Most people that I converse with about the Falcons had an "oh wow, this team is legit" moment last season. For me, it was Tevin Coleman's touchdown reception against the Broncos in Week 5. The way Kyle Shanahan toyed with Wade Phillips made me buy in that the offense could be explosive all season long, which it was.
What set Kyle Shanahan and the Falcons' apart from other teams in the league was the diversity of talent they had on offense. Everyone is familiar with Julio Jones, but the emergence of Tevin Coleman as a receiver added a new element to the offense early in the season.
The Falcons used personnel groupings in brilliant ways to isolate their speedy weapons on slower defenders in coverage.
Atlanta broke the huddle in a shotgun 2x2 set (two receiving options to the left, two to the right) out of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end). Breaking the huddle with Patrick DiMarco on the field forces the Broncos to keep a linebacker on the field instead of subbing him out for a defensive back. DiMarco is the receiver on the bottom of the screen who is being covered by Shaquil Barrett.
Denver broke the huddle trying to disguise what would eventually be Cover 2 Man by showing one safety over the top. Atlanta forced Denver to show their hand presnap when Tevin Coleman motions from the backfield to the slot. That forces Denver to declare that they're playing man coverage when Brandon Marshall has to follow Coleman into the slot.
Now that Atlanta has gone from a 2x2 set to a 3x2 set, Denver has to show their hand and get in position to defend the upcoming pass play.
The Broncos are playing Cover 2 Man, this means that they're playing man coverage with two safeties playing over the top to provide support.
Once the ball is snapped, the routes between Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu blow the play wide open. Coleman is running up the seam and Sanu is running a wheel route up the sideline. Versus Cover 2 Man, this puts the safety in a bind. He has two receivers running up the field towards him, it's a lose-lose situation in a numbers sense.
He doesn't have the help of the other safety because of the vertical routes that Levine Toilolo and Patrick DiMarco executed on the other side of the field.
Matt Ryan has a fairly easy decision on his hands at this point: whoever gets a step on their defender gets the ball.
Tevin Coleman smokes Brandon Marshall and Matt Ryan throws a dime that allows Coleman to catch it in stride and protect himself from the safety rotating over after the ball is thrown.
Watching how the Falcons used personnel groupings and motions to throw off even the most talented defenses was a joy. Hopefully that similar success continues under Steve Sarkisian.
As always, leave play suggestions in the comments or tweet them to me @FourVerts.
Here's the full play again from the All-22 angle.