Defensive investment paying off;New personnel, team maturity and rotation bringing more stops.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Over the offseason, the
Falcons spent lavishly on defensive
players.

They signed cornerback Dunta Robinson in free agency for $57.5
million. They drafted linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ($17.5 million)
and defensive tackle Corey Peters ($3.29 million) with their first
two picks. Combined, their contracts total $78.29 million.

Through five games, the team is receiving a nice return on
investment.

The new players, the development of third-year defensive end
Kroy Biermann and second-year safety William Moore and John
Abraham’s re-emergence has the defense playing at a much higher
level.

“Collectively, it’s been a good thing right now, but we are
looking for consistency,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder
said. “We still have a lot of room to get a lot better.”

Last season, the defense finished ranked 21st in the NFL (348.9
yards per game), finishing 10th (106.8 yards) against the run and
28th (242.1 yards) against the pass.

So far in 2010, they have improved across the board in all key
statistical areas. They are 10th in the league (310 yards per
game), eighth (86.6 yards) against the run and 19th (223.4 yards)
against the pass.

“We’ve got a lot of young players that are a year older,”
VanGorder said. “They are approaching the game in a more mature
way. They have been more productive.”

Other than two shocking runs of 50 and 80 yards, the defense has
been solid and at times spectacular. Over the past two games they
have not allowed their opponent a play of 20 yards or more.

In 2009, the defense and the leaky secondary were routinely
shredded for big plays. The opponents had 54 pass plays and seven
rushes of 20 yards or more in 2009.

This season, there have been seven explosive pass plays and two
big runs.

Most of the players point to the improved play of the defensive
line and the eight-player rotation that the
Falcons use. They attempt to wear
down offensive linemen and then hope their linemen are fresher at
the end of games.

So it was no surprise to them that Biermann’s incredible
interception happened late in the game against Cleveland or that
Abraham’s fourth-quarter pressure of Jake Delhomme caused a
fourth-quarter interception by linebacker Stephen Nicholas to
secure the victory.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how well it was going to go,” defensive
lineman Jamaal Anderson said. “I thought our guys might not have
had all of the juices flowing when they got in there because of the
rotation, but it seems to be working to our benefit by keeping the
guys fresh for the fourth quarter when we are making plays. It’s
all about making plays in the fourth quarter.”

Abraham had two sacks against Cleveland and has four on the
season.

“Abe performed lights out last week,” Anderson said. “I really
believe it’s because we kept him fresh.”

The secondary is providing much better coverage with the
addition of Robinson and with Moore, a second-round pick in 2009,
taking over at strong safety for Erik Coleman. The
Falcons lead the league in
interceptions with 10, from nine different players.

“They’ve done a fantastic job of buying into what we’ve been
trying to give them,” first-year secondary coach Tim Lewis said.
“The biggest key really is that while we’ve not been in perfect
position all of the time, they are trying to reach perfection.”

Next for
Falcons

Who: at Eagles

When: 1 p.m. today

TV; radio: Fox; 92.9