Containing Michael Vick won't be easy

IRVING, Texas -- Paul Pasqualoni did not need to look at any of the games Michael Vick played this year to be convinced of the greatness of the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.

The Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator remembers Oct. 21, 2000, when he was the head coach at Syracuse and Vick was at Virginia Tech. Pasqualoni's defense sacked Vick eight times, including 4.5 by Dwight Freeney, and had held him to 75 yards passing and just 9 yards rushing.

But with 1:34 left in the game, Vick ran 55 yards for a game-clinching touchdown and a 22-14 victory for the Hokies.

That Vick and this Vick, however, are completely different players.

That Vick -- and the Vick that excelled in Atlanta -- was more of a rushing threat, and teams dared him to beat them with his arm. This Vick is in the MVP race because he is a passer, too.

This Vick remains a dangerous running threat with 467 rushing yards and six touchdowns. By comparison, the Cowboys are led by Felix Jones' 531 yards and have just seven rushing touchdowns as a team.

This Vick has a 105.7 passer rating, which is second-best in the NFL. His two interceptions are the fewest among starters. His 63.8 completion percentage is by far the best of his career.

"We've got to play him like a quarterback and make him one-dimensional," outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "We have to take away the things he wants to do and make him do what we want him to do."

Pasqualoni knows that is easier said than done.

In the Cowboys' past two games, they had to prepare for two of the best pocket passers in the NFL: New Orleans' Drew Brees and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. The goal was to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable in the pocket if they could not sack him. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.

"It's about containing him," defensive end Stephen Bowen said. "He's a special athlete, probably the best athlete on the field, hands down. You don't want to get caught out of position where you cause a lane to open and he can run 40 yards. You don't want to rush very cautious. You still want to rush reckless, but you've got to have your eyes wide open."

Philadelphia has lost just one game with Vick as its starter, a 31-26 defeat to Chicago last week. Vick still threw for 333 yards and ran for 44 yards against the Bears. He threw two touchdown passes, but he was picked off once, sacked four times and fumbled four times (although he did not lose any).

"Chicago had some structure and discipline," Pasqualoni said. "There's a fine line there. You don't want to handcuff anybody. You don't want to make the guys rushing the passer robots. They have to have freedom to go rush the passer full speed, so you've got to have balance there, and Chicago had as good a balance as you could expect to have."

Chicago plays mostly zone. Since taking over as defensive coordinator, Pasqualoni has used more zone coverage than former head coach Wade Phillips. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cowboys have brought added pressure just 21.4 percent of the time on opposing passing plays, which is fourth-lowest over the past month. Under Phillips, they brought pressure on 47.6 percent of opponent pass plays, the third-highest rate in the league.

As a result, the opponent's average yards per pass attempt have gone from 8.4 in the first eight games to 6.5 in the past four.

"It's a huge challenge," Pasqualoni said. "I wish I had the answer. I didn't have the answers in college. I don't have the answers right now. The answer is the talent in the room and the guys. We've got to play and we've got to make plays. That's the way it's going to have to be."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.