BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Tuesday, Jan. 11 2005

The last time the Rams played the Atlanta Falcons, they didn't get a real good
look at quarterback Michael Vick.

He darted around some defenders and outran others. He completed 14 of 19 passes
for 179 yards and a touchdown and he ran for another 109 yards on 12 carries.
The Rams hardly got a whiff of him.

Imagine Barry Sanders with a bit more speed and a cannon arm. That's Vick, a
man widely regarded as the best pure talent in the NFL.

"As an athlete, he is the best in the league, there is no question about that,"
Rams coach Mike Martz said during his Monday news conference. "The first thing
you need to do is account for him."


So how do they go about that during Saturday night's playoff game?

During his regular playoff segment on 1380 ESPN's morning show, former NFL
offensive lineman Mark Schlereth offered up an interesting suggestion: Don't
assign a defender to track his whereabouts.

"I don't believe you spy on this guy," Schlereth said, noting that a 300-pound
defensive lineman or a 250-pound linebacker isn't likely to take down Vick with
a one-on-one tackle anyway.

"How defensive coordinators come up with that garbage is beyond me," Schlereth
said.

Also, the ESPN analyst said, "I don't believe in keeping the integrity of your
rush lanes." By trying to merely contain Vick, he explained, tacklers play
tentatively. And this guy runs around tentative tacklers.


Schlereth suggested the entire Rams defensive unit ought to play Vick
aggressively and take its chances.

"Tampa Bay does that as well as anybody and they usually shut down Vick," he
said. Earlier this season, the Buccaneers held him to eight completions and 220
yards combined passing and rushing in one game, and just 196 combined yards
(with two interceptions and five sacks) in the other.

With that approach comes risk, of course. Vick is a big play waiting to happen.

"You have to understand that he's going to make three game-changing plays with
his feet," Schlereth said. "You just can't let the other stuff beat you."


Indeed, Vick is an average passer. He threw just 14 touchdown passes during the
regular season and 12 interceptions. His passer rating was just 78.1. He
clicked with tight end Alge Crumpler, but didn't get a whole lot done with his
wide receivers.

Teams that did get after Vick caused him to make mistakes. Vick fumbled 15
times, losing seven of them, and he suffered 46 sacks -- a stunning number for
a runner with his gifts.

The Rams will bring a more confident, more aggressive defense to Atlanta. Their
front seven is playing its best football, their corners have been outstanding
of late and their safety play is at least competent.

Can they play with the "passion" Martz wants against the Falcons? Can they
rally to the ball when Vick has it?

We know this much: Tip-toeing around this emerging superstar isn't going to
work.