ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Matt Ryan. Roddy White. Julio Jones. Michael Turner. Tony Gonzalez.
Those are the first names that typically come to mind when people think of the Atlanta Falcons.
One thing they have in common — they all play on the offensive side of the ball.
But that doesn't mean Atlanta's defense will present any breathers for a Broncos offense fresh off a showdown with a Steelers defense long recognized as one of the league's best.
"I think they have good players, to start with," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "They have a new defensive coordinator (Mike Nolan). Their head coach (Mike Smith) is a defensive guy. They're well-coached. They're sound in what they do. I think (defensive end John) Abraham gives you a lot of flexibility in what they can do in the pass rush. Their secondary is so active they can play a lot of different coverages. They're just sound overall."
The Falcons boasted the NFL's sixth-stingiest run defense a year ago, and also finished seventh in the NFL with 29 takeaways in 2011. Last year, Atlanta's defense was at its best when at home in the Georgia Dome, as only one team broke the 30-point barrier in the Falcons' home venue.
"They've got a lot of playmakers over there," wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "They've got a great defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan. They present a lot of problems. They show you a lot of different looks, kind of like Pittsburgh a little bit with different looks. You never know what to expect. You're playing in the Georgia Dome and it's loud so, yeah, a lot of different obstacles this week. It's going to be another tough test."
With two interceptions and a fumble recovery, all in the second half of their season-opening win over the Chiefs, the Falcons D once again looks like a unit with a nose for the football.
Holding a 27-17 lead late in the third quarter against Kansas City in Week 1, Atlanta defensive end John Abraham sacked Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Stephen Nicholas. The sack was No. 113 for Abraham, who has recorded at least 9.5 in four of his past five seasons.
Atlanta's offense capitalized with a quick touchdown, and the Falcons added interceptions by safety William Moore and Nicholas on the Chiefs' next two possessions as Atlanta opened up a 40-17 lead that was never in jeopardy.
"Really, it was close in the first half, but their defense took over in the second half," Manning said. "Abraham forced a sack-fumble then forced the quarterback into an interception, so defense kind of set the tempo from there."
Though the Falcons lost cornerback Brent Grimes for the season to an injury during the victory, the secondary remains formidable with cornerbacks like Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel.
"They had a significant injury losing (cornerback Brent) Grimes," Manning said. "Not many guys can lose an All-Pro corner and still have a couple other top-notch starters, Pro-Bowlers, to replace him with Samuel and Robinson, so I still see them being an extremely tough defense."