Atlanta (5-2) at Detroit (1-6)

Cloudy Currently: Detroit, MI
Temp: 64° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EST Sun Nov 5, 2006
  • TV: FOX
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Falcons coach Jim Mora is not certain why Michael Vick has become more of a pocket-passing quarterback over the past two games. Getting better protection definitely helps.

Vick looks to continue to change his identity as a quarterback when the Falcons play the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.

“I don’t know if Mike has changed at all. I really don’t,” Mora said. “I have always said this guy is tremendous and can do great things with the ball, whether it be running or throwing, on the move or in the pocket. What has happened the last two weeks is he has had time in the pocket and his receivers have gotten open and caught the ball.”

Vick should have more opportunities this week to move away from his scrambling ways.

The Lions have only 13 sacks, tied for 26th in the NFL, and their average of 237.6 passing yards allowed per game is fourth-most in the league.

“I feel I just need the opportunity to throw the ball,” Vick said. “Just give me the chance to do it. I’ve felt like all along, this is what I could do.”

Vick had not thrown for more than two touchdowns in any of his 63 games with Atlanta (5-2) before doing so in each of the past two weeks. He threw four touchdown passes in a 41-38 overtime win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 22, and had three more in last week’s 29-27 victory at Cincinnati.

Vick has totaled 523 passing yards in this two-game stretch—he had only 676 through the season’s first five games—by completing 38 of 58 attempts while getting sacked only three times. His transformation began after being sacked a career-high seven times in an Oct. 15 loss to the Giants.

“He’s leading like a champion,” said tight end Alge Crumpler, who has four TD catches in the last two games. “He never points fingers at anybody in this locker room and is constantly encouraging everybody.”

Vick still ran the ball nine times for 55 yards against Cincinnati, one week after setting season lows in rushing yards (40) and carries (five).

“He’s just getting comfortable,” Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “He’s coming into his own.”

Having two inexperienced guards on the offensive line clearly has not bothered Vick. P.J. Alexander, signed on Oct. 18 after being cut by Denver during the preseason, started for the first time in his career at left guard last week. Right guard Tyson Clabo had made his first start two weeks ago.

Clabo has filled in while Matt Lehr has been serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s steroids policy, and Alexander stepped in after Kynan Forney aggravated a shoulder injury against Pittsburgh. Forney is questionable for this week’s game.

“I tell you what,” Mora said, “the guards have done a nice job the last couple of weeks.”

With Vick looking to pass first and run second, the Falcons’ record-setting rushing pace has slowed. They had run for at least 200 yards in four of their first five games, but have finished with fewer than 175 in each of the last two.

Atlanta’s 210.9 rushing yards per game and 5.7 per carry still lead the NFL. The last team to rush for at least 200 yards per game in a season was the 1977 Chicago Bears.

Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, though, has been held to 126 yards over the past two games as he’s averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. He’s surpassed 100 yards once in the last five games after rushing for more than 130 in each of Atlanta’s first two.

The Falcons had 256 rushing yards, including 116 by Dunn and 57 from Vick, in a 27-7 win over Detroit in last year’s meeting. Vick also threw two touchdown passes to Crumpler.

Vick now faces a Detroit defense which could be getting some reinforcements. The Lions might have as many as three starting defenders—safety Kenoy Kennedy and linebackers Alex Lewis and Teddy Lehman—returning from injuries following the team’s bye week.

The Lions, however, could be missing both starting defensive tackles. Shaun Rogers is still serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s rule on banned substances, and Shaun Cody could miss a second straight game due to a dislocated toe.

Without Rogers and Cody, Detroit allowed a season-high 221 rushing yards in a 31-24 road loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 22.

“It’s disappointing, in terms of our defense,” coach Rod Marinelli said. “In this league, if you can’t stop the run, you’re not going to win.”

Jon Kitna, who threw for a season-high three TDs against the Jets, expects to get offensive linemen Rex Tucker (knee) and Ross Verba (hamstring) back in the lineup but he won’t have receiver Az-Zahir Hakim as an option. Hakim, who caught 17 passes for 147 yards in six games since he was signed on Sept. 12, was waived Monday by the Lions for the second time in 18 months.

“It was a football move,” Marinelli said. “I’m not going to elaborate on that.”

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Week 4