If Devonta Freeman had just suffered a season-ending injury after six productive games, the Falcons would have a major adjustment period to navigate now that he’s on the shelf for at least most of the rest of the season. As cruel as it sounds, though, Atlanta doesn’t have to do much to prepare for life without Freeman over the long haul.
That’s because they’ve barely had Freeman, of course. He’s touched the ball just 19 times for 103 yards in 2018 between two weeks, leaving Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to carry the load. Neither has been all that effective on a per carry basis, but Smith has had some terrific runs and has shown a nose for the end zone, while Coleman continues to be a dangerous weapon in the passing attack. The team doesn’t even need to go out and scour the wire for a third back, as Brian Hill is already kicking around on the roster.
Still, the Falcons could probably be more effective with some mild tweaks. Here are our modest proposals.
What changes should Atlanta make?
The biggest thing for Atlanta going forward will be trying to use their backs more effectively, and even that won’t matter if they can’t get better blocking up front. Yards per carry is not the most effective metric for running backs, but it’s useful to note that the Falcons are averaging well under four yards per carry this year, and have a ton of negative rushing plays to their name.
I’d like to see the Falcons get Coleman even more involved in the passing game. He’s going to get his carries, but he’s always been a boom or bust back and a tremendous asset in the passing game, and the Falcons should take advantage of that by putting him and Ito on the field and sowing some doubt at times. I’m fine with seeing him split out wide at times, too, especially if the Falcons are going to be without Calvin Ridley or Mohamed Sanu for any length of time.
That would leave Ito Smith in more of a traditional workhorse role, and it’s one I think he’s well-suited for. Smith has shown a tremendous aptitude for making one cut and turning on the burners, and he has much better balance and physicality than Tevin Coleman. Considering I don’t think we’ve seen his best or anywhere close to it, I’d like to get a longer look at him and see whether he can take on a true feature role in 2019 if Coleman departs and Freeman is still banged up.
Oh, and get Brian Hill involved. I do want to know what the Falcons have in him, and if some of the physicality he displayed in Cincinnati can carry over and give the Falcons another element.
Overall, the Falcons will be fine without Freeman, even if I firmly believe that they have a better ground game with him. The big question now becomes how the team best deploys their current backs, and who gets to stick around and have a major role next year.