The plan? Leave Vick nowhere to run
Bucs defense wants to use its speed to neutralize the Falcons' mobile QB.
|[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Bucs' Greg Spires (94), Anthony McFarland (92) and Warren Sapp sack Atlanta's Michael Vick, who left the Oct. 6 game with a shoulder sprain.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002
TAMPA -- Everybody is talking about Michael Vick and his amazing feats afoot.
The Falcons phenom is so fast, his shoes beat him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week when officials in Canton, Ohio, asked for the ones he wore last weekend in an overtime win at Minnesota.
Perhaps they know if Atlanta wins a division race at the wire, it'll be because of the most gifted feet in football.
But it's the 3 feet gained by the Falcons quarterback against Tampa Bay Oct. 6 that has left the Bucs ticked at Vick.
Even though the No.1 defense held Vick to 1 yard rushing in a 20-6 victory at Atlanta, the story line has been whether they can slow the league's hottest player.
But the real question might be whether Vick can elude being swept by both the hype and the Bucs.
"We did a real nice job with our guys up front really hunting him down," safety John Lynch said. "I think the lesson you learn in this league when you play a player like that, you can't get to the point where you're sitting back on your heels against him. You've got to be aggressive, and that's what we did the first time. We went out and attacked him. We made adjustments in our play and got after him, and we feel we have some skills that match up well in terms of speed.
"Obviously, the guy is a phenomenal athlete, but we've got some great athletes on our defense as well and we have a system that works if we play it correctly."
Tampa Bay knocked Vick out in the third quarter when he sprained his left shoulder on a sack by defensive end Simeon Rice.
In addition to sacking him twice, the Bucs defense grounded Vick's passing game. He completed 4-of-12 passes for 37 yards.
It's a testament to the Bucs' improvement against mobile quarterbacks. In six games against the league's top rushing quarterbacks this season, Tampa Bay has allowed 1.9 yards per carry. That's compared with a 6.1-yard average last season.
"It's something we featured daily in our minicamps in the offseason and on into training camp and have continued that on into the season," Lynch said. "It's a fact of life in the NFL you're going to get that on a regular basis.
"Obviously, this guy is kind of rewriting the history book. But the fact that we've worked on it so much and have built-in rules in our system, it's worked for us."
The Bucs' success against Vick began with their defensive front four. Defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland were able to penetrate and flush Vick out of the pocket. Because he is left-handed and favors running to his throwing side, that directs Vick toward Rice, who leads the NFL with 141/2 sacks.
"You neutralize speed with speed," Rice said. "He can outrun angles.
"If you don't have a front that can pressure upfield, you're in trouble."
The Bucs know Vick is going to make plays, because he will handle the football about 60 times. But they would rather he pass than run.
"We kept him in front of us," Sapp said. "He's the most electrifying weapon in the game, but he's not a seasoned drop-back passer. Reading the defense to find the open man, going from one to two to three to four to five, that's not his strength. His strength is improvising.
"We always talk about turning a team into a one-dimensional offense, we want to turn a quarterback one-dimensional to where he's a thrower only."
Because the Bucs defense has been largely intact since 1996, it doesn't fear Vick.
This is a team that, before relocating to the newly created NFC South, was used to seeing the Lions' Barry Sanders and the Packers' Brett Favre twice a year. It just never had to face them both in the same uniform.
Bucs players are amazed by Vick's performance this season. The 648 yards rushing and eight touchdowns is one thing. That he has thrown three interceptions in 280 attempts is startling.
"He's back there clowning. He'll stop and break back out. He's clowning," Sapp said. "When you've got that type of ability and you're playing well and you're confident in what you're doing, the game is a lot easier to play.
"You can see it in him. I'll find somebody and if I don't, I'll just run it."
And with 4.3-second speed in the 40, nobody on the field can outrun Vick.
"He's like a Ferrari going down the Veterans (Expressway)," Rice said. "He stretches the whole field. The whole field becomes a playground.
"We call it making a move. You can see him make a move. When you're running, and you're running fast, you can see the shake he gives you. It's evident because he outruns angles."
Vick's devastating speed and elusiveness have caused other defenses to become tentative. Not the Bucs. They insist the only way to attack Vick is to be more aggressive than usual.
"You don't worry about it when you're on an island with him," Sapp said. "You shoot your gun, just miss him the right way. There's going to be a laundry list of guys who miss him. Don't worry about your name going on there. You just don't want to be on the highlight reel.
"We know if we don't give him a straight shot down the middle, we've got a chance to rally to him. We run pretty well too. Sim (Rice) is our horse. Shoot him to Sim and say get on your horse, daddy, let's go. We're right behind you. You've got to use your strength, and he can run like the wind."
The Bucs still own the league's best record at 9-3 but will need a win today to regain some breathing room over the Falcons and Saints in the NFC South.
"It's an extremely important game," Lynch said. "They're right on our heels, the Saints are right on our heels and we have an opportunity to distance ourselves. It's a game at home in December.
"This is when you win division titles and that type of thing, and this would be a big step in that direction."
So Bucs be nimble. Bucs be quick.
"I'm sure getting tired of talking about Michael Vick," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's a key game, we're aware he's a great player. We said that the last time. I think I saw that on film.
"We've just got to do what we can do to silence this (Falcons) run."
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