Patriots' defense preparing for two quarterbacks
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—New England Patriots defensive end Andre Carter took his time, reflected on the question and delved deep into a response typically served up when discussing how to defend Michael Vick.
"That Monday night game? How would I describe it?" he said Thursday. "It's like I'm playing Madden for the first time and I'm playing against a guy that's played Madden for 10 years. They already got their team and everything lined up, got their offense lined up and I don't know what the heck they're doing.
"And all I want to do is press the reset button and I can't. I've got to ride this thing out for four quarters. That's pretty much how embarrassing it was that game."
Vick completed his first 10 passes on that historic night, had the Eagles in front 35-0 after the first play of the second quarter and finished 20-of-28 for 333 yards with four touchdowns. He also added 80 yards and two scores on the ground as the Eagles handed the Redskins a demoralizing 59-28 loss.
It's a new year, though, and a new team for Carter. And this time, he may even be chasing down another starting quarterback.
Talk about a reset button.
With two broken ribs, Vick hasn't practiced this week -- including Thanksgiving Day when he told reporters coming out of the locker room that he's feeling "good" and is "getting better" -- and his status for Sunday's game against New England (7-3) is still uncertain.
Vince Young filled in admirably in Vick's absence last week, leading the Eagles (4-6) to a 17-10 win over the New York Giants, perhaps Philadelphia's most pivotal win this season, and one that kept their faint playoff hopes alive.
Whether it's Vick or Young lined up under center this week, the Patriots don't care. They're preparing for both.
"Don't know yet. We just know they're great quarterbacks, they're athletic," said Carter, who has nine of the Patriots 23 sacks this season. "So, whether it's Vick or Young, you just got to be on your Ps and Qs."
Quarterback uncertainty usually adds an unwanted wrinkle into a team's preparation for an upcoming game. The Patriots, however, boast the benefit of knowing whoever plays is going to be elusive, shifty and hard to tackle.
"Everybody knows Vick. Everybody knows Vince Young. Everybody knows what they're capable of doing," said defensive end Mark Anderson, who's collected seven sacks. "I've been playing against them a couple times in my career. Like I told our guys, you've got to just be conditioning and running to the ball, just doing a little bit extra, just kind of staying on that pace because those guys, they'll be able to run to the ball, they can make different moves on the run and you got to be able to counter-punch that."
Anderson has no preference on who he'll be trying to take down.
"It doesn't matter really," he said, "because they both got the same stuff."
That "stuff" is difficult to replicate in practice, something the Patriots have been trying to do this week with backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
Designed plays like bootlegs and roll outs where the quarterback is prepared to move around are easier to mirror. It's their improvisational skills that are challenging to mimic.
"Of course we can't simulate his speed and athleticism. I don't think anybody really can," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "but we can at least build an awareness of it and try to simulate it the best we can, but it's not quite the same."
Neither is Vick, though.
Before the injury, Vick wasn't nearly as lethal as last season, when he passed for 21 touchdowns and eclipsed 3,000 yards for the first time in his then eight-year career. He also ran for 676 yards and nine scores in guiding Philadelphia to the NFC East title.
Through his first nine games this season, Vick has 11 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions and no rushing scores.
Young, on the other hand, completed 23-of-36 passes last week for 258 yards with three interceptions and a pair of scores, including the game-winning touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with 2:45 to go.
Containing the quarterback and gang tackling has been a top priority for the Patriots this week.
"Everybody always asks me how do you approach that?" Carter said of limiting a rushing quarterback. "I think it's kind of like that gray area, you can't be too tentative, you can't be too aggressive.
"At the same time, you just got to play football. I think as long as you communicate with the guys next to you or communicate as a defense as a whole, then everything will be fine."
It wasn't fine last year for Carter and the Redskins, a night he called "frustrating" and "tough." If he had his druthers, though, Carter knows who he wants to be chasing down come Sunday.
"I think every week, and I can probably speak for everybody or everybody that plays this game, of course you want the best of the best," he said, inferring the notion of facing Vick. "Because that brings out the best in you."