The Falcons offense will soar into Lincoln Financial Field firing on all cylinders. After deflating the L.A Rams, Atlanta look ready for an offensive war where both defenses will be tested. For the Eagles, stopping the run and marginalizing the attack is a pivotal point that could well be the difference. Forget Julio Jones, forget Mo Sanu, forget Matt Ryan, forget Taylor Gabriel. There’s a two-headed monster that needs taming first.
Over the last few weeks however, the run defense has dropped off a little. Although they are still the number one run defense in the league, the Birds gave up their first 100 yard rusher since week 2. Before that, the team gave up 95 yards to Marshawn Lynch and 137 overall.
“We rested some starters in that game and it’s just the numbers are going to fluctuate a little bit offensively and defensively.” Pederson said of his run-stopping unit in week 17 on Tuesday. “So our defense will be up for the challenge this week. Again, [they have] two really good running backs that we have to sort of slow down.”
Two really good running backs indeed. Devonta Freeman needs no introduction, but the x-factor overlooked by everyone here is Tevin Coleman.
Freeman and Tevin Coleman have teamed up for 200 total yards eight times over the last two seasons. The team is 7-1 when the duo reaches this milestone.
Even against the Rams with Freeman back to his best, Coleman rushed the ball 14 times for 40 yards and caught 3 passes for a further 28. Coleman adds a more elusive and shifty option to the Falcons backfield who when given a fullback and a hole to hit, he can punish defenses with decisive and elusive running.
Coleman now has 156 carries for 628 yards with five touchdowns, while adding 27 catches for 299 yards and three scores this season. Freeman may draw all the attention, but make no mistake, Coleman will cause problems for this Eagles defense if unaccounted for. Jim Schwartz isn’t prepared to let that happen however.
“I don’t know what the numbers say. Like I said, you combine both of those running backs … Now, Tevin [Coleman] was hurt a little bit last year, so I don’t think we saw him in our game here … But again, combine both of those guys [Coleman and Devonta Freeman].” Schwartz told reporters earlier this week. “If we were getting ready to play a running back that was 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns … I hope I’m right on that. I think it’s like 5 and 7, I think, on those two guys for touchdowns. But if we were getting ready to face that guy, we wouldn’t have got one question about Julio Jones. It would have been all about that.”
Freeman hasn’t been as dominant over the last few weeks, carrying the ball at least 10 times in his last 3 games but averaging a measly 2.1 yards per rush against the Panthers two weeks ago. Freeman last put up 100 yards against the Bucs almost a month ago, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and adding a touchdown for good measure. Even despite being injured and missing a substantial amount of time, Freeman has recorded 49 rushing first downs this year which was the 10th-best in the league. But since that Bucs game, the two headed beast has really started to emerge…and that doesn’t bode well for the Eagles.
A two-time pro bowler, Devonta Freeman has recorded 228 rushing yards in four playoff games, which is fifth in franchise history. The Eagles run defense has been stout all year long, but the threat of a dominant between the tackles runner and an elusive, versatile missile is something the Eagles know all too well. After all, their backfield is built in a similar fashion.
“Their running backs [Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman], if you combine the running back stats, you’re talking about a first-team All-Pro – 1,500 yards, I think 12 touchdowns.” Numbers Schwartz seemingly plucked from the front of his brain when explaining to reporters, signifying the heavy focus. “So we have to look at it that way. There’s going to be a lot of challenges this week.”
If Dannell Ellerbe is absent too, the Eagles run defense will be at a severe setback. This could well be a game decided in the trenches and even though the home team boast the best run defense in the league, the versatility that the Falcons provide and their play-action focused offense could be incredibly problematic.
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