Even before preseason games began, one of the most-improved units on the Falcons from the naked eye was the defensive line. Once the games began, they put that improvement on film in games. Through two games during this exhibition season, the defensive line has accounted for two sacks, six tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
The new scheme under coordinator Mike Nolan has improved the play of the defensive line, but also the members of the D-line are growing together from individuals into an aggressive front four that is getting after the quarterback.
The defensive tackles feature a veteran in Jonathan Babineaux and the remainder of the tackles are still relatively young in their NFL careers. As they've grown into their own this year, their performance has gone up.
"It's got a lot to do with us coming of age and becoming better athletes," defensive tackle Vance Walker said. "Me, Peria (Jerry), Babs (Babineaux) has been playing for a lot of years and Corey's (Peters) been hurt, but we recognize things faster. We can recognize pass sets from the offensive linemen much better than we could in the past just because we've got another season under our belt."
Watching the linemen, it appears they're more comfortable in the aggressive, blitz-happy scheme of Nolan's. They've had a lot of success so far this year putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While some of the kudos goes to the linemen, Walker says the scheme is helping them thrive as well.
"The new scheme is very unpredictable, which means offensive linemen are always guessing at what we're going to do," he said. "That helps with getting pressure."
While Peters has missed the preseason with an injury, rookie Travian Robertson has seen extra time in the line rotation. He has also been providing pressure and against the Bengals, he also contributed two passes defensed. During camp and preseason practices, batted balls from the defensive line have been much more frequent.
Because of the penetration the line is able to get, the linemen find themselves in passing lanes much more often. They're working on getting their hands up if they find themselves in the lanes when they believe the QB is about to throw the ball.
"We've got a lot of blitzes, more so than in the past," Walker said. "It allows us to make the quarterback get the ball out quickly. We know the ball is coming out hot so we've always practiced getting our hands up, but we just never knew when the quarterback would throw it. You don't want to be on the line of scrimmage holding our hands up and the quarterback holds the ball and takes off and runs. I think a lot of that has to do with the new defense we've got."