How do you stop Michael Vick? That is the question of the week as the Buffalo Bills prepare to face the Atlanta Falcons quarterback Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The answer is you don't. Vick's dazzling running skills and powerful left arm make him a double threat every time he touches the ball. Instead, you simply hope to contain him and not let him get outside the tackles. If he should break free, force him to move laterally so the pursuit has time to track him down.
The plan sounds simple, but making it work can be as easy as eating soup with a fork.
"Michael Vick is a phenomenal football player," said Bills free safety Troy Vincent. "He creates so many problems for a defense. The day you start implementing your defensive game plan, he's the point of emphasis. He makes them go. They have other offensive weapons, but the mainstay is No. 7."
The Bills might not see Vick at full strength Sunday, if at all. He suffered a strained left hamstring after a 32-yard scramble late in the Falcons' 21-18 loss at Seattle. The Falcons are keeping Vick's status a secret. He didn't practice Wednesday and his availability for Sunday might be a mystery until game day.
Falcons coach Jim Mora is hopeful Vick will be ready, although backup Matt Schaub, a less mobile pocket passer, will get more work this week, just in case.
As for the Bills, they're assuming that Vick will play.
"You have to be aware of (Schaub playing)," Bills outside linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "But at the same time, knowing Michael Vick, he's a great competitor. You have to look at them as a 1-1 football team coming in on another away game. Who wants to be 1-2? So if Michael Vick is 60 percent or 70 percent he's going to do whatever it takes to get on the football field."
When healthy, Vick is the game's ultimate playmaker. There are a lot of good running quarterbacks, but what sets Vick apart is his great speed and elusiveness.
Once he finds a crease and gets into the open field, you'd better be in position to make the tackle or he's gone.
"He's the fastest guy in the NFL," said Bills middle linebacker London Fletcher, who faced Vick while playing in St. Louis in 2001. "When he has that ball in his hands he's a threat all the time because of his ability to outrun everybody. You have to get as many guys as you can around the football because you don't want to have too many situations where you've got one guy trying to tackle him in the open field because he can make you look real bad."
The Bills did not have anyone pose as Vick during Wednesday's practice. Why bother, says coach Mike Mularkey, because there is no way to simulate Vick's speed.
"We considered it, but I don't know if we could ever get the real picture," Mularkey said. "It would be unrealistic."
The Bills have looked at game tapes of how defenses have attacked Vick. Some pressured him with blitzes. Others assigned a defender - a spy, if you will - to shadow Vick's every move.
Tampa Bay's speedy defense has had the most success, holding Vick to a 47.4 completion percentage while sacking him 14 times and intercepting four passes in five games. Philadelphia and Carolina also have done a good job bottling him up. Seattle held Vick in check Sunday before he led a second-half rally that ended when he got hurt.
While the Bills will draw from what other defenses have done, they intend to stay true to their defensive philosophy.
"You've got to stay with what you do," said Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "We're not going to change for anyone, but you've got to figure out why they were successful, and then you use that according to your defensive plan. I don't think you can copy what Tampa Bay does. You've got to go out there and do what you're going to do."
What the Bills like to do is bring multiple blitzes, particularly on passing downs. Blitzing Vick can be a risky proposition, especially if he finds an escape route out of the pocket. But that won't stop Gray from bringing plenty of heat when the situation calls for it.
"We're not going to play timid," he said. "But you've got to make sure you're in the right spot when you're rushing and you've got to make sure your blitzes are sound because if your blitzes are not sound he will find the gaps. You've got to have great (pursuit) angles. You've got to be patient and be conscious of your assignments. You've got to understand that he's going to get his runs. Just make sure he gets the runs that don't hurt you."
Gray wants to make Vick a passer first and keep him in the pocket, where he's more susceptible to the pass rush.
Despite his running ability, Vick has been one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL. He went down 46 times last season, nine more than Drew Bledsoe in his final year in Buffalo.
"You get around him enough he's going to get a little rattled and he may cough up the ball or make some mistakes judgment-wise, too," said Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. "We've got to hone in on our own techniques and responsibilities, make him throw the ball and when they do throw the ball make him throw it in a hurry."