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Three-DT Front Helping In Run Defense


It's a small sample size, but last week's effort by the defense to defend the run points in an encouraging direction.

As the season continued, Atlanta struggled to defend the run and teams haven't hesitated to see how many yards on the ground they can gain.

Positive signs showed in Week 11 against the Cardinals, even though they allowed 137 yards on the ground. Two big plays gave Arizona 92 of those yards and the Falcons have admitted they simply missed on those explosive plays. The biggest positive came last week when they held one of the league's best backs this season to just 50 yards on 21 carries.

One of the reasons for the improvement recently and why they feel good about the direction they're headed is a unique look coordinator Mike Nolan has been experimenting with this season, a three-defensive tackle front. The return of defensive tackle Corey Peters has helped make this three-man front even more effective, especially against the run.

The three-man look gives the Falcons a lot of variety and moving parts, including using tackle Jonathan Babineaux on the outside opposite John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, normally a defensive end by definition, as a roaming hybrid-style player at the next level of the defense, while continuing to remain in their nickel defense.

On the surface this looks like a 3-4 defense, a popular scheme in the NFL, but Peters says it's not quite what it looks.

"It's different, but it does have some similar effects," Peters said. "It is different. It's still a 4-3; it's not a 3-4. It gives us the opportunity to be more flexible in certain looks. It gives us some hybrid-type looks."

Babineaux, perhaps the best run defender the Falcons have, is one of the keys to the success of the look. Leaving him on the edge allows him to be effective as a run defender, but he can still be a force as a rusher, with Abraham on the other side and Biermann running all over the field.

"Babs is good enough, he can rush from out there," Peters said. "We can be effective in both parts of the game. It's been very successful for us."

The rotation in the middle consists of Peters, Vance Walker and Peria Jerry and those three combined with Abraham and Babineaux give them a formidable front line. Biermann, whose snaps on defense have remained pretty steady all season, has emerged as integral part of Nolan's creative scheme.

It's a system that has helped and should continue to help improve the run defense down the stretch.

"I think it's designed to get our best run defenders on the field," Peters said. That's what it is. Babs is probably our best, but since he's more flexible, he's the one that goes outside. We can get Vance, or myself or PJ (Jerry) in there and we can be a lot more physical."

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