Cowboys OR Atlanta
|Cowboys OR Atlanta|
HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS!!!!!!!
The Cowboys' defense hasn't faced a game-breaking player like Michael Vick since, well, four days ago, when Saints running back Reggie Bush left screech marks on the Texas Stadium turf with 160 all-purpose yards, including a 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run in New Orleans' 42-17 victory.
But Vick will present a "whole different set of problems" for head coach Bill Parcells' defense Saturday at the Georgia Dome (7 p.m. CST) with the Cowboys (8-5) and Atlanta Falcons (7-6) jockeying for NFC playoff position. While Reggie Bush had 13 touches as a runner/receiver/punt returner, Vick will take every snap as the Falcons' quarterback. That's maybe 60 touches.
And no quarterback in the league has Vick's running ability from the pocket. He's the NFL's 15th-leading rusher with 934 yards (8.6-yard average). For perspective, Falcons starting tailback Warrick Dunn has 997 yards, and Cowboys starter Julius Jones has 993 yards after 13 games.
Vick is tied for first in the league with 39 runs of at least 10 yards, and he ranks second - ahead of San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker - with 11 runs of at least 20 yards.
The Cowboys' linebackers and defensive backs will need two sets of eyes for Vick this Saturday.
"He's phenomenal," Cowboys safety Roy Williams says.
"He's a guy that can single-handedly beat you," veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn said.
Vick has been criticized for the Falcons' last-ranked passing game (139.2 yards per game), particularly during their four-game losing streak in November. But Parcells said Vick has improved steadily since entering the league in 2001, and Vick argues that he only looks to run when the pocket collapses.
"I really don't feel like I run a lot now. I just run when I have to," Vick said. "I throw the ball just as much as I run the ball. It's well-balanced."
Add Vick's 934 yards to the production Atlanta gets from Dunn and Jerious Norwood, and the Falcons have the league's most potent running game (197.7). But with Dunn (calf) and Norwood (knee) both listed as questionable - Norwood practiced Thursday, Dunn didn't for a second consecutive day - the Falcons signed veteran Jamal Robertson for depth behind fullback Justin Griffith.
Even if Griffith is forced to start, it's a safe bet Vick won't stay in the pocket for four quarters.
"If all he was doing was handing it off, it would still be a good running game," Parcells said. "When you add him to it as a weapon and a possibility, just like when Randall (Cunningham) was playing in his young days in Philadelphia, you got problems all across the board."
The Falcons have three talented receivers in Ashley Lelie, Michael Jenkins and Roddy White, but the Cowboys' linebackers also will have to account for tight end Alge Crumpler. He leads the Falcons with 42 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns, and becomes increasingly dangerous when Vick scrambles.
Teams like Tampa Bay and New Orleans have contained Vick in recent weeks, though Parcells said game-planning for Vick is predicated on a team's own defensive personnel.
Asked how teams have stopped Vick, Williams said, "They get after him. They blitz him and they condense the pocket on him and try to get him flustered early and often."
That's easier said than done, and the Cowboys lost one of their top two pass-rushers six weeks ago when outside linebacker Greg Ellis tore his left Achilles'. Al Singleton and rookie Bobby Carpenter have been solid replacing him at outside linebacker.
The Cowboys' biggest problems came in pass coverage this past Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 384 yards and a season-high five touchdown passes, and New Orleans had rolled up 42 points before the third quarter ended.
"I think we're doing all right in coverage. Everybody's not going to have a perfect game," Williams said. "Yeah, we didn't perform like we wanted to and we know this week is another week. So we get to try to make up for last week."
Parcells said the Cowboys' 25-point loss wasn't a true reflection of the current NFC East leaders, who are now clinging to a one-game advantage on the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who play each other on sunday. Cornerback Terence Newman said Saints head coach Sean Payton's past experience on the Cowboys' staff helped him develop an effective game plan against his former team.
"He actually got the mismatches pretty well, too," Newman said. "Linebackers on running backs, Reggie Bush and things like that. He just knew how to get those match-ups and use them to his advantage."
Vick can pose a mismatch for an entire defense because of his ability to scramble in man-to-man and zone situations.
"He creates problems because there's always the uncertainty that he's going to catch you with your back turned down the field in a space situation," Parcells said. "That's where the problems arise, the majority of them. If you're playing zone and you've got a lot of guys underneath in the coverage and he scrambles, there's a good chance the reaction will be good enough to keep him hemmed in.
"But it's when you get into a man-to-man situation where people are running with receivers and really aren't aware of sometimes what's going on in the pocket, that you really have to be careful. Those are the things you worry about."
And that's exactly what the Cowboys will have to deal with Saturday.
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