1. Why do NFL teams prefer young legs at running back? Second-year dynamo Devonta Freeman has rushed for more scores in the past three weeks than a 31-year-old Steven Jackson managed in 15 starts last season. Aided by huge gaps provided by a vastly improved offensive line, Freeman has displayed impressive burst and a physicality that belies his 5-foot-8, 206-pound frame. His skill set lies somewhere between the early-career versions of Ray Rice and Pierre Thomas.
Staked to a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter, the Falcons understandably placed Freeman and superstar wide receiver Julio Jones in bubble wrap the rest of the way. Over a seven-quarter span beginning last week, Freeman generated 342 yards and six touchdowns on 54 touches. Kyle Shanahan continues to prove that he’s one of the NFL’s most effective offensive coordinators.
2. Ryan Mallett left Bill O’Brien no choice but to turn back to Brian Hoyer. Considering Mallett’s lack of timing and accuracy, Hoyer must be considered the favorite to start Thursday night versus the Colts — even if his three touchdown drives versus the Falcons came in extreme garbage time.
3. Keep Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant in mind when it comes time to vote for the Pro Bowl. One of the NFL’s top cover corners, Trufant showed playmaking ability on Sunday, recovering two fumbles (one for a 23-yard touchdown) and breaking up three passes. Entering the game, he had allowed just three completions in his coverage area.
5. Roddy White was held to eight yards on two receptions Sunday after seeing just one target on 73 pass routes over the previous two weeks. He’s been bypassed by Freeman and Leonard Hankerson in the pecking order of Matt Ryan targets. Ryan is especially reliant upon the physical Hankerson in the red zone, which could result in double-digit touchdowns this season.
6. J.J. Watt was the lone bright spot for the Texans, deflecting two passes, producing three tackles for loss and beating right tackle Ryan Schroeder for his fourth sack of the season. Although Jadeveon Clowney had been an impact run defender the past two weeks, he’s still looking for his first sack of 2015.
7. The Falcons lost linebacker Justin Durant to an elbow injury. Texans wide receiver Nate Washington left with what appeared to be a multi-week hamstring injury, while Cecil Shorts injured his shoulder on the Falconsâ 84-yard fumble return touchdown to end the game.