On the Steelers: It's time to pick on Vick

Philadelphia quarterback has been grounded in some ways by his own offense, but he has mesmerized the Steelers defense in previous meetings


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Steve McLendon knows how to bring down Michael Vick. The Steelers nose tackle sacked him with one hand in the preseason, and he's not surprised that the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has been sacked 11 times and committed nine turnovers.

"People have learned how to rush him," said McLendon, a preseason star who is splitting time with starting nose tackle Casey Hampton. "Vick's trying to stay in the pocket, he's trying to be the quarterback he's not. That's the thing, he's trying to be the quarterback he's not, and I hope he keeps being that quarterback.

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"We want him to sit in the pocket. As long as he's sitting in the pocket, we have a good chance to get to him and hit him. If we can hit him, get him frustrated a couple of times, we're going to be successful."

Vick and the Eagles come to Heinz Field for a 1 p.m. game Sunday against the Steelers, who are 1-2 and had last weekend off.

Despite Vick's struggles with sacks and turnovers and sometimes a lack of confidence in Philadelphia, he has the Eagles at 3-1 after their 19-17 victory against the rival New York Giants. He did not turn the ball over, completing 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards and no touchdowns.

McLendon said the Giants did not take advantage of what they do best and of what Vick has been allowing defenses to do to him this season.

"Just to see how the Giants play everyone else, when it comes to the Eagles they don't play them the same," McLendon said. "I feel like they play a little off of them; they should have been more aggressive."

Vick has thrown only four touchdown passes while tossing six interceptions. He has a poor passer rating of 72.7. A quarterback who rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, he also is running less often with 130 yards on 27 carries.

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But he remains dangerous, and the Steelers are all too aware of that, at least the few Steelers that have played against him. Other than in the preseason, the Steelers have played Vick twice, both times when he was with the Atlanta Falcons. In '02 at Heinz Field, he led the Falcons to a fourth-quarter comeback to tie the score, 34-34, and it ended that way. In '06, he led them into overtime again, only this time Atlanta prevailed, 41-38.

Vick was dazzling on both occasions.

Like McLendon, however, linebacker LaMarr Woodley believes Vick is vulnerable in the pocket.

"We had nice pressure on him in the preseason, so I feel we can get pressure now in the regular season,'' Woodley said.

Pressure is one thing, bringing him down is another. Here is the advice from McLendon on how to do so:

"Get your hands on him and don't let go. Once you get your hands on him, stay strong and stay tight on him. That's the biggest thing, to get your hands on him because it's going to be hard to get your body on him because he's so elusive."

Tomlin knows Vick

Coach Mike Tomlin, unaware of what his two defensive players said about Vick, might disagree with them. Tomlin joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as secondary coach when Vick came into the league in '01. When the NFL realigned in '02 and put the Falcons and Buccaneers in the same division, Tomlin's secondary had to face Vick twice a season.

"He has a skill set that is unique," Tomlin said. "I think it starts there. He's extremely quick and fast. He can get out of tough spots. He's got a quick release. He's also got a strong arm. The full field remains an option to him. He can work down field later in the down.

"He's just got an awesome skill set that lends itself to a well-rounded game -- one that you need to account for from a defensive perspective. All 11 men on the field have to be cognizant of what he is capable of. He has that level of skill."

Some defenses put a "spy" on Vick, one player assigned to follow him wherever he goes. That's an option, Tomlin said.

"I've been facing Mike since he came into the league with the Falcons, and that's always one of the many ways that you address him," Tomlin said.

Key players could return

The Steelers should have something at Heinz Field Sunday that hasn't been seen since New Year's Day: James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall in uniform at the same time.

Tomlin said he is optimistic that all three will play against the Eagles.

"Based on what I'm looking at in terms of how they worked and how we worked yesterday, I think that's a safe assessment," Tomlin said Tuesday. "But, again, we'll watch these guys as we proceed throughout the week. All the guys have performed well and have been able to get through practice. We're optimistic that they're going to be full participants."

Harrison hasn't played this season. He had surgery on his left knee Aug. 15. Polamalu missed the past two games with a calf strain.

Mendenhall hasn't played since a knee ligament was torn Jan. 1 in the '11 regular-season finale at Cleveland. He still must undergo a strength test on his knee, but the Steelers expect him to pass easily. His coaches were impressed when the team practiced on artificial turf indoors last Wednesday, and his knee responded strongly.

Mendenhall could provide a boost to a running game that ranks 31st in the 32-team NFL, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.

"He's a first-round pedigree guy," Tomlin said. "He's a multiple 1,000-yard guy. He's our lead dog, if you will. Obviously, he's capable of helping."

While the defense ranks sixth overall in fewest yards per game allowed in the NFL without Harrison for three games and Polamalu for two, there has been a noticeable lack of big plays. The defense has one interception, one fumble recovery and five sacks.

Gilbert to practice

The only other injury of note, Tomlin said, is tackle Marcus Gilbert's strained groin. He did not practice Monday, but Tomlin expects him to go today.

Steelers

First Published October 3, 2012 4:00 AM


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