Defense needs to slow down the Vick
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Jan. 13 2005
Remember that scene in Rocky II, where the out-of-shape Rocky Balboa haplessly
tries to chase a chicken as part of his training?
Four months ago, the Rams felt like Balboa trying to chase down Atlanta
quarterback Michael Vick in the Georgia Dome.
"He's a great athlete," Rams defensive end Anthony Hargrove said. "He's out
there jumping around. In, out, left, right, spinning around. Making guys look
bad. I mean, they call it the Michael Vick Experience."
It was an experience, all right.
Vick ran circles around the Rams in Atlanta's 34-17 victory on September 19. He
carried 12 times for 109 yards that day, one of five 100-yard rushing games in
This wasn't 3 yards and a cloud of dust material, either. Vick had seven
carries for 10 or more yards against St. Louis - all of them good for first
downs, and four of them contributing to scoring drives.
The Rams defense prides itself on being fast, but for most of that day, they
seemed to be wearing concrete Reeboks when it came to pursuing Vick.
"You've got to look at him like, 'Man, how does he do stuff like that?' "
Hargrove said. "To have somebody at this level do the things that he does to
people. I mean, you're just amazed at it."
Simply stated, Vick can make defenders look silly. And as Hargrove says, "I
don't want to be that guy."
Nor does anyone else on the St. Louis defense. Watch game film and Vick looks
like he's on fast forward, with everyone else in slow motion. And as fast as he
looks on television, just try chasing him on FieldTurf.
"It's like seeing him on TV times 1,000," defensive end Leonard Little said.
"He's one of the fastest people I've ever seen in my life out there on the
How fast? Ryan Pickett, the Rams' 310-pound defensive tackle, was asked how far
he'd finish behind Vick in a 40- yard dash.
"I probably wouldn't get out of the blocks," Pickett said, laughing. "This dude
is fast. He's real fast. Exciting to watch."
Well, exciting from a safe distance.
And it's just not speed with Vick. It's change of direction. Rams defensive
coordinator Larry Marmie likened it to that of former Detroit Lions running
back Barry Sanders.
Much of what Vick does is pure improv. But Atlanta also designs things to help
Vick on the edge. Against the Rams, Vick would fake a handoff to a running back
heading right, then roll out on a naked bootleg to his left - his throwing side
- and either run or pass. On several occasions, the over-pursuing Rams -
particularly their defensive ends - got caught chasing the running back while
Vick scooted by them.
"Everybody has to adjust what they're doing when you're playing Vick," Pickett
said. "The linebackers have to be ready for the scramble. The ends can't get
out too wide, and too far up field. The tackles can't get out of their lanes."
Some teams try to blitz Vick a lot and disguise coverages. Some try to contain
him, force him to pass, and don't necessarily worry about mounting a pass rush.
But there is no tried and true book on stopping him.
"Nobody has a blueprint," Marmie said. "We've watched all of them (Vick's
games). And that's exactly what we've said as coaches: If there was one thing
that seemed to be the best way to play this guy, you'd see a lot of people
playing him that way.
"You'd try to blitz him. Or you'd try to play coverage. Or you'd try to keep
all your eyes on him - maybe from a zone standpoint - where you can rally to
him when he runs. You'll find people having success, periodically, with
Arizona, for example, limited the Falcons to six points by routinely sending
five or six rushers at Vick, and using coverages that the Cardinals hadn't
shown on film before. But that was in Game 3, and the Falcons still won 6-3.
One school of thought is that it's best to blitz Vick. True, he may end up
running, but at least he's running on the defense's terms instead of when he
In the Falcons-Rams game on Sept. 19, the Rams took a passive approach.
According to an unofficial count, St. Louis blitzed a modest nine times. But
they never sent more than five rushers at him. And on three occasions, their
blitz package involved dropping their best pass rusher - Little - into coverage
on a zone blitz.
No matter what the defensive approach, Marmie said: "It seems to be just a
matter of time before he finds a way to make you pay one way or the other. A
lot of times it's his ability to run and scramble, and find the open seam."
As for the Rams' approach against Vick in September, Marmie said: "Obviously,
we didn't play him very well. But what little bit of success we did have
against him, was when we blitzed him."
On those blitzes, Vick was three for four as a passer, but for only 14 yards.
Two running plays against blitzes not involving Vick netted zero yards. On the
three other blitzes, Vick scrambled three times for 34 yards, gaining two first
"A couple of the big runs that he had were right before the half in a 2-minute
situation," Marmie said. "We got a little bit soft, and he took it and made us
pay for it."
Unlike some analysts and observers, and perhaps even some coaches, Marmie has a
growing respect for Vick as a passer.
"He has the reputation of the plays that he makes, he makes with his legs,"
Marmie said. "And certainly he does do that. He did that in our first game. But
I'm going to tell you now, the guy can throw the football, too.
"I think there's a difference in watching him now, in the latter part of this
season, than there was when we watched him in the first game against San
Francisco this season, and even going back to some of last year's stuff.
"I hesitate to use the word 'polished.' But I just think he's improving as a
quarterback. ... I've seen him make all the throws. The deep ones. The
checkdowns. The deep outs. He's a terrific player."
No one knows this better than the Rams resident quarterback guru, Mike Martz.
"He will get his plays because he's that good," Martz said. "You just have to
contain how many he gets. You don't want him to have one of these breakout
games where he rushes for all these yards, and throws a couple of touchdowns
and all that stuff.
"You've got to be relentless in your pursuit of him with all 11 guys. You know
what I mean? If we can swarm the ball ... like we have been lately, we should
be all right."
Of course, where Vick is concerned, that's easier said than done.
Re: Defense needs to slow down the Vick
Vick is what makes me nervous for tomorrow. The Rams got burned too much last time, but this defense should be on a better roll. The defensive line needs to keep pressure on him.