FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With four games already in the books, there's enough
evidence to decide how Michael Vick is fitting into the Falcons' new West
Coast-style offense -- or it to him.
He's up and down.
Or in other words, exactly as new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp predicted
from Day One.
During a 34-17 Week 2 win over the Rams, the fourth-year quarterback
completed 14-of-19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, while running 12
times for 109 yards -- his third career 100-yard rushing day -- en route to
earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
A week later, he struggled mightily in a 6-3 win over the Cardinals. Vick
completed 10-of-20 passes for just 115 yards and an interception, and he was
sacked five times. Vick also lost two fumbles. With his feet, he managed
just nine yards rushing on his first seven carries, several of them
ill-advised. On two other occasions, while attempting to avoid a sack, he
flung the ball wildly while in the grasp of defenders, only to be ruled down
prior to cutting the ball loose.
"That comes from Mike's personality and thinking he can always make a play,"
said Falcons head coach Jim Mora, whose staff is preaching ball security to
Vick considering that he also fumbled twice in the season opener at San
"You hate to squelch that, but as Greg tells him, if they've got you wrapped
up, if they've got your feet, go down. Mike's aggressive, thinking, 'Do
something with the ball, do something with the ball.' "
In Week 4 vs. Carolina, Vick didn't do anything spectacular, other than
help lead the Falcons to their fourth win of the year. He completed his
first seven pass attempts in the game, before hitting harder times. He
closed out the contest completing just 3-of-11, to finish 10-of-18 for the
day, along with 35 yards on seven carries.
There has been some question about what exactly Vick is supposed to be doing
with the ball in the offense. After months of building excitement from the
media and fans about the Falcons installing the West Coast offense, Mora
said the team isn't really running the West Coast.
Instead, Mora said it has West Coast principles, and Vick seems to have
certain aspects of the offense under control.
He still has a flair for the dramatic, like when he took off on a bootleg
late in the game vs. Arizona, finishing a spectacular run 58 yards later
that buried the Cardinals for good. He also is doing well in the short
passing game typically associated with the West Coast offense. Vick has
developed a nice relationship with Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler and fullback Justin Griffith.
The problem is that Vick and/or Knapp have rendered Atlanta's wideouts --
chiefly Peerless Price, Dez White and Brian Finneran -- almost as
afterthoughts. The lack of passes coming their way clearly has started to
touch a nerve with some of the wide receivers, although it hasn't gotten to
be a problem in the locker room just yet.
Following the Arizona game, Price vented a bit about the situation. "I'm
tired of people thinking that (I'm covered all the time)," Price said.
Part of the problem has been Vick's inconsistency.
For instance, in the season opener vs. San Francisco, Vick completed 11-of-13
passes in the first half, yet connected on just 2-of-9 passes for 18 yards
in the second half, when it was windy and a couple of deep balls sailed on
The Cardinals sucked the wind from Vick's sails with a combination of
defensive surprises that Arizona's first-year defensive coordinator, Clancy
Pendergast, had not shown before. At times, he used five down linemen, and
he kept his ends wide, limiting Vick's escape routes. Pendergast also mixed
in pass coverages in the secondary that Atlanta's coaches had rarely seen
the Cards use. Consequently, Vick occasionally failed to give wide receivers
time to get open in their deeper routes before throwing the ball or taking
off to run.
The Falcons are near the bottom of the league in passes attempted and aren't
stretching the field. The two longest completions of the year came on a
62-yarder to Griffith that began as a three-yard swing pass, and a 33-yarder
to Crumpler on which he picked up the final 20 or so yards after the catch.
"That's up to me," Vick said. "I have to get (the wide receivers) involved.
Maybe I pulled the ball down a little too much (against Arizona) running."
The Falcons' strong start has raised expectations, but there certainly is a
lot to work on. Opening the season 4-0 -- matching the best start in
franchise history -- has masked some problems. A team with playoff
aspirations can get by with a marginal passing game if it's playing
rock-solid defense and running the ball well.
During the first four weeks, Atlanta's "D" allowed just 12.3 points a game
and fared very well vs. the run, giving up an average of 62.8 yards per
game. The Falcons' running game, meanwhile, was holding up its end of the
bargain, averaging 174 rushing yards per game.
But just how far this Falcons team can go will come down to Vick and the
passing game starting to produce more. The team also must improve when it
comes to converting on third down.
Knapp has said it takes a quarterback two or three years to grasp the West
Coast offense. Vick has made progress, but he's still reaching.
"It's part of the growing process I talked to Mike about," said Knapp of
adapting during games to "unscouted looks" by an opposing defense.
"I said this is good for both of us because you and I are going to sit down
and watch this tape with the other quarterbacks, and we're going to learn
how to adjust."
Meanwhile, Vick is saying the right things. Now he just has to translate what
he learns in practice and the experience he has picked up in games to better
production in the future.
"I'm doing OK. I'm doing OK," Vick said. "Trust me, I know I can get better.
I know I can get better playing in this system. Decision-making-wise, I
think I've been doing a pretty good job, but like I said, there is always
room for improvement."
Material from Pro Football Weekly.
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