9-20-02, 9 a.m.
9-20-02, 3:10 p.m. Updated:
9-22-02, 1:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ATLANTA _ Gus Frerotte had never done anything like it before in his eight previous NFL seasons and three teams.
But after he made the key mistake in last Sunday's 20-7 loss to the Browns when he threw an interception left-handed, he tried to right things by calling a team meeting early last week.
"If I'm going to be the guy that's out there and I'm the guy they're going to follow," Frerotte said, "then I felt I should step up and tell them I screwed up, that I'm going to bust my butt, and I'm going to do everything I can to get better."
Frerotte emerged pleased with the meeting because some of the other veterans spoke after he did and he felt the Bengals responded with a good week of practice. He wouldn't be specific about who else spoke, but after watching other teams, he has been on finger-point themselves to death, he put his cards on the table.
"It's better to talk about it instead of trying to hold it back," Frerotte said. "It's not good to point fingers. Things
happen in games. It's not anybody else, but us in this room who can turn it around, so we have to go out, study hard, and do things that need to get done.
"I think the guys liked it, and it opened up some doors for the other guys that are normally quiet to step up and say something."
Frerotte, 31 is supposed to be one of the quiet guys. But this is the first time he has been a regular starting quarterback while also being one of the oldest players on his team. Given that, and the enormity of his interception, Frerotte thought it was a good time to do it.
"I think guys look at me differently now," Frerotte said. "Sometimes it's good to get things off your chest in front of all the players and not say it to just one or two. You have a different mix of backgrounds and different personalities. What you do Monday through Saturday doesn't matter. But on Sunday you have to play as a team and be there for each other."
SPIES LIKE BENGALS: Strong safety JoJuan Armour is the man who usually gets the battlefield promotion to "spy," when the Bengals play a dangerous quarterback like the man they see Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
But the Falcons' Michael Vick is so special that the Bengals will probably try a variety of ways with a variety of defenders depending on the situation to cover Atlanta's leading rusher.
At times last week, the Bears shadowed Vick with Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher, and he still got 5.6 yards per bolt.
"I liken it to the days back when I played Barry Sanders," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "You have to take your shots at him because he can embarrass you. You can't just assume if he's releasing, you can turn and run the other way because he's just so quick."
Quick? How quick?
"If I raced him, he'd kill me," said defensive end Justin Smith, whose 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash is good
enough to beat most NFL quarterbacks in a foot race. "I think it would be close with (Donovan) McNabb, but this guy would kill me. I don't think many players in the league could beat him."
Certainly no one on his own team is faster than Vick's 4.3 40s. Third-string quarterback Akili Smith, who probably gave the Bengals the NFL's best scout Vick in the league this week, couldn't simulate the real speed.
"I moved out of the pocket, tried tucking and running, and throwing some on the run," Smith said. "Just trying to give our defense an idea of what they're going to see. He's faster than me, but he may be the fastest guy in the league."
Armour, who helped hold McNabb to 20 yards on three carries in the 2000 season finale against the Eagles, knows Vick is even in a different league than that. He can't get one play on tape out of his mind.
"You've got to watch his fakes. Against Green Bay, it looked like the cornerback had him going into sideline," Armour said. "But the corner gave him the inside, he fell over, and he was off up the inside. It was bad. It shows you how dangerous he is because he can make a long run at anytime."
Complicating matters is the potential emergence of another running threat in 254-pound rookie running back T.J. Duckett. Duckett hurt the Bengals in the pre-season finale and the populace is clamoring for him to play after racking up a 6.4-yard average on his first 11 carries.
"But you have to start with Vick," Armour said. "He's the guy who has the ball at the beginning of every play."
Vick has paid a price for his 72 yards on nine carries against Green Bay and the 56 yards on 10 carries against the Bears last week. He has been talking this week about sliding more and not taking all the hits. Earlier this week, Vick ripped a Bears assistant coach for telling his players to take out Vick's knees.
But Gibson doesn't think that will affect Vick's mindset Sunday night.
"He's one of these guys who is always going to rise to the occasion no matter the situation," Gibson said. "He's going to run, run, run just like all these new quarterbacks for a couple of years like (Mark) Brunell."
But Gibson and the Bengals know Vick is young (the first NFL player born in the '80s) and he's still in fine fettle when it comes to the run. It will take safeties, middle linebackers, outside linebackers to contain him.
Right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes, who could end up on him as much as middle linebacker Brian Simmons, or Armour, or free safety Cory Hall, has been preaching the gospel this week.
"Whatever you do," Spikes said, "you can't get out of your rush lanes. You have to stay disciplined. If you think you can make a play by moving three yards to the left, don't do it. You have to stay at home. He can dip and move back into the gaps."
Spikes didn't play in the pre-season finale, when Vick had four yards on one carry during a half of play. But he knows what he's facing.
"Just look at the tape," Spikes said. "You know he's special."
MATCHUPS:It's just not Vick vs. the Bengals. The corps ofBengals WRs T.J. Houshmandazadeh, Peter Warrick, Chad Johnson, and Michael Westbrook* hve to win the one-one-one battles vs. Atlanta's trio of cornerbacks that don't have Ray Buchanan but still play a lot of man coverage with *Falcons CBs Juran Bolden, Ashley Ambrose, Fred Weary.*
Bengals Ts Richmond Webb and Willie Anderson may take advantage of their size matchup against Falcons DEs Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith in the running game. Anderson must fend off Kerney's dozen sacks from last season. TE Sean Brewer looks for his first career catch against a journeyman combo of Falcons SS Gerald McBurrows and Falcons FS Keion Carpenter.
Bengals C Rich Braham and Gs Matt O'Dwyer and Mike Goff have to make sure they get a hat on Falcons ILB Keith Brooking. Atlanta is having an internal struggle at running back in their matchup of Falcons RB Warrick Dunn vs. Falcons RB T.J. Duckett. Bengals RB Corey Dillon continues his quest indoors vs. the Georgia Dome. Bengals LOLB Adrian Ross vs. Falcons TE Alge Crumpler.
HOUSH ET. AL VS. FALCONS CORNERS: If the Bengals' passing game didn't break down last Sunday in Cleveland because of protection or quarterback Gus Frerotte's inability to find the open man, it was the receivers' failure to beat their men. The combined halftime deficits in the first two weeks of 37-0 have dictated defenses being able to sag back in zones.
But the Falcons' 3-4 defense relies on speed and one-on-one play on the outside that is going to force the wideouts to win the one-on-ones. The Atlanta corners spend a huge amount of time (25 minutes) during practice with just on one-on-one drills.
But they don't have Buchanan, in the middle of a four-game suspension. Old friend Ambrose, the last Bengals' defender to go to the Pro Bowl with eight interceptions in 1996, is having a solid career after refusing to return to Cincinnati. He's one of nine defensive backs to have at least 20 interceptions since 1997. Bolden is a tough, physical guy who bounced around the CFL for 40 games before coming to the NFL. The knock on him is that he doesn't always know where the ball is when it's in the air.
WEBB, ANDERSON VS. KERNEY, SMITH: The Falcons love speed, but they are worried about their size up front. The 340-pound Anderson is matched against the 270-pound Kerney and the 330-pound Webb lines up against the 275-pound Smith. Even the center on their offensive line isn't very big in 285-pound Todd McClure. Yet the Bears had trouble running on them on just 3.4 yards per carry last week against a defensive front anchored by the relatively light 293-pound Ed Jasper. **
BREWER VS. McBURROWS, CARPENTER:** The word is the Falcons have trouble covering in the middle of the field, which is where the Bears scored their winning touchdown last week on a third-and-eight play. The Bengals still don't have a catch from their tight ends this season.
BRAHAM, O'DWYER, GOFF VS. BROOKING: The Falcons scheme to funnel the plays to Brooking in the middle. They do that by hoping their three linemen keep blockers off Brooking so he can pursue the play to the middle. Brooking, taken a spot ahead of Takeo Spikes at No. 12 in the 1998 draft, already has 36 tackles this season. Spikes had half that in the opener. **
DUNN VS. DUCKETT:** The 5-9, 180-pound Dunn is quick and a pass-catching threat, but Falcons coach Dan Reeves got grilled last week for forgetting about the 254-pound Duckett in the second half. Duckett had five carries for 32 yards in the first half and then didn't carry again. The Bengals had trouble catching up with his speed and size last month in the preseason-finale.
DILLON VS. GEORGIA DOME: After six games inside in which he failed to get 100 yards, Dillon broke out with the Bengals' longest run from scrimmage ever in the last Dome game, a 31-27 win at Detroit last year. He broke the 96-yarder on the first play of the game and finished with 184 yards on 27 carries. **
ROSS VS. CRUMPLER:** Crumpler has five catches for a touchdown already this season and could be their most dangerous receiver on a team in which the well-traveled Willie Jackson (a Bengal in '98 and '99) is the go-to guy, although Jackson is a solid player who never got his due here.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for Sunday night's game, starting with 118, 121, and 128. The first is the number of rushing yards running back Corey Dillon has this season and the second is the number he needs to pass James Brooks as the Bengals all-time rusher. The third is the number of rushing yards by Falcons quarterback Michael Vick this season.
118 _ Corey Dillon's rushing yards this season.
121 _ Yards Dillon needs to become Bengals' all-time rusher.
128 _ Rushing yards by Falcons quarterback Michael Vick this season.
3-19 _ Bengals' road record in September since 1991.
0-6 _ Bengals' road record in September since last prime-time appearance on Sept. 27, 1998.
3-3 _ Bengals' record in Dome September games since 1991.
2-6 _ Bengals' record in Sunday night games since first one in Atlanta in 1990.
13 _ Bengals on the active roster who played in last prime-time game.
5 _ Bengals on the active roster who played in Dillon's 246-yard ESPN game in 1997.
.777 _ Bengals' winning percentage against the Falcons, best against any team.
12-25 _ Bengals' record at night.
7-7 _ Bengals' record in last 14 Dome games.
23 _ Points Bengals head coach Dick Lebeau says his team will average rest of season.
21 _ Points Bengals have averaged in last 14 Dome games.
18 _ Points Bengals have averaged Sunday night.
5-0 _ Falcons coach Dan Reeves home record vs. Bengals.
109-56 _ Reeves' career home record.