Michael Vick's dazzling speed and strong arm have beaten plenty of teams -- except the Philadelphia Eagles.
In two full seasons as an NFL starter, Vick has led the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs each time only to lose to the Eagles. He was rattled and harassed into a mediocre performance in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia last January, and was shut down in a second-round game three years ago.
The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback gets another chance against Philadelphia's underrated-but-tenacious defense in the season opener Monday night in Atlanta.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has spent the past week devising a scheme he hopes will neutralize Vick again.
"It all starts with No. 7," Johnson said Friday. "He's a special quarterback. He's going to make plays. We have to limit those."
In the conference title game 81/2 months ago, the Eagles altered their defensive approach against Vick. They didn't blitz much, instead concentrating on taking away Vick's running lanes with a contained rush. They also mixed up their coverages, using everything from a spy to putting cornerback Sheldon Brown at safety and free safety Brian Dawkins at linebacker.
Defensive end Derrick Burgess, now with Oakland, had two of Philadelphia's four sacks against Vick, and Jevon Kearse and Hollis Thomas also had sacks. Vick finished 11 for 24 for a modest 136 yards and an interception, and was held to 26 yards rushing on four carries.
"We weren't soft. We were aggressive," Johnson said. "We were still attacking, but you have to know your opponent. What we did last year might not be the same thing we do this year. It becomes a little bit of a game."
Vick was Atlanta's second-leading rusher with 902 yards and led the NFL with an average of 7.5 yards per carry last season. He ran for 119 yards, while throwing for just 82 in the Falcons' 47-17 second-round playoff victory over St. Louis.
Entering his fifth season, Vick wants to throw more and run less. He had fewer 200-yard passing games (three) than 100-yard rushing efforts (four) last season, including the playoffs. Vick should benefit from having a better group of receivers and spending another season in offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's system.
"The passing game will be totally different," Vick said. "We have guys that can make some plays. We have guys that can run now. I think we're more in tact with what we are doing as an offense and as a whole. The communication and camaraderie is there. So we are ready."
Johnson stressed to his defense to be wary of Vick's passing, not just his running. Though he might be the best pure runner in the league, Vick can unleash 70-yard passes in full stride with his left arm.
"Vick, besides running the ball, makes a lot of deep throws, so our guys are aware of that," Johnson said.
Whether he runs it or throws it, Vick poses plenty of problems for a secondary. Cornerbacks and safeties have to be patient and stay with their man once Vick starts scrambling.
"He has a gun for an arm, but the things he can do with his legs," Dawkins said. "For one thing, he can fly. Number two, chasing him down is going to get you tired for the next play. So, you kind of would say you want him to throw the ball, but at the same time you understand that he has a gun for an arm."