LB Derrick Brooks thinks last week's loss to Green Bay will push Michael Vick and the Falcons to an A performance on Sunday
When you face the Atlanta Falcons' offense, you pick your poison and hope you don't get too much of it.
You might be able to handle a small dose of one – Warrick Dunn's shifty running between the tackles – or the other – Michael Vick's roll-out, run or throw nightmare – but if you're forced to swallow them both, they make a lethal combination.
Those two, along with a bull-rushing assist from T.J. Duckett, are the reasons Atlanta has the NFL's number-one rushing attack and are probably factors 1A and 1B in the Falcons' 6-3 record.
"Obviously they've got a great back; they've got a great quarterback," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "It's hard to commit people to stop the run when you have to commit people to stopping the quarterback, who could potentially fake it and come out either way in a hurry. He presents multiple problems for anybody. They have a great scheme, they have a very good, talented backfield and the threat of [Michael]Vick is a major threat indeed."
The familiar pre-game mantra that the Bucs chant every weekend – "Got to stop the run first" – has many more implications when the Falcons are the opposition. Look at it this way: The Bucs' leading rusher (Cadillac Williams) has 516 yards and their second-leading rusher (Michael Pittman) has 286. The Falcons' leading rusher (Dunn) has 896 yards and their second-leading rusher (Vick) has 364…and they're almost always on the field at the same time. The Bucs sometimes put Williams and Pittman together in the backfield, but they can't possibly create the same sort of uncertainty over who is going to take off with the ball as Vick and Dunn do.
"It's not just containing Mike, it's containing Warrick," said cornerback Juran Bolden, commenting on the common notion that a defense has to force Vick to stay in the pocket. "And also when T.J. gets into the game, you got to make sure you are able to pound with him. Basically, "DVD" is really working for them right now. [We need to] contain those three and make them pass the ball. And once we make them pass the ball, we need to make sure we have containment on Mike and put him in some bad situations."
Added safety Jermaine Phillips: "That's an extra running back they have back there. So, you have got to just treat him like another running back. Other than that, it's just a matter of playing Buc defense, just knowing what gaps you have and containing Vick. That's what we are going to try to do."
The Bucs have had more success than most teams in keeping Vick's damage to a minimum, on most afternoons at least. However, he did run for 73 yards and throw a 49-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler the last time the Bucs visited Atlanta, leading to a 24-14 Falcon victory. Dunn had a relatively contained 119 rushing yards against Tampa Bay in the two games combined last season, but the Bucs are obviously familiar with his talents. Dunn rushed for 4,200 yards in five seasons as a Buccaneer before heading to Atlanta in 2002. This year, he is well on pace to surpass his career high of 1,133 yards, posted with Tampa Bay in 2000. Dunn is averaging almost exactly 100 yards per game this season, on pace for 1,593.
"Warrick's third year in that system, man, he really has it down," said Brooks. "He's made some cuts and some runs this year that were highlights as we watched tape. A tremendous start. Michael is always a dual threat when he gets outside the pocket and when he's dropping back. He still has the highlight runs. They had a let-down last week and we expect them to come out and give us their A game on Sunday."
So, can the Bucs pick their poison? Can they limit at least one of those two intertwined threats? And if so, which would they pick? In other words, who's the greater threat, Vick or Dunn?
Good luck getting an answer to that one.
"I think both of them," said defensive tackle Ellis Wyms. "They've got a one-two punch going. If you're chasing Warrick and [Vick] comes out on those bootlegs and gets one-on-one in the open field with anybody, it's a hard tackle. Just both of them – the way they're running the offense and the way they've got Warrick going, Warrick looks as good as he's ever looked right now. They're two very fast, athletic really good players in this league and we've just got to chase them down and stay on them the whole game."
Atlanta's dual rushing threat wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
CB Juran Bolden on Michael Vick: "That's any DB's nightmare. You have a guy that can throw the ball, probably out of the stadium. You got a guy who can run, basically out of the stadium. So it just makes us have to cover longer, focus longer, in our coverage and everything. Just cover as much as possible. And allow our defensive guys up front, out front seven to put some pressure on him up front. And hopefully make him make some bad decisions."
DT/DE Ellis Wyms on the key to stopping Michael Vick: "Just be real fast, be just as fast as he is. That's hard to do, but we've got a lot of speed and that's why we do a good job of chasing him and keeping him in front of us. That's been the key the few times we've played him, just be fast. If you were fast last Sunday, be faster this Sunday. That's what we've got to do, be just as fast as he is."
S Jermaine Phillips on Michael Vick redefining the quarterback position: "He's doing whatever it takes to win. I mean you look at last week I think he had 100 or something quarterback rating. But then against, I forget who it was against a couple weeks ago where they won, and his rating was 13. It's whatever it takes to win, and that's what he is doing."
LB Derrick Brooks on if it's fair to judge Michael Vick by the standards of other quarterbacks: "He wins, and at the end of the day that's what this game is all about, wins and losses. He does whatever it takes to win. He's thrown the ball and won the games; he's run the ball and won games. At the end of the day, to me you judge a team by wins and losses."
Wyms on if Vick should be judged by the same standards as other quarterbacks are: "He's definitely a unique challenge. I don't think this league has ever put that type of speed at quarterback. Having that type of speed at quarterback and having Warrick Dunn in the same place, and having T.J. Duckett – that backfield is unbelievable. You can't really judge him like a Brett Favre or a Donovan McNabb because he's a different type of talent. He's not a stand-in-the-pocket, beat-you-with-his-arm type of quarterback – which he can do. He has a great arm and can make any throw, but he's just more of a threat on any type of play. Anytime he has the ball in his hands, he's a threat to do anything at any time."
Phillips on comparing Michael Vick to the typical NFL quarterback: "He's playing the position. Once it's all said and done, people are going to be saying, 'He's not a Michael Vick.' Like now they are saying he's not a pocket passer. But he shows he can do a lot of things, he's very versatile. And like I said before he just does what it takes to win."
Brooks on Atlanta sticking to the run: "They've run the ball against us in the past. Again, that's what they're known for. They're the number-one rushing team in the league for a reason. We're going to have to take away the running attack, force them to throw and try to dictate some action. Once they get that running game going, that makes Michael Vick very dangerous on play-action. They're getting some big plays on play-action passes after they've established. Teams are coming up to stop the run and he's finding big plays downfield."
DE Greg Spires on the secret to the Buccaneers past success against the Falcons: "Yes, everybody tries to look at our blue print, but the thing is, we just go out there and play. We don't have a secret. We know [Michael] Vick is a scrambling quarterback, so we're not going to wait on him, we're going to shoot our guns at him and make the plays like that. A lot of teams tend to wait on him and mush rush him and then that's when the holes open and he gets the long runs and passing lanes open and he's gets the long runs and passing lanes open up."
Wyms on if there is anything the Bucs can learn from Green Bay's win over Atlanta: "You can always learn from another team's success, but I think the Packers just played hard. They played hard and they chased him, and that's what you've got to do against Mike. Everybody's got to stay alive. You can't ever think the play is over with, just stay on him. You can't stay blocked; everybody's got to get off blocks and chase and chase and chase. It's going to be a game where your heart might blow up, you might pass out when the game's over with. It's like chasing a rabbit for four quarters. You might pass out when the game's over with, but everybody knows we've got to have 100 percent effort on every play, chasing that guy around the field."
QB Chris Simms on if there is a difference in how a quarterback prepares when he becomes a starter: "I don't think so. I really don't feel like there is. Mentally, I'm still going over all the blitz checks and things like that that you do even when you're a backup. I think the biggest difference is just actually doing it on the practice field. Being ready and organized to do it today, on a Wednesday, when you install the game plan. When you're the backup on a Wednesday, yeah you know it and you're ready to go, but you're not really worrying about having to execute it quite yet on Wednesday."
Simms on if he has changed his relationship with his teammates in recent weeks: "I don't feel like I have. I'm really just kind of keep playing the part I've been playing, just coming in here and trying to win ballgames, not make mistakes and just do my job. I'm not trying to do anything spectacular. I think we all know who the leaders of our team are. We've got Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks, Booger McFarland, Simeon Rice – all those guys are clear-cut leaders of this team. I try to just sit back and follow their lead."
Simms on if one big play might get Carnell Williams back into a groove: "Slowly but surely he's going to get back. The bottom line is, we played three real good defenses the last three weeks and they're all capable of stopping the run. When that happens, you've got to win the game with other means. I don't think anyone's worrying or anything like that. We realize it will happen again. He's healthy, he's feeling strong. With [Michael] Pittman back there and [Mike] Alstott back there, it's a good combination, so we'll still keep plugging away."
RB Carnell Williams on what has happened to his production in recent weeks: "I wish I knew. It's tough right now. Things aren't going like I thought they would. It's a little bump in the road but I'm going to come up out of it. "Just a 10-yard run. would get me back, get my motor going. If I can just get a groove going I feel like I'll be okay."
FB Jameel Cook on the Buccaneers running game: "Well, we can't be frustrated with it. You just have to, you just expect more. You don't want to say frustrated because this is the NFL. The other teams prepare, other teams watch film too, so we can't be that frustrated. We just have to continue to go on. We are just eager and, we know what we can do. And with that being said, we know what we have to do, and we just have to continue keep going."
C John Wade on what adjustments need to be made to run the ball better: "Execute. Block better as a group. That's it. Just finish your play, individually, or as a double team. It's always different things. It's never one person, or persons. It's usually a combination of different things that happen. So, we all just need to finish better. Really just try to carry out the execution for the entire interval. And we have all types of backs with talent. Each one of them will make plays, as long as we do what we are supposed to do."
Williams on if he thinks he still has the same burst: "I feel like I do have that burst. It's just a matter of me getting back into that groove, just getting comfortable again out there."
Cook on getting some momentum going in the rushing attack: "Yes, it's all about momentum. You want to have momentum, you want to have some type of momentum going forward with anything you doing. And like I said, this is the NFL, teams watch film, too. We do have our bread and butter plays and we do have things that we like to do, and like I said, teams watch that. If we want to become the team that we know we are capable of being, we just have to continue to do those things and just keep fighting, and everybody become one and just strive to do what we have to do."
Simms on still making plays downfield even without the running game: "At least offensively, it gives us some confidence that we can win a game no matter what the situation or circumstances are. We didn't run the ball great, but our number of attempts was up there. We kept the defense honest throughout the day."
WR Edell Shepherd on Simms not being afraid to throw the deep ball: "No, not at all. Chris is real comfortable. He gets back there and just has fun, and once you're having fun, pretty much everybody will be doing good."
Simms on if he's confident now about putting the offense on his shoulders: "I can't say that I every really lost my confidence. I knew the day would come. I think this kind of just gets you guys off my back more than anything. Now I can just kind of go play and not worry about all the doubters and things like that. I think my first win, technically, was last year in New Orleans when I got hurt and [Brian] Griese came in, right? So that was my first win. I'm still taking credit for that."
Shepherd on if he's noticed a difference in Chris Simms this week: "I mean, we gave him protection. Everybody knows he can throw the ball and if we give him some protection he'll make the throw."
Shepherd on being injured last year: "It was a benefit. That's how I look at it. I mean, the night it happened, that was the worst night, and after that, it was over with. I just used every day from there to get better."
Bolden on playing more aggressively: "It took eight games for me to get completely comfortable in here. I like where we are at right now in the secondary. In due time it's going to come together. We are going to come together as one complete squad. I mean most teams that have been successful, have guys come in at the nickel position, been playing together for awhile. This is my first year with these guys, and I am happy where we are at right now. I am comfortable out there. B.K. [Brian Kelly] and Ronde [Barber]. Along with [Defensive Back Coach] Mike [Tomlin], and [Monte] Kiffin, so it's exciting."
Simms on if the Bucs will use piped-in noise at practice to prepare for the Georgia Dome: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure the loudspeakers will be out there today. I better get my voice ready for a long week."
Wade on how many penalties are acceptable: "It's always too many no matter how many there is. No, there is no goal. Coach Gruden might have something, just ask him that. Just try not to get penalized, that's the way I look at it."
Shepherd on if he feels a change in the locker room after the win: "We try to come into every week the same. We work hard every week. Sometimes you don't win and that's the NFL for you. But we put the losses behind us and we just want to keep on winning."