The Falcons notched their second win of the season against the New Orleans Saints behind the talented running back duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Coleman and Freeman combined for 34 touches, 296 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
While their production came on the ground and through the air, this is going to focus on eight rushing plays that the Falcons had success with. Devonta Freeman averaged a little over 10 yards per carry and Tevin Coleman scored three touchdowns on the ground.
Devonta Freeman's vision and change of direction ability has allowed him to thrive on the ground over the past two years in Kyle Shanahan's zone heavy offense. The running schemes create natural cutback lanes for him to exploit, which he does routinely.
On this seven yard gain, the Falcons offensive line zone blocked towards their left, but the play was meant to cutback to the right, utilizing's Devonta Freeman's quickness and vision to spring him free. Levine Toilolo stays on the backside and blocks Stephone Anthony while Mohamed Sanu attempts a crackback block on Roman Harper.
This leaves Freeman with a one-on-one situation against Sterling Moore where he channels his inner Beast Mode and stiff arms him to the ground.
Tevin Coleman's first touchdown deviated from the Falcons zone tendencies. The Saints have a three technique in between Chris Chester and Ryan Schraeder and a defensive tackle head up over Andy Levitre. Atlanta used combo blocks on the defensive linemen and linebackers. The blocks start off as double teams, but one of the offensive linemen needs to scrape off the defensive lineman when the linebacker declares which gap he's going to shoot.
The offensive line executes this perfectly which leaves Tevin Coleman with a one on one situation against Jairus Byrd. He lowers his head and bulldozes into the endzone.
The use of a fullback on outside zone puts a lot of stress on the front seven of the opposing defense. When the defense breaks the huddle, they can easily align to their run fits, but having the left tackle take on the strongside linebacker and assigning the fullback to take on the middle linebacker forces an extra gap that the defense has to attack on the fly.
Patrick DiMarco and Jake Matthews make excellent blocks on the second level, springing Devonta Freeman into the secondary. Once Freeman gets there, he puts a nasty juke move on Jairus Byrd that allows him to gain almost 25 extra yards.
Tevin Coleman's second touchdown was a simple inside zone concept. Inside zone is blocked similarly to a read option play. The playside defensive end is left unblocked and the action of Matt Ryan running towards the defensive forces him to respect the potential running threat for a split second, just enough time for Tevin Coleman to reach the endzone.
Jake Matthews had a terrific down block on the Saints' three technique that cleared the way for Coleman to score.
The next play was a brilliant design by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Atlanta is running slants on both sides of the field, but the Falcons never had any intention of throwing the ball. A lot of offenses in college and in the NFL are using RPOs (Run Pass Option) where the offensive line is allowed to block downfield as the quarterback decides whether he's going to handoff the ball or throw it on a quick route, usually in the middle portion of the field.
The key portion of this play that identifies it as a pure run instead of an RPO is Matt Ryan turning his back to the defense. The quarterback rarely ever turns his back to the defense on an RPO, but the defense still has to respect the slant action by the outside receivers. The cornerbacks follow the slants which draws them towards the middle of the field, leaving the sideline wide open for Tevin Coleman to run.
Once Coleman receives the handoff there's no one to stop his progress as he runs in for his third and final touchdown.
Outside zone plays have three reads: Bang, Bounce, and Bend. The running back can receive the handoff and bang it up the middle, bounce the play outside, or bend the play back inside against the flow of the defense. After being beat on a bang read earlier in the game, the Saints defense over-pursues on the frontside of the outside zone and the rollout action by Matt Ryan forces the backside linebacker to respect the possibility of a play action pass.
Freeman uses his trademark vision to cutback against the flow of the defense and bend the run back inside where he has an easy route to explode to the second level. Freeman's natural ability as a runner is astounding as he smoothly goes against the grain of the blocking scheme for a big gain.
The next run is all Devonta Freeman.
The Falcons are running a toss to the right where they're actually outnumbered. The Saints have four defenders in the area compared to three potential Atlanta blockers.
Freeman starts out running to the edge, but once he runs out of space he cuts back to the middle of the field. He finds daylight and receives a stellar block from Matt Ryan (joking). This was in the fourth quarter when the Falcons were already up 45-32; he shows solid situational awareness by staying inbounds and allowing the clock to run.
One of the Falcons most successful running plays over the past two weeks has been split zone. To the defensive line and linebackers, it reads like a regular outside zone play, but the strongside tight end, Austin Hooper on this play, comes back across the formation to pick up the unblocked end on the backside of the formation.
Freeman follows Hooper into the gaping hole on the right side of the formation and head right into the secondary. Again he puts a great move on Jairus Byrd in the open field that springs him for about 25 extra yards. This put the final dagger in the Saints as the Falcons beat their dreaded rival.
If the Falcons want to continue this winning streak, they're going to need to keep focusing on the ground game to set up play action opportunities for Matt Ryan. Obviously, the Panthers have a much tougher defense than the Saints, but given the effectiveness of Jerick McKinnon last week the Falcons should have some hope that they can get the ground game going against Carolina.