The Falcons haven't had much of a run game since the end of the Michael Turner era, and this has been one of the biggest improvements, if not the biggest improvement, on this team this season. The Falcons are currently 15th in the league with 113.9 rushing yards per game, which is much better than their ranking of 24th in the league last season.
Freeman became the starter in week three after Tevin Coleman went down with a broken rib, and until the loss to the Niners, Freeman was leading the league in various rushing categories, including total rushing yards. Now he's second behind Adrian Peterson with 721, and Freeman still leads the league in touchdowns with nine.
While he is a formidable ground threat, Freeman's also effective as a receiver. He has 420 receiving yards and two touchdowns so far this season. Freeman is a great fit for the scheme, which shows in his +11.9 Pro Football Focus grade for the season as well as his production on the field.
When you ask Freeman about his success, he's quick to deflect praise and direct it toward the rest of the offense. The run blocking from this offensive line and the new scheme are both factors here, but don't underestimate Freeman's competitive spirit and determination. These are the qualities that have taken a fifth rounder from obscurity to fantasy darling in just a few short weeks.
Freeman has been a revelation so far this season. The combination of talent and sheer will that he possesses is remarkable, not to mention his patience and vision. He's a very good young back, and I'm eager to see what he does with his opportunities over the balance of the season.
Tevin Coleman, who initially won the starting role heading into the season, got off to a decent start this season with an 80-yard performance against the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Coleman was injured in week two against the Giants and missed weeks three and four entirely. Since his return, he's been used sparingly. On the season, Coleman has 183 yards and one touchdown on 42 attempts as well as one ten-yard reception.
Coleman is a great fit in this scheme and has big play potential, and I'd like to see him get more consistent opportunities after the bye. His yards per attempt, 4.4, are the same as Freeman's, and I always expected these two to essentially split carries. A little more balance between the two would help keep Freeman fresh.
Many were surprised with Atlanta's decision to part ways with Antone Smith entirely, despite his injury, and to retain Terron Ward, an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State, on the final 53-man roster. Ward's only rushing opportunities this season have come in garbage time in Atlanta's beatdown of the Texans in week four. In that game he had 19 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Ward is getting some opportunities in the passing game. He has five targets on the season for a total of 49 yards. With a 3.8 yards per attempt rushing average and a 9.8 yards per catch average, I think his production is just fine for a third-string back.
DiMarco has been an underrated part of the success of the run game. Both Pro Football Focus and Chris Wesseling of NFL.com named DiMarco the starter on their midseason All-Pro teams. DiMarco has just one carry for one yard this season, but where he really shines is blocking and helping to open lanes for Freeman et al. His +9.0 overall Pro Football Focus grade, and particularly his +8.8 run blocking grade, attest to his value to this team. DiMarco has also contributed as a receiver, with 49 receiving yards on five catches.