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Stopping the Run

Defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to practice Monday, which should provide a boost to a Falcons run defense that is struggling for several reasons.

Kevin C. Cox

It was reported yesterday that defensive tackle Corey Peters, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot while running during the offseason, practiced yesterday after spending the preseason and the first six games of the season on the PUP list. This is excellent news for the Falcons, as the defense has struggled against the run, and they need all of the help they can get.

As a matter of fact, not only is the defense struggling against the run through the first six games of the season, but there has been a precipitous drop in defensive performance against the run from last season to this season, for many reasons.

If you’ll remember, former Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton signed with the Saints (and took some parting shots at the Falcons and Atlanta fans on his way out of town, making New Orleans’ current 2-4 record even more humorous.) Lofton was somewhat of a liability against the pass, but was stout against the run last season. He led the Falcons in tackles, assists and stops in 2011.

Akeem Dent was thrust into a starting role at middle linebacker in 2012 that he might not have secured had Lofa Tatupu not suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the offseason. Dent is not as strong against the run as Lofton was, and to add insult to injury, he is slightly worse than Lofton against the pass, too, at this point.

For whatever reason--new scheme, personnel, technique--the decline against the run has been relatively universal this season. According to Pro Football Focus’ premium stats, in which they grade every player’s performance on every snap, Sean Weatherspoon, Ray Edwards, Thomas DeCoud, John Abraham, and Jonathan Babineaux have all transitioned from having a positive impact against the run in 2011 to negative results in 2012.

Atlanta's defense has significantly improved in other ways, such as rushing the passer, which was a tremendous need for this season, and they are winning games despite a lackluster run defense. The Falcons practiced yesterday for the first time since the bye week began, and according to reports, they focused primarily on fundamentals. We can safely assume that would include steps to correct the missed tackles that are exacerbating the weakness against the run. As the team continues to adjust to Mike Nolan’s approach, the run defense should improve.

Corey Peters is definitely not a magical solution to Atlanta’s run defense woes, but having him back on the field will help. Peters is very athletic and is a solid run stuffer. Babineaux is improving every week, and Vance Walker and Peria Jerry are both quietly having solid seasons. Adding another quality player to our defensive tackle rotation can only keep these players fresh and increase their impact.

It is possible that Peters is not yet football-ready, and it remains to be seen if he will be activated off the PUP list and ready to go against the Eagles on Sunday. But, returning to practice is a huge step forward, and his presence will be welcome when he is able to return.

It’s difficult to complain much about any aspect of Atlanta’s play this season when the result has been six consecutive wins. But, there are some difficult opponents ahead, and strengthening the run defense could make the next few weeks easier on our blood pressure. Are you excited to see Corey Peters back on the field? What do you think needs to be done to address the issues with Atlanta's run defense?