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