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Vick has Steelers scratching their heads

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002

It's not so much what Michael Vick has done that strikes fear into defenders. He has started only nine NFL games and has passed for only four touchdowns this season.

It's what he could do … on the next play … to you.

Former NFL star Steve Young wasn't kidding when he said Vick might have more raw talent than any quarterback in NFL history. Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher labeled Vick “the hardest guy in the league to tackle.” Others call him the fastest player they have seen. They marvel at his cannon arm and linebacker strength.

No wonder the Steelers are on edge going into Sunday's matchup against Vick and the resurgent Atlanta Falcons. Steelers coach Bill Cowher said he wants a rainstorm to hit Heinz Field. Maybe he should hope for a meteor shower.

“The last time this locker room felt like this was when we had to prepare for Barry Sanders,” safety Lee Flowers said. “I've never seen a quarterback like Vick — and that's including Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb. I've never seen a quarterback who can run sideline to sideline and still throw the ball 50 yards in stride.”

Flowers won't have to worry about Vick for three more days. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis should be so lucky. He's been fretting all week. Lewis managed a chuckle when he was asked Wednesday if watching film of Vick was like watching a horror movie.

“Oh, oh, that's putting it mildly,” Lewis said.

Just then, defensive line coach John Mitchell walked past.

  • “It ain't fun when the rabbit's got the gun.” – Saints DT Grady Jackson

  • “Mike probably has more raw ability than any quarterback who has ever played.” – Steve Young

  • “He's the hardest guy in the league to tackle.” – Bears LB Brian Urlacher

  • “Frightening, absolutely frightening.” – Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp

  • “There aren't many quarterbacks in the league who can outrun an entire defense. He's pretty close to a cheetah.” – Panthers LB Will Witherspoon

  • “He's like watching a cartoon character out there.” – Falcons DE Patrick Kearney

  • “Who's going to catch him• It's like putting a rabbit in a room and trying to catch him.” – Saints coach Jim Haslett

  • “He's changing the game.” – Steelers S Lee Flowers
  • “Mitch, what's it like watching film of Michael Vick?” Lewis said.

    “I have nightmares thinking about it,” Mitchell said.

    “It scares me more than Friday the 13th, and that was when I was 13," Lewis said. "He's unbelievable. He's the best running back in the business. (New Orleans Saints coach) Jim Haslett made that statement, and I thought, ‘What is he talking about?' This guy is the real deal.”

    Lewis yesterday told his players they must think of Vick as a running back. It's not that the Steelers disrespect Vick's passing ability, it's just that they are terrified of seeing him take off like Carl Lewis. Anyone who saw the clip of Vick's 32-yard touchdown run against the Saints would feel the same way. It was like watching one of Sanders' vintage runs on fast forward.

    Vick, 22, has 362 yards rushing on 48 attempts, good for an average of 7.5 yards. The only quarterback with more yards rushing is Philadelphia's McNabb (398), who has played one more game. Vick also has completed 60.4 of his passes for 1,095 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating is 86.9 — but judging Vick by his passer rating is like judging Jennifer Lopez by her shoe size.

    Steelers safety Chris Hope played against Vick in the 1999 Sugar Bowl, where his Florida State Seminoles defeated Vick's Virginia Tech Hokies, 46-29. Florida State had Peter Warrick. Vick was the fastest player on the field.

    “By far,” Hope said. “He is just fast. He's not like (Falcons tailback) Warrick Dunn, where he's going to give you a couple of wiggles. He's just going to give you one move, and he's going to push the button.”

    Lewis hopes to push the right buttons against Vick on Sunday. The Steelers plan to use a “shadow” on Vick in certain situations. One can picture Kendrell Bell playing that role in the base defense and Joey Porter in passing situations, but Lewis wasn't telling. He said only that he has used shadows in the past and likes the concept.

    "We'll mix some of that in,” he said. “I can't tell you when and where.”

    The coaches used backup quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch on the scout team yesterday to give the defense an idea of what it will face in Vick. Stewart, no slow poke, admitted he couldn't recreate Vick's speed, saying he'd pull a hamstring if he tried.

    The Steelers' 3-4 base alignment might give Vick problems. He struggled (minus-5 yards rushing, 12 of 24 passing) against that alignment last week in a 20-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

    “That was the first time I faced it,” Vick said yesterday. “I've been watching a lot of film the last couple of days, learning ways to attack it.”

    Vick can expect to see a variety of coverages and pass-rush schemes. Several players said blitzing him too often would not be wise, because the coverage people would have to turn their backs in order to cover their men one-on-one. And once their backs are turned, they lose sight of Vick.

    On the other hand, the Steelers want to pressure Vick. They want to hit him.

    “You have to come after him,” Lewis said. “And you have to mix in some zone and some other zones that keep people facing him, because if you turn your back on him, he's going to be right behind you, and you can't touch him once he gets in the open field.”

    “I think the best way to beat Vick, since their coaches give him a simple package to use, is to make him beat us throwing," Hope said. "Our linemen have to stay in their lanes and not just go all-out trying to get a sack. They have to make him sit in the pocket and throw.”

    Vick, a lefty, likes that challenge, even though his receivers are a bit shaky. He said one of his goals is to become one of the “best pocket passers in the league.” He had a string of 171 passes without an interception broken last week and has a knack for making his best throws at key times. He clinched last week's game with a 6-yard completion on fourth-and-4 at the Ravens 31-yard line. He beat the Saints on a 59-yard drive with 2:11 left and no timeouts. Vick completed four passes for 42 yards and ran for 14 yards on the drive.

    If Vick keeps adding elements to his high-wire act, Michael Jordan might soon have company among athletes known simply as Michael. Steelers wide receiver Terance Mathis was a teammate of Vick's last season and said he was one of the hardest-working players on the team. Most first-round picks are cocky, Mathis said. Not Vick, who was taken first overall two years ago and lavished with a $62 million contract.

    “He's a down-to-earth kid,” Mathis said. “That's what I love about him.”

    At the same time, Vick is sure of his ability. As he told the New York Times, “I've been blessed to do almost whatever I want to do when I'm out on the football field.”

    He is, without a doubt, the NFL's must-see attraction.

    “I got 20 people trying to come to this game,” said Flowers, who lives in Atlanta. “They never want to see me any other time, but they want to see Michael Vick.”


    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick recently became the only quarterback to rush for 90 or more yards in back-to-back games. He averages 7.5 yards per carry and has 362 yards rushing in seven games. He and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (398 yards in eight games) are the NFL's top two running quarterbacks. Here are the five best single-season rushing performances by a quarterback:

    Year Quarterback Team Yds

    1972 Bobby Douglass Bears 968

    1990 R. Cunningham Eagles 942

    1997 Steve McNair Titans 672

    2000 D. McNabb Eagles 629

    1988 R. Cunningham Eagles 624

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