Pressure's on Vick

To better gauge their pass rush, the Steelers track quarterback pressures. Defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith are the runaway leaders, but sacking the quarterback isn't the top priority this afternoon at the Georgia Dome.

"Michael Vick is the biggest weapon they have so you can't rush the passer like you could against a pocket passer, like the one we saw last week," said Keisel. "That was all timing. Even if the receiver wasn't open he was throwing the ball. With Vick, he makes so many things happen with his wheels."

So it becomes more of a muddle rush, the rush Kordell Stewart used to face later in his career. All seven defenders remain in their lanes and force Vick to either throw or try to run through them.

"There is a fine line," said Smith. "If you're overaggressive they're going to take advantage of it; if you're underaggressive he's going to pick you apart. So you've got to find that fine line. You've got to get pressure but you've got to get everybody to stay in their lane."

Although the Pittsburgh Steelers won't say it, the preference would be for Vick to throw. The Atlanta Falcons (3-2) lead the league in rushing, but are dead last in passing. Vick is 28th in passer rating (66.0) and 16th in rushing (401/8.7 avg.). He's the main reason the Falcons average an absurd 6.4 yards per carry, or 0.7 yards more than the Falcons average per pass attempt.

"They're crazy, aren't they? It's ridiculous," Smith said of the stats. "You have two: You have Vick back there who can scramble for 50 yards at a time, and then you have Warrick Dunn who is a great running back. It's like a two-headed dragon."

Dunn has been perhaps the least-respected running back in the NFL, and not just by fans and media. Even Dunn's own coaches have preferred bigger backs throughout his career. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound tailback has become his team's feature back for the first time in his 10 years in the league, even though he came into the season averaging 4.2 yards per each of his 1,970 carries.

At Tampa Bay, Dunn split time with the bigger Mike Alstott, and the previous three years in Atlanta he split time with the bigger T.J. Duckett. But Duckett is gone and Dunn is thriving with the Falcons. He's fourth in the NFL with 511 yards rushing. He averages 5.3 per carry, which was helped last week by his 90-yard touchdown run against the New York Giants.

The Steelers' Willie Parker is the NFL's ninth-leading rusher (434/4.1), and the 5-10, 209-pounder comes to Atlanta as the big back in today's game.

"Yeah, compared to Warrick Dunn," Parker said. "But he's a phenomenal runner who's been doing it a long time. Smaller backs aren't supposed to be doing it that long. That's why he's just a different type of runner. I don't know what he's doing to take care of his body, but he's just a great running back."

"Guys will hit him and you'll think he's down," said Keisel, "but he's crawling and he'll get 10 more yards. You have to gang-tackle him, get him on the ground, pound on him, not let him find any seams."

As with Vick?

"Right," Keisel said.

This "two-headed dragon" has sprung from the "power spread," an offense so dubbed by its creator, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez.

Out of the shotgun, the quarterback puts the ball in the runner's gut but makes a quick scan of his key and decides whether to pull the ball back out and run or let the back keep it.

Combined with Alex Gibbs's zone-blocking schemes that he brought over from Denver, and the quickness of the principal runners involved, the Falcons have been able to post some gaudy rushing stats. But the passing game tends to suffer, and the Falcons are the perfect example of this dichotomy.

"They're going to run the ball," said Smith, who is part of a Steelers defense that keys the run every week.

This week the Steelers come into the game without having to reduce the opponent to being one-dimensional. The Falcons already are.

"I like our chances," Smith said. "But we'll see. They're a quality team. It'll come down to whoever flinches first."

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