Run-defense again struggles to contain

The Green Bay Packers' defense was left in awe after trying to defend Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick in the regular season opener on Sept. 8. Nearly four months later, in the post-season opener, not much has changed.<p>

Although at least a few opposing teams found ways to contain Vick and the Falcons' offense down the stretch this season, the Packers' defense was again left scrambling and shaking their heads trying to figure out how to stop him. Only this time, they were not fortunate enough to come out with a victory like they did in Week One. Instead, they left with somber looks and a stunning first-round exit from the NFC playoffs at Lambeau Field.

Vick and running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett exposed the Packers' defensive weakness, stopping the run. They managed to push the Packers around enough to control the time of possession and amass 192 yards rushing, contributing to the Falcons' first playoff victory since 1998.

"We didn't do very well stopping the run. That goes without saying," said Packers' head coach Mike Sherman. "We struggled a little bit, most of the year, in certain situations, and today certainly, I don't know what the finally tally was, but it was certainly high. Vick had a number of rushes as did Warrick Dunn. So I would say, yeah, it caught up with us today."

The Packers knew that Vick might break a long run or two, but they figured they could slow Dunn and Duckett to slow down the Falcons' offense. Early on, however, it became evident that the Falcons planned to control the game on the ground.

On the opening drive of the game, the Falcons went to work. Wide receiver Quentin McCord ran a reverse for 18 yards and Dunn ran for 12 more as the Falcons ran on seven of their first 10 plays.

Dunn ran for 64 yards on 15 carries for the game and Duckett for 45 yards on 17 carries including a 6-yard touchdown run in which he barreled into the end zone. The Packers' defense again missed several tackles, much like they did the week before against the New York Jets, which helped contribute to bigger Falcons' gains. The Packers were without starting safety Darren Sharper for the second week in a row, but felt good about their game plan to stop the Falcons' offense.

"I think with the people we had and with the scheme we thought they were going to attack us with, I think we did everything possible to accomplish that," said safety Marques Anderson.

Even the most thorough game-planning, however, cannot always stop a talented runner like Vick. He ran for 72 yards in the season opener against the Packers and ran for 64 more on 10 carries on Saturday night.

"We tried to devise a game plan that would help us, but the guy made some spectacular plays," said Anderson. "He came through when they needed a first down. The ball was in his hands, and he came through. The guy made some plays, and we didn't stop him."

The Packers were not able to record a sack on Vick, though they got to him on occasion. Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had him in his sights for a couple of sacks only to see Vick avoid a loss and turn the play into a gain. Just after the two-minute warning in the first half, Vick rolled to his left and appeared to be trapped along the sidelines by Gbaja-Biamila, before making a move back to the middle of the field for an 11-yard gain and a first down on third-and-three. Seven plays later, kicker Jay Feely made a 22-yard field goal to close the first half scoring, 24-0 in favor of the Falcons.

"He's a talented player," said Gbaja-Biamila. "I can't explain what happened. I'm speechless. I have to watch film to really to see what we could have done better."

"It's very frustrating," added cornerback Bryant Westbrook. "We had him in our grasp. It seemed like he was just running free, but we had him in our grasp. He just kept slipping out of it. He's a good player, and our hats go off to him. We had him for huge losses and just weren't able to make tackles."

Vick also had an important 22-yard run in the third quarter to keep a drive alive just after the Packers scored to close to 24-7. The Falcons used up 6:43 of precious time on the drive to effectively diminish the Packers' chances at a comeback.

Though Vick threw for just 117 yards, the Falcons' offense converted Packers' mistakes into points, and their running game was a large factor in that. It was not just Vick, it was the entire offense.

"You can only do so much," said safety Matt Bowen, who had 15 tackles in the game. "It such a team game. You can't key on one guy because those are professional football players on that side, too. I mean, Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett, those receivers, the tight ends are good, the offensive line played well... You can't just zero in on one guy or you're going to get beat by others."


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