- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

The New Orleans Saints’ defense did everything right. The front four pressured well, the linebackers blanketed the tight end and running back and the secondary neutralized the receivers.

The problem: The opposing quarterback was Michael Vick.

On Sunday, Vick’s Atlanta Falcons had a first-and-10 from their own 39-yard line. By design, Vick rolled a few steps to his right. When the protection broke down, he broke down the Saints’ defense.

Charles Grant dived and missed six yards behind the line of scrimmage. … Willie Whitehead reached and whiffed at the 43. … Rodney Leisle came up empty at midfield. … Ditto for Scott Shanle at the Saints 40. … Same for a Saints defensive back at the 30. … Finally, after a 51-yard gain, Jason Craft brought Vick down.

The Saints’ problem last week — when Vick rushed for 166 yards in a 31-13 loss to New Orleans — is the Washington Redskins’ dilemma this week. Should they make Vick pass or run to win?

Vick has been wildly inconsistent as a passer. While the Redskins acknowledge his ability to make plays throwing downfield, they appear to be most concerned — and rightly so — about his ability to make something out of nothing via scrambles and designed keepers.

“He drives you crazy,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Anything in this league that is different and doesn’t normally have a chance of taking place, it complicates things. He’s a guy that can dominate a game, and that’s hard to find.”

Vick isn’t a normal quarterback, and as a result, the Redskins’ practices haven’t been normal this week. Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle El have taken turns as the scout-team quarterback.

But nobody can emulate Vick’s receiver-like speed and running back-like moves.

“You have a quarterback that has the skill set of a receiver and a running back — like a Reggie Bush or a Brian Westbrook,” safety Troy Vincent said. “He can beat you in all different facets.”

Said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams: “He reminds me of a lot of the great returners because once he gets into space, he can break you down and turn a very minimal gain into a long gain.”

Each layer of the defense has to be aware of No. 7.

The ends have to keep containment and make sure Vick is moving east-west instead of north-south.

“You have to be conscious about everything he does, but at the same time, you can’t play timid,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “You’re not going to keep him in there all day long, but if we do for the most part, we’ll be having a good day.”

The linebackers have to account for tight end Alge Crumpler — the Falcons’ leading receiver and Vick’s longtime favorite target — and also keep an eye on the backfield because if he turns the corner, the chances of a defensive lineman catching him diminish.

“When he gets into space, he can make you look bad,” linebacker Marcus Washington said.

The secondary has the toughest task. Early in his career, when pass protection would break down, Vick would immediately tuck it and run. In his sixth season, he has become more adept at surveying the field while on the run.

“I’ve seen steady improvement from him year by year by year,” Williams said. “Now you have to do a good job plastering them in coverage because he’ll buy himself time before he decides to run, which puts even more stress on your secondary.”

If Vincent can’t play because of a hamstring injury, Vernon Fox will start his second consecutive game. Last week against Carolina, Fox faced the prototypical pocket passer in Jake Delhomme. This week he faces the other end of the spectrum.

“Obviously, you can’t compare the athletic ability of Michael Vick and Jake Delhomme,” Fox said. “We know if he gets into the open field, it becomes a different ballgame for us. We’ll have to come out of coverage and chase him down and that presents problems.

“Your first and foremost responsibility is to cover the pass so you don’t want to get distracted from that. We know he’s an extraordinary runner, but if you’re not covering, he can throw on the run.”

Only Vick and Tennessee’s Vince Young present an equal run-pass threat regardless of the down and distance. For nearly every team — including the Redskins — third-and-long means an automatic pass. With the Falcons, it usually starts with the thought of throwing. Until, however, Vick gets his wheels spinning.

“On third-and-13, against most quarterbacks, you’re getting ready to stop them and send out the punt team,” Vincent said. “But then he rushes for 15, 18, 20 yards.”

Said Gibbs: “When you get to a third-and-6, your chances of making it are somewhere around 30 percent, but with him, he adds another dimension. The problem is when he gets out there and makes the play with his feet — you don’t see that a lot. Those are the things you don’t count on in a normal offense.”

The Redskins acknowledge Vick will make one or two sensational plays during the course of a 65-snap game. The key is limiting those explosive plays.

“The first guy might not get him, and it might not even be the second guy,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “But the third and fourth guys have to keep working. We have to take a mentality that you’re never out of the play because we’ve seen guys come back into the screen and make the tackle.”

Note — Cornerbacks Shawn Springs (hamstring) and Kenny Wright (knee) did not practice and are probable for Sunday. Also probable are right tackle Jon Jansen (calf), fullback Mike Sellers (shoulder) and receiver David Patten (hamstring). Patten and Sellers practiced yesterday.

Vincent (hamstring) and linebacker Khary Campbell (hamstring) remain questionable. Cartwright (thigh bruise) did not practice but wasn’t listed on the injury report.

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