Vick still adjusting to new offense

Michael Vick is doing his best to adapt to the Falcons' new offense.

Updated: October 8, 2004, 10:51 AM ET
By Matt Winkeljohn | Pro Football Weekly

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.

Michael Vick
APMichael Vick has rushed for 222 yards in four games this season.
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 Francisco.

"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 him.

I'm doing OK. I'm doing OK. 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.
Michael Vick, Falcons QB

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."

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