One of the most surefire ways to win in the NFL is to get to the quarterback. Last season the Falcons turned on their sack machine at just the right times to help produce a 9-7 record, but their 28 team sacks was still tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL.
Veteran playmaker and Pro Bowler John Abraham returns after a down year by his standards - which are among the loftiest in the NFL.
Youngsters Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury represent the future of the Atlanta pass rush, but they're going to be relied on heavily this season to take pressure off Abraham.
Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis are expected to help fill out the defensive end rotation and provide tough run support.
Undrafted rookies Emmanuel Stephens and Rajon Henley may be in a battle amongst themselves for a roster spot with Atlanta.
An improved pass rush from Atlanta is critical to the team's success in 2010 and AtlantaFalcons.com previews those players that will need to bring it from the outside:
John Abraham 11th season
Who:The franchise record holder for most sacks in a single season, Abraham has been one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL for years. A three-time Pro Bowler, Abraham is the standard for Falcons pass rushers.
Why:A down season in 2009 saw Abraham record 5.5 sacks, but he was close to the quarterback often. Even at 32, the 2000 first-round pick by the Jets has some pass rushing left in the tank and Atlanta needs his previous production in 2010.
How:Abraham will exit training camp as the Falcons starting defensive end. As a member of the 'Over-30 Club', he'll get his rest through camp to make sure he's fresh for the start of the season.
Jamaal Anderson 4th season
Who:The 2007 first-round pick by Atlanta has only totaled 2.5 sacks in his three seasons in the NFL, but his run defense is stout. Blessed with physical abilities, if Anderson can put it all together, he could create a pass-rushing force opposite Abraham.
Why:Anderson rotated inside to defensive tackle last season and flashed some potential at the position. Atlanta needs production from the 6'6" end somewhere along the line. As a run defender, he's key to the defense. He'll need to convert some of his 14 QB pressures last season into sacks in 2010.
How:If he can continue to develop his pass rushing under the tutelage of Abraham and the coaching staff Anderson is a lock for the 53-man roster.
Chauncey Davis 6th season
Who:A fourth-round selection by the Falcons in 2005 Davis has been an integral part of the Atlanta defensive line rotation in his career. Entering 2010 he has nine sacks in his career, including four in 2008.
Why:The 27-year-old end has been a solid part of the rotation and while he didn't post the same sack totals last season as he did in 2008, Davis' experience is vital.
How:If Davis continues to do what he's done for the franchise in his first six seasons there's no reason to believe he won't be part of the defensive line when the season begins. He's a productive, utility man at defensive end that does a lot of things well and will only need to show that again during training camp.
Kroy Biermann 3rd season
Who:Through two seasons the 2008 fifth-round draft pick has improved his sack numbers, rising in prominence among Atlanta's pass rushers. Biermann recorded five sacks last season, third on the team. In addition to his pass rushing duties, he's also been a key figure on Atlanta's special teams.
Why:There are few players on Atlanta's defense that generate more excitement around potential performance than Biermann. The 6'3" end plays with an infectious enthusiasm and has worked hard to not only hone his pass rushing technique but to improve his run defense.
How:The Falcons will be relying on Biermann in 2010 to take another step forward in his sack totals. His time on special teams may be reduced, but the coaching staff may require one more season on the unit as newer role players are rotated in. He's penciled in to make a difference and the coaching staff will just look to see Biermann continue to bring his blue-collar attitude and strive to improve.
Lawrence Sidbury 2nd season
Who:The 24-year-old Sidbury registered one sack in his rookie season, after a standout career at University of Richmond that saw him record 11.5 sacks as a senior, including four in the FCS Championship game. Bursting with talent, he enters his second season with a year under his belt of learning in limited snaps.
Why:As a fourth-round draft pick, the franchise would like to see Sidbury stick and make a similar progression as Biermann. He has the speed to make a difference and flashes a technique with strong moves, which should be improved with a year of learning from Abraham.
How:Sidbury will just need to keep improving. He'll need to show the coaching staff his offseason wasn't one filled with rest. If he can start fast in training camp and put into action some of his lessons from Season One, Atlanta's pass rush will get a big boost from the quick sophomore rusher.
Rajon Henley Rookie
Who:The 6'3", 244-pound Henley joined the team as an undrafted free agent in April. At Texas Tech he registered five sacks as a senior. His sophomore season earned him All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention honors after he turned in a 52 tackle, 7.5 tackles for loss year.
Why:Henley's time with the team gives him a leg up on competition that may be out there should the Falcons suffer injuries to the defensive line. A converted defensive tackle, Henley may have some upside as he continues to learn the position.
How:He'll have to play like the veteran competition he faces to earn a major role for the Falcons in 2009. He'll definitely be in the mix for a practice squad role. The coaching staff will want to see an ability to grasp what is going on around him.
Emmanuel Stephens Rookie
Who:A 6'5", 255-pound pass-rush specialist, Stephens played for Ole Miss for two seasons. While there he racked up some impressive totals: 40 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and two forced fumbles.
Why:Stephens served as a pass-rushing linebacker/defensive end with the Rebels. He did a lot of things well and his stats say he was in a lot of places on the field. He could also be a valuable member of special teams.
How:Stephens has a cross-trained background which the coaching staff will appreciate. He'll need to show his college performance can translate to the professional ranks. He'll also want to show he can play special teams. He may be a prime candidate for the practice squad.