NFC: Offensive keys in the playoffs

If defense wins championships, here is what NFC defenses ought to be studying as the playoffs get under way.

Updated: January 9, 2005, 9:48 PM ET
By Eric Allen | ESPN Insider
If defense wins championships, here is what NFC defenses ought to be studying as the playoffs get under way:

Key To The Offense: The key is Michael Vick. He's one of the most dangerous players in football and a guy who can beat teams with his legs or his arm. He has the potential to throw for 250 yards in a game, while rushing for 100 yards – and he has the ability to make the clutch play. Needless to say, it's hard to defend this guy. The Falcons have to be smart about the way they use him, because it's important to keep him in a rhythm. They should occasionally run him outside with the sole purpose of running, but they also should fake those runs to get their receivers open downfield.

Vick proved he could take over a playoff game two seasons ago when he led the Falcons to an upset victory over the Packers in Lambeau Field. Now it's time to see how far he can lead this team.

Key To Defending It: Vick is the man for this team, and there isn't one defense that can be continually called to stop him. Teams have to try to repeatedly pressure him and change up the schemes. There will be times when you have to force him out of the pocket and get a shot at him. There will also be times when a team will want to keep him in the pocket and turn him into a "West Coast" quarterback. To beat the Falcons and not worry late in the game, a team has to be leading in the fourth quarter so that Vick can only beat them with his arm.

Also, the right defensive end has to push the pocket and get upfield to force Vick to the right where he is more prone to run instead of throwing downfield. When a player gets near him, they should get their hands in the air because he's not a big guy. I'd also focus on stopping TE Alge Crumpler with double coverage. I'd use a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top to take away Vick's bread and butter.

Eric Allen

NFL studio analyst
Eric Allen, a 14-year NFL veteran and was one of the NFL's premier defensive backs, joined ESPN in August 2002 as an NFL studio analyst. His primary role is providing analysis for ESPNEWS' Monday Quarterback.