Defenses are on alert

Two of the better rushing teams are set to clash on Sunday in Atlanta. Ironically, those same teams also sport two of the better run defenses in the league. Will it be that both teams turn to the air? Perhaps at first…

With LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn running the ball, the rock will be grounded for much of the game.

There is no substitute for the electricity they generate. The bulge in the middle will have their say.

"We have an excellent nose tackle," Marty Schottenheimer said of Jamal Williams.

Williams has been the catalyst for the defense. Thought to be unfit for the 3-4, Williams has thrived. Last week, he was credited with a career high two sacks. Not only is he facing double teams weekly, he is getting penetration to boot.

He was one of the reasons the Chargers went to the 3-4 defense. They knew what they had. The hiring of former Falcon coordinator Wade Phillips didn't hurt either.

Added to that is the familiarity Wade Phillips has with Vick. Phillips, of course, was the defensive coordinator in Atlanta and spent time as their head coach.

"I think Wade is an excellent coach," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "He's got those guys playing hard and they play sound and fundamentally sound and play with good effort. But I think what's most telling about them is they're just playing really good, team defense."

That does not mean there will be an answer for defending both Vick and Dunn. According to the Chargers head coach, there is no real game plan to stop Vick.

On the other side, the Falcons coaches have a familiarity with Tomlinson.

Tomlinson credits Falcons running backs coach Ollie Wilson with assimilating him to the NFL, including how to act on and off the field. With Tomlinson's late arrival, he was appreciative of the learning on the run, literally, teachings of his former coach.

Now that they will face each other, the trade secrets are out.

It isn't that simple for either team. No matter how much is known about the playmakers, they still find ways to beat you.

"Keep him in the pocket," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "We are going to be very aware of (Vick)."

Vick has a cannon arm to go with blazing speed on the field. His accuracy has also improved.

"We all realize the great athletic skills he has," Schottenheimer said of Vick. "It certainly creates another dimension that you have to address."

The Chargers will likely place a spy on Vick, which could open up the field for Dunn to run the ball. As one linebacker floats to cover the potential of Vick running, Dunn could find holes in the gaps.

"They play the run very well," Mora said of the San Diego defense. "They're just a physical group."

It won't matter how physical they are if they can't catch the man running. Tackling will be essential.

"We have to play a complete game," linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "We know we have to stop the run."

Tomlinson, groin injury aside, will also be ready to prove the Chargers were right in opting for him instead of Vick. The Falcons top ranked rushing defense will be challenged by the man. They may keep him limited for a while, but that one play…

"Hopefully we'll keep him contained, but he's a great player," Vick said of Tomlinson. "He's going to do his thing."

The Falcons are also wary of quarterback Drew Brees. He doesn't have the legs of their guy but he has been undeniably effective the last two weeks.

"You always think of Tomlinson when you think of the Chargers, but Drew Brees has been so effective the last two weeks," Mora said.

Either way, the goal is the same for both teams. Stop the run first and then worry about the pass.

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