The Big Question: Can Falcons play D?

A new Tuesday feature on the ESPN.com NFL blog network.

Can the Falcons play some real defense?

In Mike Smith’s two years as coach, the Falcons have put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. But the amazing thing is that Smith, a coach with a defensive background, has done it without a very good defense, which is something any team needs to compete with New Orleans in the NFC South.

The Falcons are well aware of this and they’re doing something about it. They went out and made their big splash in free agency by signing cornerback Dunta Robinson and re-signing cornerback Brian Williams. They also dumped Chris Houston, whom they never felt was very aggressive, in a trade with Detroit.

On paper, Robinson and Williams should be the starters. But the Falcons are also high on young corners Chris Owens, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson, and they’ll all be in the mix. Pretty amazing how proactive the Falcons have been at cornerback, especially when you consider Atlanta officials got a little sensitive when media members criticized the team's cornerback play last season.

Those officials repeatedly said the main reason the cornerbacks were struggling was because the pass rush wasn’t producing like they had hoped. Take that as a very strong sign the Falcons aren’t done touching up their defense.

They’ll tell you that defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who is coming back from an injury that kept him out most of his rookie season, will be back. Jerry can create a push in the middle and that’s going to help John Abraham and Kroy Biermann be more productive on the outside. But, if the Falcons were this aggressive at addressing cornerback, you have to think they’re not done at defensive end.

They’ve got the draft and what’s left of free agency, and their focus is going to be on building up the pass rush. It’s all they’re really lacking right now. They’re solid at cornerback, linebacker and in the middle of the defensive line.

Give them a pass-rusher and Smith might finally be able to really play the kind of defense he wants; the kind of defense that could make the Falcons a legitimate challenger to the Saints.