- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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With very little fanfare, the Atlanta Falcons' defense has emerged as the best in the NFC South.
The Falcons rank No. 9 in overall defense. They’re fourth against the run and No. 17 against the pass. It also appears as if injured cornerbacks Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe) are on the verge of returning to the lineup. They could be back as soon as Monday night’s game with the New Orleans Saints.
ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden said he thinks the Atlanta defense is one of the league’s best-kept secrets.
“If they get healthy in the secondary, I think that's a starting point for the Falcons,’’ Gruden said in a recent conference call with the national media. “But look, I'm really impressed with the tapes I've seen of the Falcon defense. They have a lot of guys that are considered unknowns in football outside of John Abraham, maybe [Curtis] Lofton, but this secondary is for real. If they get healthy, they can make plays. Mike Smith and [Brian] VanGorder do a great job together putting together weekly game plans to take away what you do best.’’
Heck, I'll even throw in a few more names Gruden didn't mention. I think second-year outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has emerged as a big-play guy and Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux form a very nice tandem in the middle of the defensive line.