Boasting the NFL’s best offense and the MVP favorite, the Falcons haven’t lost in six weeks, partly because of how difficult they are to prepare for on offense. Matt Ryan‘s slew of weapons creates mismatch problems all over the field.
How are defenses supposed to account for Julio Jones‘ physical route-running when doubling him means opening up seams for Taylor Gabriel? How will New England get an outside pass rush on Ryan and have enough linebackers to match up with the Falcons‘ tight ends? Most importantly, how is any unit supposed to defend the complementary running back styles of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?
Freeman has a short and sweet answer to the last query.
“We can do whatever we want,” Freeman told Pro Football Talk on Thursday. “Pick your poison. … We’ve had the game plan. The game plan doesn’t change.”
The duo’s features — one short and physical, one tall and speedy — have kept defenses on their toes all year, a success that informs Freeman’s pre-media day confidence. Their 171.0 scrimmage yards per game mark and 27 total TDs were tops among running back groups this season. Freeman and Coleman are also the third tandem in league history to tally 10-plus scores each on a Super Bowl-bound squad.
Both Freeman and Coleman’s pass-catching and route-running abilities have turned them into dual-threat weapons on a team already loaded with young talent on offense, but their most important qualities may be their unselfishness.
Freeman was tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns and fifth in rushing yards last season, but had fewer carries in 2016 because of Coleman’s emergence. But for the third-year back, it’s that team-first, offense-first approach that has seen Atlanta come this far.
“I feel like I’m a top-three back, if not the best,” Freeman told Sports Illustrated in January. “The numbers I put up while splitting carries, ain’t nobody doing those. I’m elite. But it’s natural for me to help (Tevin).”
New England’s top scoring defense has improved mightily since the start of the season, free of Jamie Collins and seeing surprising play from Kyle Van Noy and Logan Ryan. But the Patriots haven’t faced an offense this diverse, comprehensive and dominant all season. No one has.
Shutting down Atlanta’s two-headed backfield monster will be key, but then the Pats will be left accounting for Jones, Mohamed Sanu, etc. Have fun with that, Matt Patricia.