When you think about the Atlanta Falcons, the first name that usually comes to mind is Michael Vick. But when you're playing the Falcons, especially in the Georgia Dome, you find yourself up against much more than a tremendously athletic quarterback who continues to find ways to win. The Packers are in for a very physical game in a hostile environment. The electricity now with the Falcons is even stronger than it's been in the recent past. Vick's style of play has brought some serious excitement to the Atlanta area, and they essentially sell out every game because of what he brings to the team.
But it doesn't stop with Vick. Offensively, this is one of the top rushing teams in the NFL. It's a triple threat. The Falcons have two fine running backs in Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, a big, powerful back in the mold of Jerome Bettis but faster. Dunn is one of the most complete backs in the league. He runs extremely hard, he's fast and he's physical. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield and he's an excellent blocker -- probably one of the more underrated backs in the NFL. Dunn just doesn't get the notoriety that I think he deserves.
Vick, of course, is the main reason Falcons fans buy their tickets. He's like having Barry Sanders at quarterback. As such, Atlanta runs a lot of stretch plays to Dunn with Vick, faking the bootleg off the backside. Defenses have to respect Vick's running ability so much that it really holds the containment on the backside of the defense. That allows more running lanes, and it doesn't let the defense pursue some of the original running plays that Dunn and Duckett execute from the same side. Vick just presents so many problems to opposing defenses. He's a guy that you just can't game plan against. You can try different blitzes or mixing the coverages in whatever way you want, but you can't game plan against his athleticism at the quarterback position. You can try to contain him, but ultimately you can't. He's just too good of an athlete and an unbelievable runner. I frequently ask defensive players throughout the league, "Who's the best tailback or running back that you go against?" A lot of them say it's Michael Vick.
Although he has a very solid group of receivers in Brian Finneran, Michael Jenkins, Roddy White, Jerome Pathon and Dez White, Vick isn't a huge threat passing the ball. Of course, they've also got one of the most dangerous tight ends in football with Alge Crumpler. Last week Vick had his best game so far this season against the Miami Dolphins, completing 22-of-31 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown. Those are huge stats because he's 30th in the NFL with only six touchdown passes and six interceptions. Still, he's got his team on a winning roll. When he plays the Falcons win. That's the bottom line. Michael Vick will never be the prototypical drop-back passer who will beat you from the pocket. He's a totally different kind of quarterback that defenses have to respect, a guy who expects to get out of the pocket and throw on the run. Vick makes some things happen like no other quarterback can.
As to the Georgia Dome, we're talking about a very fast track and a loud, hostile setting for an NFL game. It's the kind of place the Packers have traditionally had problems with, and they will have to make the right adjustments if they're going to be successful. Atlanta's defense has been playing extremely well under a familiar coach in Ed Donatell. He's doing a fine job with a lot of young players and even a sprinkling of rookie starters. Atlanta's defense might not have a lot of experience, but they have a lot athleticism with defensive end Patrick Kerney, an All-Pro who's really on the rise. Middle linebacker Keith Brooking is a big time playmaker, and at defensive back Deangelo Hall is a shutdown cornerback cut from the cloth of Deion Sanders. Hall has great speed and will lock down the best receiver throughout the game. They're an opportunistic defense especially on the turf at the Georgia dome.
On special teams the Falcons feature another face very familiar to Packer fans in kick returner Allen Rossum. He's one of the fastest guys in the NFL and is always a threat to take it to the house.
At 6-2 the Falcons are a very well-rounded team and they have a lot of momentum going for them. From the conversations that I hear in Atlanta, the Falcons are not taking the Packers lightly. They know Green Bay is better than its 1-7 record and they have a great deal of respect for Brett Favre. They know that anytime Favre is in the game he can be the difference in the outcome.
In order for the Packers to win, it would help tremendously if they were able to do something they haven't been able to do so far this year -- run the football with authority. Samkon Gado had his moments last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Green Bay's offensive line will need to control the line of scrimmage and it will be interesting to see if Scott Wells will fare any better than Adrian Klemm at the guard position. If the Packers can run and control the clock a little bit, it will open things up for the passing game and help take the crowd out of it. The Falcons are tough to throw against because they bring a lot of pressure on the quarterback. How well the Packers can neutralize that pressure will say a lot about their chances of winning this game.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.