Falcons helping out offense by getting defensive
In Thomas DeCoud’s locker is a shiny gold belt, akin to
something a heavyweight boxing champion might wear. The Atlanta
Falcons pass it around each week to the defensive back who does the
best job in a series of ball-catching drills.
From the next locker, Dunta Robinson eyes the gaudy prize.
”Thomas gets to brag for a week,” the cornerback said. ”Next
Tuesday, it won’t be in his locker. I haven’t won it yet, but
that’s soon to come.”
Even though it’s all in good fun, the belt does symbolize what
the Atlanta defense hopes to become.
Usually one of the league’s lowest-ranked units, the Falcons
have spent the past couple of years trying to upgrade their speed
and athleticism. Those efforts are clearly paying off.
Atlanta (3-1) has allowed just 15 points a game, which ranks
sixth in the NFL. The Falcons haven’t finished that low since their
1998 Super Bowl team gave up the fourth fewest.
They also have taken a huge chunk off their passing yards, which
was just what they had in mind landing Robinson as their major
free-agent acquisition of the offseason. He’s holding down one side
of the field, while 5-foot-9 Brent Grimes, who went undrafted out
of Division II and spent time in NFL Europa, has shown he belongs
in the big time at the other corner.
”We’ve got the right group of guys,” first-round pick Sean
Weatherspoon said. ”You can just feel it. Nobody resents anyone on
this defense. Even me, being a rookie, when I say, `Come on, guys,
let’s go,’ no one looks at me and says, `Hush up, rookie.’ You
definitely can sense that we mesh well together.”
Indeed, the Falcons have an intriguing mix on defense.
Linebacker Mike Peterson and end John Abraham have each been around
more than a decade. Players such as Robinson, safety Erik Coleman
and tackle Jonathan Babineux are right in their primes. The last
two drafts have produced Weatherspoon and 2009 top pick Peria
Jerry, who starts at tackle.
But the guys to really keep an eye on are in their third years:
Grimes, DeCoud at safety, end Kroy Biermann and middle linebacker
Curtis Lofton, who has quickly established himself as the leader of
the defense even though others have been around much longer.
”When guys are hitting that third and fourth year, that’s when
they start to become the players they’re supposed to be,” tight
end Tony Gonzalez said. ”If you can’t figure it out by year three
or four, more than likely you’re not going to figure it out. These
guys are starting to figure it out. They realize how good they can
Granted, the Falcons have benefited the first quarter of the
season by playing offensively challenged teams such as Arizona and
San Francisco. They also caught a break in Week 1 against the
Pittsburgh Steelers, who didn’t have suspended quarterback Ben
But considering where Atlanta has been mired much of its
history, no one’s quibbling about the improvement shown so far.
Over the past decade, the Falcons have never finished higher
than 14th in yards allowed, and they’ve generally placed in the
bottom third of the league rankings. Last year, Atlanta was 21st in
total defense, largely because only four teams gave up more yards
through the air.
That’s why the Falcons gave Robinson, one of the league’s better
lockdown cornerbacks, a six-year contract that included about $22.5
million in guaranteed money. Robinson has yet to make an
interception, which isn’t surprising – teams rarely throw his
But everyone else has gotten chances. Second-year safety William
Moore leads the teams with two interceptions. Grimes and DeCoud
each have one, as do Lofton and Peterson. Overall, the Falcons lead
the NFL with eight picks.
”It’s a combination of experience and chemistry,” DeCoud said.
”We’ve played with each other a couple of years now. It’s time to
cut loose and go make plays.”
Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, whose team faces the Falcons on
Sunday, is impressed with the guys up front.
”They are able to generate pressure with their front four,
generate pressure through their blitz packages and then they do a
nice job of creating some negative runs with the penetration and
the fast flow linebackers and that type of approach,” he said.
Coming in, everyone knew defense was the key to Atlanta’s
Quarterback Matt Ryan leads an offense that is loaded with
weapons, including Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner and
receiver Roddy White. So it’s no surprise to see the Falcons ranked
among the top 10 in passing, rushing and total yards.
”Our offense is a high-powered, really good offense,” DeCoud
said. ”We felt like we needed to do everything we could on the
defense to carry our weight and not necessarily be a
For now, they’ll make do with that gold belt.
But if this keeps up, they all may get a prize at the end of the
”We’re climbing that ladder to be the best, and that process is
lovely,” said Peterson, a 12-year veteran, breaking into a big
smile. ”I’m chasing that ring, man. I know my clock is
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this