FLOWERY BRANCH — Ray Edwards is finding his place in the Falcons' defense just in time for a visit to one of his favorite NFL settings.
Edwards, in his first season with Atlanta, has recorded sacks in each of the last two games, gaining momentum for Sunday's visit to Detroit. The defensive end had a slow start following an offseason procedure on his knee.
Edwards, who played five years with Minnesota before signing with Atlanta as a free agent, has more career sacks against the Lions — 8 ½ — than any other team. That includes four sacks in five visits to Ford Field.
With Edwards healthy and more comfortable in the Falcons' scheme and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux starting after missing three games with injuries, the line is gaining momentum.
"I think the play of our defensive line has mirrored what we've done as a team," Falcons coach Mike Smith said Wednesday. "We've been inconsistent through the first six games but it is good to see Ray having a better comfort level in terms of what we're doing in our scheme and he's really making plays. He's a guy who plays extremely hard and his production has increased the past couple weeks."
Edwards signed a five-year deal with $11 million guaranteed. In training camp the team revealed Edwards had what was called a "minor" knee surgery in the offseason.
The recovery slowed Edwards' progress, keeping him out of the first two preseason games. He has started every regular-season game but was held without a sack until Week 5 against Green Bay.
Now, with two sacks in two games, Edwards looks like the complement to John Abraham the team lacked when it finished in a tie for 20th in the league with 31 sacks last season.
The pass rush will be especially important against the Lions. Edwards says the Falcons, who are wary of receiver Calvin Johnson's potential to dominate a game, must disrupt quarterback Matthew Stafford's play.
"It's always important," Edwards said. "The quarterback is definitely the brains of the offense so it's definitely important to get pressure on him. If we can scramble him the body will fall. That's always the main emphasis on any team you play."
Another key for the defensive line is the health Babineaux, who was inactive for three games earlier in the season with knee and ankle injuries. It was no coincidence the Falcons were held without a sack in each of the three games.
Babineaux returned as the pass rush posted four sacks against Green Bay and added two more in last week's win over Carolina.
The Falcons are hoping their bye week after the game at Detroit will help Babineaux, who had a combined 10 sacks in the 2009-10 seasons.
"We need to get him back healthy," Smith said. "I think if we can get him through this week and get him through the bye week we're going to see more production coming out of Jonathan."
The star of the defensive line in the 31-17 win over Carolina was second-year defensive tackle Corey Peters, who had his first career interception, pulling down the screen pass from Cam Newton with one hand. The pick set up the Falcons' clinching touchdown as they pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Peters, who missed the opener, says the line finally has had a chance to come together as a unit.
"I think we're definitely starting to mesh a little better," Peters said. "I think we've got everybody healthy. Playing with the same rotation of guys is always beneficial."
Peters said Edwards has been a key addition, even when he wasn't dropping quarterbacks.
"He's a very energetic player," Peters said. "He has brought a lot to this defense, even when it hasn't been in the form of sacks. I think just his presence has made it a lot easier on me in particular and the rest of the defensive line."
NOTES: WR Julio Jones (hamstring) did not practice after missing the Carolina game. "Julio is the kind of guy who is going to push the envelope," Smith said. "He's going to want to get back in there and play." ... CB Chris Owens (concussion) has not been cleared. ... Abraham (groin) and C Todd McClure (knee) had the day off as Smith has started his program to rest veterans. OG Garrett Reynolds (ankle) also was held out for precautionary reasons, according to Smith. ... The practice in full pads started outside but moved in the indoor facility due to stiff winds and a dramatic drop in temperatures.