The Cardinals call them, simply enough, The Michael Vick Rules. Follow them, and hopefully Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback whom the Cards must contain Sunday, won’t shred their defense.
"You better be ready to play," linebacker James Darling said. "If not, he’ll embarrass you." No one on the Cardinals will talk about the specifics of such a defense, for obvious reasons. But coach Dennis Green said the plan is a dramatic departure from what Arizona has already been doing. Green did say the Cardinals will not employ a spy on Vick because the Cardinals do not have anyone fast enough to fulfill such a role. Really, though, no team would.
"If you put him in a 6-by-6 room with 11 guys, it’d take them an hour to touch him," Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre once said of Vick. "He’s the closest thing to Barry Sanders that anyone has seen," Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson said, and it’s no coincidence that the last player Green employed special defensive "rules" for was Sanders, the Hall of Fame Detroit Lions running back.
Vick completed 14-of-19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown last week in a 34-17 win against the St. Louis Rams to raise the Falcons’ record to 2-0. His arm is strong enough to throw the ball anywhere, even if Vick is on the move. It was his running, though, that gave the Rams fits. Vick rushed 12 times, most of them on pass plays gone awry, for 109 yards. His ability to get up the field and use his speed to run for big chunks of yardage could be particularly painful if the Cards played their typical defense, which is based on getting up the field and penetrating the offensive backfield.
Green said it would hurt the Cards if an end like Bertrand Berry made a speed rush around a tackle, for example, because Vick can just step up and take off. Berry would then be out of the play as Vick sprinted downfield.
"You have to be a realist," Berry said. "Michael Vick is not the average quarterback. He’s not an average football player. If you try to go in with the same rules and techniques, you are going to get beat real quick. This league is all about adjustments."
There was a fear of how Vick would work in first-year coach Jim Mora’s offense. Mora said the first thing he was told when he got to Atlanta was that he must protect Vick, who broke his leg during a 2003 preseason game and sat out most of the year.
But when Vick didn’t play much, the story ballooned locally and nationally that Vick wasn’t going to be prepared for the regular season. Then Vick ran just six times (for 10 yards) in the opener and was sacked four times as Atlanta barely beat San Francisco.
Mora gave Vick more freedom last week, and it changed the complexion of the Falcons.
Mora, it seemed, was the only one who could slow Vick down.
"If something breaks down, he can go create a great play on his own, much like a Tiger Woods can with a golf shot or a Michael Jordan used to be able to do driving down the lane when it just looked like there was nothing there," Mora said. "At the same time, you don’t want him to always be looking to do something on his own, because you want him to count on his teammates. I think Mike has really learned to walk that line."
The Falcons stumbled to a miserable 5-11 record last season, but were 3-1 when Vick returned to start. Since the beginning of the 2002 season, the Falcons are now 13-6-1 when Vick starts.
And he only will get better as he gets older.
"One week I may not want to run the ball as often as I do," Vick said. "It’s all based on what I want to do. What can you say about it? I know how to play this game, and I’ve got the ball in my hands every play."
That’s what scares the Cardinals. That’s why there are Michael Vick Rules, even if they have a short shelf life.
"Next week we’ll dump them," Green said, "because even though (New Orleans Saints quarterback) Aaron Brooks can do a lot of things, you don’t have Aaron Brooks Rules."