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Panthers wary of Falcons' cut blocks in Week 1

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina's defense has its hands full
against Atlanta simply trying to contain quarterback Michael Vick
and its running game.

Throw in the Falcons' tendency to cut block on offense, and the
Panthers know Sunday's season opener could get dangerous.

Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker both suffered
sprained ankles last year against Atlanta when Falcons players
legally tackled them below the knees. Although Peppers was able to
play the next week, Rucker was sidelined for one game with the
injury.

Previous experience with the cut blocks, coupled with watching
Atlanta continue the practice through the preseason, has the
Panthers on high alert.

"That's them, that's their scheme and that's what works for
them," Rucker said Tuesday. "Done right in certain situations, it
works and is effective for them. Otherwise people wouldn't do it."

If the Panthers had their way, the practice wouldn't be allowed
at all.

The technique is legal under NFL rules as long as the defensive
player isn't engaged with another blocker, but the Falcons are one
of few teams who have been openly criticized for it. The blocking
was refined by Alex Gibbs when he was the offensive line coach with
Denver Broncos in the 1990s, and he brought it with him to Atlanta,
where he's currently a consultant.

"Alex Gibbs, he is the guy who has created that game, so they
are going to take the rules and take them right up to that limit,"
said Carolina linebacker Chris Draft, who spent five seasons with
Atlanta. "By doing that, they are trying to get you to worry about
that so much that you forget about the running back.

"When your ankle is hurt because they just chopped you, that
could happen. If you worry about the linemen, then you forget about
the ball carrier."

Carolina defensive end Al Wallace, who last year compared cut
blocking to being able to shoot a competitor's tires out during a
NASCAR race, wished the NFL had outlawed the technique during the
offseason. But for a rule to be changed, it must go through the
league's competition committee.

"Our legs are our livelihood, so to allow someone to take a
free swipe at your legs?" Wallace wondered. "I know they have a
lot of things in place, like not being able to hit a defenseless
quarterback. But you are playing football, and you have your hands
on one guy and another guy is chopping you? That's kind of difficult
-- having a 300-pound guy diving at your knees."

The Panthers will spend time this week practicing defense
mechanisms for the cut blocking technique, but they want it pushed
to the back of their minds before kickoff on Sunday. Draft
cautioned that worrying too much about it is a partial victory for
the Falcons, and could distract the defense from its task of
slowing Vick and running back Warrick Dunn.

"We just have to be more conscious of it, but it won't slow me
down," Rucker said. "I won't be thinking of it, because we have
played them before, we have played Denver before. It's not
something that is new, it's just something that was new to a team
in the last few years.

"It is what it is and we'll just roll with the dice."