3 Atlanta Falcons

They have a running problem, and it's not Michael Vick. The defense has to do a better job of stopping ballcarriers
September 03, 2006

THE BELIEF
"We're done rebuilding,'' says defensive end Patrick Kerney. "It's timefor championships now." The Falcons made the division's best off-seasonacquisition: defensive end John Abraham, in a draft-week trade with the Jets.The return of run-stopping linebacker Ed Hartwell, who missed the final 11games in '05 with a torn Achilles, and the free-agent signing of safety LawyerMilloy will also toughen the defense. Under new quarterbacks coach BillMusgrave, Michael Vick will prove once and for all that he can be a completequarterback.

THE REALITY
One morning in training camp, with Kerney at left end and Abraham on the right,one or both of them got to Vick three times in a five-play sequence. Flustered,Vick slammed the ball to the ground, while Kerney, Abraham and Pro Bowldefensive tackle Rod Coleman celebrated. "I've never played with talentlike this," says Abraham, who spent six seasons with the Jets. "I can'ttell you how good it's going to feel to be out there." And Atlanta needsAbraham to stay out there; with New York he missed 25 games because ofinjuries. If Abraham is more durable this year, the Falcons' pass rush will bescary. Even without a strong right end in 2005, Kerney and Coleman combined for17 sacks.

Nice number, butAtlanta also allowed 129 rushing yards a game--most in the NFL--so doing abetter job of stopping the run is just as important as getting to the passermore often. Hartwell has to rediscover the form he showed in three seasons as astarter with the Ravens, when he averaged 10 tackles a game. As for Milloy, thequestion is, What does he have left? Buffalo gave up on the 32-year-old formerPro Bowl player because of his paltry big-play production: one sack, oneinterception, zero forced fumbles last year. Atlanta may be deluding itself inthinking it got the Milloy who helped the Patriots win their first SuperBowl.

And speaking ofdelusional.... At some point NFL fans and media have to stop wishing that Vickwill become a pocket passer and accept him for what he is: a runningquarterback. Coach Jim Mora must spend half his time with the media defendinghis quarterback. "I liken what Mike's going through to what Steve Youngwent through when he got to San Francisco," says Mora. "He couldn't doanything right. He ran around too much. Then Steve took the team to the SuperBowl, and all of a sudden he was a good quarterback."

After twopreseason games, what encouraged the Falcons most is that Vick was looking athis second and third options much more often than last year. To Vick thatdoesn't mean he'll cut down on his scrambling. "I actually think I may runa little more this year," Vick says, a revelation that Mora won't be crazyabout. "I'm not going to force it, and I am going to look for my receiversthe way I should. But I'm going to let my instincts take over."

Vick confessedafter last season that he didn't try his hardest in the final game--a 44--11loss to Carolina--and he still regrets it. "I remember sitting home, nightafter night in February, watching our games from last year," he says."I must've watched each one three, four times. It left me with a hunger toplay better than I ever have."

"Michael hasa chip on his shoulder about what happened last year," says general managerRich McKay, "and that's not all bad."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
10 at Carolina
17 TAMPA BA
Y25 at New Orleans (M)

OCTOBER
1 ARIZONA
8 Bye
15 N.Y. GIANTS
22 PITTSBURGH
29 at Cincinnati

NOVEMBER
5 at Detroit
12 CLEVELAND
19 at Baltimore
26 NEW ORLEANS

DECEMBER
3 at Washington
10 at Tampa Bay
16 DALLAS (S)
24 CAROLINA
31 at Philadelphia

(M) Monday (S)Saturday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank
T15
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage
.508
Games against playoff teams
8

ENEMY LINES
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE FALCONS

> I worryabout Michael Vick's protection at the tackle spots. Todd Weiner is a goodtechnical player but not overly strong, and Wayne Gandy is just a journeyman. Idon't see Vick staying in the pocket much with those guys blocking.

> A healthyJohn Abraham is as hard to block as Dwight Freeney.

> The onething Ashley Lelie was never comfortable doing in Denver was making thephysical catch over the middle. In this offense Lelie is going to have totoughen up to be a factor.

> What I kepthearing out of Atlanta's camp this summer is how many fights they had.Undisciplined teams fight a lot, and they don't win championships. Someonebetter teach DeAngelo Hall that being a good fighter doesn't make you a goodplayer.

They're lucky Jimmy Williams slipped to the second round. God doesn't make many6'2" guys who run 4.4 and cover.

BREAKOUTPLAYER
Roddy White
WIDE RECEIVER

The 2005first-rounder from UAB will have to make a big improvement over last year (29receptions, 15.4 yards per catch) to become a deep threat, but the Falcons haveshown such faith in White--whose off-season work included catching passes fromMichael Vick four days a week for three months--that at the start of the seasonAshley Lelie, acquired from Denver, will be the third receiver, and White willhave a chance to prove that he's the Man. Atlanta will be counting on him for60-plus catches.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH
JIM MORA (19--13 in NFL), third season with Atlanta

OFFENSE

RODDY WHITE
POS WR
REC 29
YARDS 446
TD 3

WARRICKDUNN
POS RB
RUSH 280
YARDS 1,416
TD 4

MICHAELVICK
POS QB
ATT 387
COMP 214
PCT 55.3
YARDS 2,412
TD 15
INT 13
RATING 73.1

JUSTINGRIFFITH
POS FB
RUSH 15
YARDS 65
TD 3

MICHAELJENKINS
POS WR
REC 36
YARDS 508
TD 3

TODD WEINER
POS RT
HT 6'4"
WT 297
G 15

KYNANFORNEY
POS RG
HT 6'3"
WT 307
G 16

TODDMCCLURE
POS C
HT 6'1"
WT 286
G 16

MATT LEHR
POS LG
HT 6'2"
WT 293
G 15

WAYNE GANDY--NEWACQUISITION
POS LT
HT 6'4"
WT 315
G 16

ALGECRUMPLER
POS TE
REC 65
YARDS 877
TD 5

MICHAELKOENEN
POS K
FG 1-2
POINTS 3


DEFENSE

KEITHBROOKING
POS WLB
TACKLES 115
SACKS 3 1/2
INT 4

PATRICKKERNEY
POS LE
TACKLES 53
SACKS 6 1/2

CHADLAVALAIS
POS LT
TACKLES 25
SACKS 2 1/2

ROD COLEMAN
POS RT
TACKLES 40
SACKS 10 1/2

JOHN ABRAHAM--NEWACQUISITION
POS RE
TACKLES 58
SACKS 10

MICHAELBOLEY
POS SLB
TACKLES 63
SACKS 0
INT 0

DEANGELOHALL
POS CB
TACKLES 65
INT 6

CHRISCROCKER--NEW ACQUISITION
POS FS
TACKLES 79
SACKS 2
INT 2

ED HARTWELL
POS MLB
TACKLES 22
SACKS 0
INT 0

LAWYERMILLOY--NEW ACQUISITION
POS SS
TACKLES 107
SACK 1
INT 1

JASONWEBSTER
POS CB
TACKLES 79
INT 1

MICHAELKOENEN
POS P
PUNTS 78
AVG 42.3

2005 RECORD8--8

NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
OFFENSE 1/27/12
DEFENSE 26/14/22

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PHOTOBOB ROSATO (VICK) SCRAMBLE LEGS
Vick promises to check his receiver options, but he trusts his instincts whenit's time to run.
PHOTOBILL FRAKES WILLIAMS PHOTOBOB ROSATO TWO PHOTOS PHOTOHELMET PHOTOS BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)