Falcons must make Vick earn every yard

Each week, John Lynch will break down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devise a game plan and discuss a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would slow down Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who has supreme running and passing talents. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington explains how an offense prepares to attack a dominant defense such as the Chicago Bears’.

Here’s a tip for Falcons coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder: Challenge your defense’s manhood.

Hey, it worked for Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin when I played for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

My assignment: game plan to stop Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense.

The Bucs were very successful against Vick when I was there because we were in attack mode. Gruden and Kiffin literally had us worked up into a frenzy before the game started and I believe that’s the best chance of stopping Vick because he’s such a special player.

In fact, there’s a famous clip that you still see on NFL Films, where we’re in the locker room after beating Vick and the Falcons and Gruden’s yelling, "Everybody was saying before the game, how are they going to deal with Vick? … The real question should have been, how is he going to deal with us?!"

Preparation is so critical when you’re playing a guy like Vick. Your game plan and mindset are paramount. The attack mode I mentioned might seem somewhat counterintuitive, because human nature suggests you have to be passive with somebody like Vick, because he has so much athleticism. I’m telling you, the attack mode is your best chance. Look at what Green Bay did last year in the playoffs. Dom Capers (defensive coordinator) came up with a great plan and they attacked.

I’m not necessarily saying blitz on every play, but whatever you do, whether it’s a four-man rush or whatever formation you’re in, you have to attack, attack, attack. You have to keep coming, rapid fire, one defender right after the other. Because the first defender who gets to Vick, often times, is not going to make the tackle. But if you slow him up a little and the defense keeps coming, that’s when you’ll have success.

Vick wasn’t that sharp with his passing in Philadelphia’s 31-13 victory over the Rams in Week 1. He was only 14 of 32 for 187 yards, but did have two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Where he was dangerous — like you didn’t know — was running the ball. He carried the ball 10 times for 98 yards: A direct result of the Eagles’ offensive line struggling. Philadelphia went to great lengths this offseason to address that, bringing in Howard Mudd, the famous offensive line coach from Indy. But they’re still struggling at the moment. Vick had to run last week out of necessity. He goes through his progressions now, but he’ll do anything he has to do to win, so if that’s running it, that’s what he’s going to do. We’ve seen him grow so much right before our eyes.

Against the Rams, the Eagles were 8-for-12 on third down situations, which is not a good stat if you’re the Falcons defense. I didn’t see that game, but that’s where Vick’s athleticism comes into play. I’m sure a lot of his runs came on third downs. The defense can cover the receivers and then he scrambles and kills you. Derrick Brooks was our Vick "spy" when I was in Tampa. We only had four on the defensive line rush, but Brooks was the key. Brooks was a real aggressive guy who was always in the attack mode.

Then, as soon as the lineman took their shots, here came Derrick, leading the second wave. It was extremely effective for us.

But here’s the other problem trying to game plan for the Eagles: It’s not just Vick.

Defenses go to such great lengths to stop Vick, but the so-called “Dream Team” has enough weapons to cause nightmares for defenses. Both of those receivers — DeSean Jackson, who I think is probably the most explosive receiver in the NFL, and Jeremy Maclin – are dangerous. LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 122 yards last week, can go the distance any time he touches the ball.

The key for the Falcons defense is to make the Eagles earn everything they get. Make sure you keep those receivers in front of you. Let them catch the 10-yard curls. That’s OK. Make McCoy grind for three and five yards, that’s OK, too. You have to avoid giving up the big play with this team.

Finally, this will be Vick’s first visit back to the Georgia Dome since he last led Atlanta five years ago. It’s definitely special for a player to go home. Michael has a great affinity for Falcons owner Arthur Blank, but I liken it to playing basketball in the backyard against your brother. You love him, but you want to beat him, and badly. On the other side, you have the Falcons playing in their home opener, coming off an embarrassing loss to the Bears last week.

I’m sure the Falcons defense will be ready if they get worked up into a frenzy. Remember, their manhood is at stake.