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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There won’t be any starter’s pistols, relay batons or stopwatches in the Baltimore Ravens’ inventory today at M&T Bank Stadium.
That won’t discount the need for speedy reactions, though, from the Ravens’ defense as they attempt to prevent multi-dimensional Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick from transforming a football game into a track meet.
For Baltimore (7-2) to put more distance between its competition in the AFC North and pad its three-game lead, it will need to corral Vick to send the Falcons (5-4) to their third consecutive defeat.
“We’re going to need our track shoes and a couple of rockets to chase him down,” outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. “I think we can take him down.”
Vick has already rushed for 650 yards, more than Jamal Lewis despite the Ravens’ running back having nearly twice as many attempts than the quarterback.  Although Vick fumbled twice without being hit in consecutive losses to Detroit and Cleveland as he uncorked a total of four interceptions, his agility, arm strength and imagination remain a constant threat.
“You’ve got to do something,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “You can either assign a guy to him or whatever you can, but you better have more than one guy assigned to him at any given time because he’s going to make some phenomenal plays outside the structure of the offense.”
Vick’s game-changing improvisational ability prompts any opponent to alter its routine, particularly a defense that will be without seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis due to a severely bruised back that required a minor surgical procedure earlier this week to drain a pool of blood.
Without Lewis for the second consecutive week, the Ravens will insert 6-foot-3, 270-pound converted defensive end-linebacker Jarret Johnson inside. Bart Scott will move over a few steps to occupy Lewis’ spot in the middle.
The Ravens allowed 162 rushing yards during last week’s 27-26 victory over the Tennessee Titans without Lewis in the lineup for the first time this season.
“The offense has a newfound confidence that they didn’t have before the game when they don’t see him in the middle,” rush end Terrell Suggs said. “They are ready to go then. It would be good if we could have him in there, but if not, we still have to play like we’re trying to get to the championship.”
However, making that adjustment hinges heavily on containing Vick.
Vick has rushed for 74 and 80 yards over the past few weeks as the headliner of the Falcons’ top-ranked rushing attack that’s on pace to break the league record for rushing yards in a single season. Plus, the Falcons have elusive, diminutive runner Warrick Dunn, a scrappy 5-foot-9, 180-pounder who complements Vick adeptly with 761 rushing yards.
Last week, the Ravens got a little practice against a mobile quarterback as they allowed 39 rushing yards and a touchdown to Titans rookie Vince Young.  However, Young is much bigger and stronger at 6-4, 233 pounds than Vick, whose sudden change of direction is unique in the NFL.
“The two are like comparing apples and oranges,” Scott said. “Vince Young is going to be a good player in this league. He’s a long, tall, high-strider. Vick is more elusive, quicker, more irk-and-jerk, and that’s totally different.”
Vick has had an uneven season while solidifying his status as an improved, albeit imperfect pocket passer. He has completed 129 of 246 passes for 1,559 yards and 12 touchdowns, but has also tossed nine interceptions.
“Michael Vick, his name speaks for itself,” Suggs said. “The guy can make a play when there isn’t one and the guy can explode for a big one.
"When you have a fast quarterback and an elusive running back, you can pretty much do unlimited things as an offense. We’ve really got our hands full, but if he’s in the pocket, I have a feeling we’ll be comfortable with it.”
Vick’s ability to buy time for his receivers to get open could be a major key as he tries to exploit struggling cornerback Samari Rolle.
Besides tall, fast receivers Michael Jenkins, Ashley Lelie and Roddy White, Vick’s favorite target is deceptively quick tight end Alge Crumpler.
“It makes for a long day on the back end if he gets out of the pocket because receivers then have an opportunity to readjust their routes,” cornerback Chris McAlister said. “You just have to do a good job of plastering up on the back end.”
Three years ago in a preseason game at the Georgia Dome, Thomas slammed into Vick and broke the quarterback’s right fibula. Ever since that point, Vick has been up and down statistically. 
The Ravens are hoping to exploit his penchant for the critical miscue. Baltimore leads the NFL with 26 takeaways and Thomas is a likely candidate to shadow Vick as a roving spy today to try to counteract his ability to break containment.
With the second-ranked run defense in the league matched against the best running attack in the NFL, it’s likely to be an intense, high-octane matchup.  If it turns into a contest where Baltimore’s defense is watching the back of Vick’s jersey as he dashes upfield, it’s going to an even more difficult challenge to win.
“Hopefully, we won’t have to do much of that,” Scott said. “Hopefully, he’ll stay in the pocket and we can stir the pocket up for him and contain him. It’s going to be a tough task and we’re prepared for both.
“In some games, he stays in the pocket and passes. He can scramble a lot and is very elusive. He’s definitely one of the better talents in this league.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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