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Vick may be struggling, but Pittsburgh still wary



Published: Sat, October 21, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Atlanta's speedy quarterback is rated 28th in the NFL.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Maybe the Atlanta Falcons should bring back Dan Reeves as their offensive coordinator.

Who knows? That might be what Michael Vick needs to improve his pitiful passing numbers.

OK, so there's no chance of the Falcons sending out an SOS to their venerable ex-coach, now retired and doing the occasional radio gig. But Vick was clearly a more effective passer in his one full season with Reeves running the offense than he is now, six years into his NFL career.

It's a rather stunning turn of events, considering Reeves was often criticized for being too conservative in his play-calling.

"He could throw the deep ball as well as anybody I ever saw," said Reeves, who still lives in Atlanta. "He had a great ability to lay it up for the receiver. You always wanted to take some shots deep with him."

These days, Vick is running a West Coast-style system that relies on short passes and timed routes. Even though this is his third year in the offense, he appears to be regressing.

He goes into today's game against Pittsburgh with a 66.0 rating, 28th in the league behind such illustrious QBs as Cleveland's Charlie Frye, Buffalo's J.P. Losman and even Arizona's Kurt Warner, who already lost his starting job to rookie Matt Leinart.

Bad comparisons

Vick has completed barely half his passes (59-of-117) for 676 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Compare those puny numbers to the league's top-rated quarterback, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, who has thrown for 1,849 yards and 13 touchdowns with one fewer interception than Vick.

Better yet, look at what Vick did in 2002 when Reeves handed him the starting job.

First of all, the coach simplified the terminology and crafted a playbook focusing on plays the young quarterback had run at Virginia Tech, while incorporating others that seemed to fit his unique style. Reeves and his staff studied what the Steelers were doing at the time with Kordell Stewart.

It seemed to work. In his first year as a starter, Vick led the Falcons to the playoffs while throwing for 2,936 yards, 16 touchdowns and an efficiency rating of 83.8. All three remain the best figures of his career and, at the going rate, are in no jeopardy of being surpassed this season.

Of course, the Steelers (2-3) are still worried about containing this one-of-a-kind player. The Falcons have the best running attack in the NFL, largely because their quarterback is on pace to rush for more than 1,200 yards.

"That's going to be the key," linebacker James Farrior said. "You've got to keep that guy in the pocket. If he gets out of the pocket, he can do anything. He's got a rocket arm, quick feet. He's probably one of the fastest people in the league, so we're going to have our problems just trying to keep him in the pocket."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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