All Eyes On Vick

December 2 – Tampa Bay will host Atlanta in a huge NFC South Division match-up at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. The Bucs need to win in order to remain in first place in the NFC South Division and to stay in front of the Packers, Eagles and 49ers for home-field advantage. But in order for the Buccaneers to beat the Falcons, its No. 1 ranked defense will have to contain the most dangerous player in the league in Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

Can Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defense contain Atlanta second-year quarterback Michael Vick when the 8-3-1 Falcons invade Raymond James Stadium Sunday? The 9-3 Bucs know they have to, especially since this contest will have first place in the NFC South Division riding on it?

"That's the million-dollar question," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said when asked if Tampa Bay's defense can stop Vick. "Michael Vick is a great quarterback and an emerging star in the league.

"When this guy takes off he's like Bill ‘White Shoes' Johnson. He was one of the most dangerous punt returners of our lifetime. What he did yesterday – that's one for the ages. It will be a real challenge for us and I know we're looking forward to it."

All Vick did last Sunday was rush for 173 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota, including his 46-yard touchdown run to win the game for the Falcons in overtime.

Vick is definitely a different type of quarterback. In fact, if you ask Gruden about Vick, he'll tell you that Atlanta's starting quarterback is in a league of his own.

"This guy is a revolutionary man," Gruden said of Vick. "Reverse, pivot, built-in-runs and quarterback sweeps and keeps. These designed runs are amazing. What this guy has is a gift. He has incredible acceleration, stop-and-start quickness. And you don't forget sometimes that he can stop and throw the ball. There's not a guy like him I've seen. I used to think Steve Young revolutionized the system of football I've always studied with his unique explosive scrambling ability. I hate to tell Steve Young this, but this guy is a helluva lot faster. It's hard to believe, but he is."

So why is there so much hype surrounding Vick? Well, he's been the main reason why Atlanta has gone eight straight games without a loss. In fact, the last time the Falcons lost a game was on October 6, which was a 20-6 loss to the Buccaneers in the Georgia Dome.

Vick, a lefty, has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,994 yards and he's tossed 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. While those stats might be average, what he's done in the running game is eye opening to many. Vick leads the Falcons in rushing yards with 648 and he's scored eight touchdowns via the ground attack. Vick is averaging 8.1 yards per carry this season and he's pulled the ball down 80 times in 13 games.

While Vick, at times, has been impossible for opposing defenses to defend, Tampa Bay managed to hold Vick to just 1 yard rushing on one carry in October and they only allowed him to complete just 4-of-12 passes for 37 yards. Tampa Bay also knocked Vick out of that contest in the third quarter after Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice sacked him. Gruden said the Bucs' defense matches up well with Vick because both of them thrive off of speed and their play-making ability.

"Well, No. 1 we have very good team speed on defense," said Gruden. "So, when you talk about Michael Vick, you're talking about blazing speed. Donovan McNabb, we've seen some guys that are mobile. But we've got guys, I think people tend to forget how fast Warren Sapp actually is and how fast Anthony McFarland is. These ends can run here. The linebacking corps have speed. And we're a disciplined group. We've done a good job of staying in our rush lanes and when a quarterback does break containment or does choose to run we do have catch-up speed ourselves. That will be a big challenge for us this week and I'm sure it's something we're going to really work hard at."

But Vick is probably a much better quarterback than the one Tampa Bay faced in Week 5. So, will the Bucs' defense do anything different to stop Vick this time around?

"We're not going to play cautiously," said Gruden. "We're going to live in our hopes, not in our fears. We have got to get to the quarterback and we have got to congest running lanes in the process. And if Michael Vick does find a crease and puts the ball down and runs, we've got to rally. At the same time, we respect everything we see from this guy. He is one dangerous runner, but at the same time, we've got to do what we do on defense, and that's to mix up our looks, utilize our team speed and be relentless at we attack the pocket."


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