Drastic changes are always bound to occur, when a new coaching staff takes over for a bewildered franchise. Dan Quinn was going to make this defense more aggressive through personnel and scheme changes. Simplicity has translated into productivity for Quinn's past defenses. Of course, it's always accommodating to have a vicious front seven and the best safety duo in the league. Atlanta didn't possess any of those qualities. Other than a stud cornerback, above-average strong safety, and a few young players on the defensive line, Quinn doesn't have many blue-chip players to work on the defensive side of the ball.
On the other side of the ball, Kyle Shanahan finds himself in a somewhat daunting situation. That may seem far-fetched, considering Matt Ryan is far superior to any of the past quarterbacks that he has worked with. The formidable task was producing a more balanced offense. During the past two seasons, Atlanta has attempted the most passes in the league. They tried to utilize Steven Jackson on a weekly basis. Poor run blocking and constantly playing from behind hampered any possibility of effectively using an already declining Jackson.
Shanahan's reputation of generating productive running games is well documented. His work through getting the best out of marginal running backs such as Steve Slaton and Isaiah Crowell gave a restless fan-base optimism. That optimism dwindled through witnessing Miami's defensive line terrorization. James Stone was demoted following his dreadful performance against Earl Mitchell. Mike Person and Ryan Schraeder struggled heavily as well.
In my preview for last night's game, my expectations for Tevin Coleman were low. His numbers weren't going to be relevant against Philadelphia's ultra-talented front seven. Due to the circumstances of a makeshift offensive line, everything pointed towards Atlanta throwing the ball forty five to fifty times. Coleman was going to receive his opportunities, but it didn't seem likely that he was going to find any sort of rhythm.
Coleman Comes Out Running
That wasn't the case, as Atlanta's defense was firing on all cylinders and Matt Ryan led Atlanta to multiple long drives. The end product hindered Atlanta's offense, particularly on third-and-short. Philadelphia's blitzing gave Ryan fits throughout the night, which led to multiple interceptions. When the offense collapsed in the third quarter, they were becoming too reliant of the passing game. Shanahan's needed to make adjustments through some capacity. It became evident that the defense was gassed from Chip Kelly's relentless no-huddle offense.
Shanahan showcased his brilliance through running a draw on third-and-fifteen. Coleman had plenty of space to gain a respectable amount of yards, yet followed Roddy White's excellent block to get past the first down marker on a game-changing play. The explosive running back silenced critics throughout the night. His ability to shed tackles and constantly push forward was endearing. One of the more notable pre-draft critiques on him was not finishing runs throughout his college career.
Despite not being presented with many open holes, Coleman's vision was going to be tested. Through making several hard cuts and constantly looking for any sort of space, we saw Shanahan and running back coach Bobby Turner's influence. This wasn't the same straight-line one-dimensional running back from Indiana. Coleman ran with intelligence and purpose that presented Atlanta's offense with actual balance. That was vital in terms of keeping Philadelphia's front seven off balance. Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin were virtually non-existent. Besides Fletcher Cox and Kiko Alonso, no Eagle truly shined within their front seven.
Another positive element from Atlanta's balanced attack was through running from the left side. Jake Matthews has a lot to prove following a disappointing injury-plagued rookie season. The former first-round pick was an asset in the run-blocking department, along with Patrick DiMarco who has been average at best through two seasons. Andy Levitre struggled heavily against Cox, yet still proved to be serviceable as a run blocker. Matthews and Levitre were both liabilities throughout last year. For them to not be completely overwhelmed last night has to be an encouraging sign.
There are still several adjustments that have to be made. Short yardage situations were a massive concern going into the season, considering no short yardage back was acquired this off-season. Terron Ward didn't show anything in preseason to suggest that he's capable of fulfilling that role. They tried using Devonta Freeman, given his ability as a more physical runner than Coleman. That proved to be meaningless, as Philadelphia swarmed him and Coleman on multiple occasions. Andrew Parsons posted an eye-opening picture of how they were doomed to fail on third-and-one near the end of the first half.
Tight Ends and Wide Receivers
Atlanta can't continue to hold seven wide receivers on their roster, yet only two tight ends. Those two tight ends aren't necessarily above-average blockers either. Jacob Tamme has always been a liability, while Levine Toilolo is slowly developing into an adequate blocker. Whether Jake Long becomes the extra lineman on third-and-short or a newly added tight end, another blocker is desperately needed for this offense to convert these favorable chances. They left far too many points on the field.
Besides failing on third-and-short, Monday night's victory was very promising. Philadelphia was arguably Atlanta's toughest test currently on the schedule, although Indianapolis is certainly up there. Many analysts expected Shanahan to make Julio Jones even more difficult to contain. The ultimate challenge was to bolster a rushing attack that has been non-existent for three consecutive seasons. While they failed to finish off a relentless Eagles' defense, they provided much-needed balance.
Atlanta has a favorable schedule coming up with two below average defenses in New York and Dallas. It should give Levitre and Mike Person experience to gel against weaker defensive lines. They were both pushed around consistently to nobody's surprise. Repetition should make this unit look better, especially with Coleman and Freeman seemingly never giving up on any run. Both running backs finished their respective runs with authority on Monday night. If Atlanta can continue to run the ball twenty-five to thirty times a game, that should be indicative in the win column. With Shanahan's heavy usage of play-action, they need to continue their persistence on the ground. That determination of sticking with the run propelled them towards a massive statement win against one of the NFC's contenders.