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Packers Plan To Contain Falcons' Ultimate Weapon


Reporters asked Head Coach Mike Sherman if he would rather see Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick run or pass.

He chose neither.

"I prefer him on the bench," Sherman said. "He can run from anywhere or throw from anywhere. He's a dangerous, dangerous player."

Indeed Vick, one of the game's most talented players, has run for 340 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 951 yards and six touchdowns on the year. But it's his scrambles that provide the weekly highlights on the sports television shows. Last year he led all quarterbacks with 902 rushing yards.

Defending a quarterback with sprinter's speed provides a unique challenge for the Packers as they take on the Falcons this weekend.

"Mike Vick is the most electrifying guy playing in the NFL," defensive lineman Kenny Peterson said. "He's very blessed."

Sometimes opposing players fixate on Vick's speed so much that they try and tackle him differently, abandoning their fundamentals or becoming too passive.

"You respect his speed, his athletic ability," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "But you don't let it paralyze the way you rush."

The Packers have gone the opposite way, preaching solid technique all week. The pass rushers plan to work together to close down running lanes. Sherman said some of the two-man pursuit drills used during practice to simulate chasing down punt and kick returners will help prepare for Vick. The Packers also must stay square to the line of scrimmage and stay in their gaps.

"With the ability he has -- quickness and the ability to stop on a dime, sometimes you want to overpursue," Peterson said. "Pick a bad angle, and he's liable to make a move that makes you look bad."

Some teams have tried using a spy to corral Vick, assigning a defensive lineman, linebacker or safety to shadow the five-year veteran's every move. That strategy has had varying amounts of success.

"Sometimes it works," linebacker Na'il Diggs said. "Sometimes it doesn't."

The Packers, however, may try using that tactic as part of several different looks they will show Vick.

"You gotta spy him every now and then to let him know somebody's watching him," said linebacker Robert Thomas, who as a St. Louis Ram, saw Vick rush for 119 yards in a playoff game last year. "But you've got to mix it up on him."

The Packers do have the experience of playing against another mobile running quarterback, the Minnesota Vikings' Daunte Culpepper, twice a year. The defense faced him on Oct. 23, and Culpepper gained 41 yards on seven carries.

Vick, however, may pose an even greater challenge.

"With Vick it's a little different," Peterson said. "His quickness and ability to change direction at the drop of a dime is crucial."

The Packers cannot concentrate too much on Vick's running ability or the Falcons could burn them on fake bootlegs, a staple of their offense. The bootleg becomes effective because of the Vick's mobility and the attention a defense must pay to running back Warrick Dunn, who has anchored the NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing unit with 820 yards on 160 carries for a 5.1 average.

"When you have a running back and a quarterback that can take off with it," Sherman said. "It's a tough thing to defend sometimes."

Adding to the strength of their running game is the way they coach their small, agile offensive linemen. The Falcons, who employ former Denver Broncos offensive line guru Alex Gibbs as a consultant, use a lot of the same zone and cut blocking schemes from the Broncos' vaunted system.

"It's very similar," Sherman said.

The Packers' thirteenth-ranked run defense will use sound fundamentals to try to contain Vick and the Falcons' strong running game. But Green Bay may have a few tricks up their sleeve as well.

Said Kampman with a smile: "We've got some different wrinkles to take care of some of his assets."

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