The Atlanta Falcons have a total of 1,344 yards in 2016, and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have combined to account for 617 of those yards thus far, both through the air and on the ground. For the sake of contrast, Julio Jones has just 188 yards thus far. For the sake of context, remember that both Freeman and Coleman were wholly ineffectual in Week 1 on the ground, forcing the passing game to do more of the heavy lifting.
The duo has 19 of Matt Ryan’s 73 completions through three games, plus a combined 74 carries (Ryan, amusingly enough, has 8 for 33 yards). Coleman is tied for third on the team in receptions, and Freeman has worked his way up to fifth. If you think back to a year ago, the Falcons were almost wholly reliant on Julio Jones and Freeman to generate offense, but this year the team has taken to spreading the ball around, and they’ve taken to splitting the touches pretty evenly between Coleman and Freeman.
I’m not going to tell you that the stats I mention above are the sole reason the Falcons have been so wildly successful on offense through three games, because opponent defense, quality blocking, and a resurgent Matt Ryan have also been huge. It is clear, though, that Kyle Shanahan is committing to a strong, multi-back rushing attack in much the same way he attempted to do in Cleveland with the likes of Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The reason it has been so successful is because Freeman and Coleman bring so much talent and versatility to the table, and because defenses can never afford to let their guard down around Julio Jones, no matter how much of a backseat he takes in this offense.
All of this is to say that the Falcons, finally, are not wholly reliant on one or two options in the passing game. They’re spreading targets around effectively, and Freeman and Coleman are keying the offense’s success by running and catching well, with Freeman looking particularly dominant as a runner this last week against New Orleans. The years of getting by with smoke and mirrors may be over for this offense, and that, if nothing else, gives me hope for this upcoming game against the Panthers.