's about 11 players."

"You do what you have to do to get him down and get him out of his rhythm," Burgess (56) said. (Bill Kostroun -- AP)

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But in containing Vick, the Eagles' defense took the kind of approach opponents use against Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers' all-star guard. The Eagles made sure Vick didn't beat them.

When Vick ran to the outside, defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess were waiting. When Vick tried to cut back and run up the middle, defensive tackles Corey Simon, Hollis Thomas and Darwin Walker were plugging the holes. The Eagles' cornerbacks jammed the Falcons' receivers at the line of scrimmage, so when Vick had to scramble, he had nowhere to run.

"There are a lot of gray areas when you're scouting him," Burgess said. "You can contain him, but if he goes inside, you've got to go back inside. If he runs outside, you've got to make sure you're back outside. Basically, you do what you have to do to get him down and get him out of his rhythm. It's like basketball, you've got to watch the guy's hips."

The Eagles contained Vick, holding him to only 26 rushing yards on four attempts and 136 yards on 11-for-24 passing. Vick, a former Virginia Tech star, was sacked four times, twice by Burgess and once each by Kearse and Thomas.

In a 47-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in an NFC semifinal Jan. 15, Vick ran eight times for 119 yards, the most by a quarterback in an NFL playoff game, and completed 12 of 16 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns.

"It's never a surprise when Vick makes a play, he has that ability," Simon said. "We wanted to minimize his big plays. We had to be disciplined. I think the defensive tackles did a good job of forcing the pocket up in his face, and then Jevon and the guys wouldn't let him get outside. He had nowhere to go."

The Eagles also bottled up Falcons tailbacks Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, who combined to run for 73 yards on 22 carries. Against the Rams, they had 32 carries for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

"They had Jevon Kearse on one end and another good defensive lineman on the other end keeping good containment and making sure that I didn't get outside of the pocket," Vick said. "I think that was their first priority. They did a great job doing it and with the coverage they played in the secondary, they didn't allow our receivers to get off blocks and get downfield."

The Eagles did their best against Vick when the Falcons were close to the goal line. Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, the Falcons moved inside the Eagles 25. On third and five, the Falcons used Vick as a decoy, lining him up in the slot and sending him in motion to the right. Dunn took a direct snap from center Todd McClure, ran left and gained seven yards and a first down.

Two plays later, the Falcons had first and goal at the 2, but Duckett was pulled down for a one-yard loss. On second and goal, safety Michael Lewis jumped and batted down Vick's pass, which was going to the left flat for fullback Fred McCrary. On third down, Vick faced pressure in the pocket, didn't see tight end Alge Crumpler open in the back of the end zone, and was sacked by Thomas for a two-yard loss. The Falcons settled for Jay Feely's 23-yard field goal.

Containing Vick "was probably 80 percent of our run defense," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "We wanted to be aggressive. I told the guys, 'I don't want you standing around watching Michael Vick.' We were going to be aggressive, but we were going to play smart."

Vick struggled with passing again, as he continues to adapt to the West Coast offense that Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp brought from the San Francisco 49ers. It was the eighth time in 16 games (he sat out one of the Falcons' last two regular season games and played sparingly in the other) that he threw for 150 or fewer yards.

"I think Vick is extremely close" to becoming a complete quarterback, Mora said. "He's already knocking on the door. Michael Vick accomplished some tremendous things being only 24 years old and in his first year in a system. We've got a lot of things to improve on as a team, not just Michael Vick."

Vick said he is looking forward to another offseason of study.

"This was our first year together," he said. "We're a new football team and we're still learning the system. It's going to take time, but I promise we're going to do better next year, and I'm looking forward to it."

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