Corey Peters part of Falcons' improving defensive line

FLOWERY BRANCH — Corey Peters acknowledges he’s not comfortable in pass coverage. What defensive tackle is?

However, the lineman had a big hand — literally — in the Falcons’ past two victories by stopping critical pass plays.

“It’s very difficult for me,” Peters said. “It’s almost like asking a cornerback to come up and put his hand on the ground.”

Peters’ fourth-quarter tip and interception help preserve the Falcons’ victory over the Panthers on Oct. 16. He tipped a third-down pass in the closing minutes of a win over the Lions on Sunday. The tip negated a pass-interference call against the Falcons that would have extended the potential game-tying drive.

“I’ve done it in college, but when you get out there in space for an extended period of time, after the initial drop, the quarterback holds the ball; ‘OK, what’s he doing? He’s looking here. He’s looking there,’” Peters said.

“I don’t know how those [defensive backs] do it. It’s hard for me to read his eyes. I think it’s a great change-up for our defense. You can definitely catch the offense off guard. On the play I tipped [against the Lions], I don’t think [the quarterback] saw me.”

While Peters primarily is a run stopper as a defensive tackle, the Falcons employ several defensive schemes that call for him to drop into pass coverage, including the fire-zone blitz that led to his interception of a screen pass against the Panthers.

Peters, 23, was a third-round draft pick out of Kentucky last season. He spent much of his rookie season playing against the run on first and second downs, starting 15 of 16 games. He remains in the starting lineup this season, playing tackle opposite Jonathan Babineaux. His pass-rushing abilities are starting to show with two sacks this season (tied for second on the Falcons), including one against the Lions.

“This year, I worked hard in the offseason and just tried to come in and show my versatility,” Peters said. “I wanted to continue to play the run well. Play the [nose tackle], and that’s really where I feel comfortable at. When I’m there I feel extremely confident I can play any blocker. Now it’s just a matter of growing each week.”

Peters is part of a defensive line that is starting to get healthy and play at the level team officials expected. The Falcons rank sixth in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 98.4 yards per game. No back has carried for more than 95 yards against them this season. In the past four games, the Falcons have limited the opposition’s leading rusher for the game to 50 yards or less: Detroit’s Maurice Morris (50), Carolina’s Cam Newton (50), Green Bay’s James Starks (40) and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (24).

Along the starting defensive line, Peters missed the season opener with a knee injury. John Abraham (groin) missed a game, and Ray Edwards (knee) is regaining strength after off-season surgery. Babineaux (knee) missed three games following surgery.

“We really believe that you have to control the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “When you talk about [stopping] the passing game, it starts with your pass rush and not necessarily the number of sacks you can record, it’s the pressure you can put on the quarterback.”

Playing alongside Abraham, an 11-year veteran, has sometimes prevented Peters from being purely a run-stopper. If Abraham decides to take an inside rush, Peters has to cover the outside. Peters said Abraham usually will communicate his intentions before a play. Peters also may have to adapt during live action.

“John Abraham has been established in this league a long time,” Peters said. “He has the right to, basically, do anything he wants when it comes to pass rushing, as far as rushing inside, rushing outside or whatever side he wants to go on. He has the freedom to say so.

“When I’m playing next to Abe, I have to see him out of the corner of my eye. If he wins inside fast, then I’m going to get outside and cover him so the quarterback doesn’t have a way to escape.”

It was on such a play against the Lions that Peters was able to chase down quarterback Matthew Stafford and drop him for a 10-yard loss.

“We knew what kind of player Corey was last year,” Smith said. “As a rookie he was a guy in our rotation and he was kind of in the back end of our rotation. This year he definitely is getting more snaps, and he’s been very productive, especially these last two weeks.”