Second-year running back Devonta Freeman has really carved out a name for himself this season under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. After combining for 473 total yards and two touchdowns in a change-of-pace role as a rookie, Freeman leads the league in both yards from scrimmage (801) and touchdowns (10) in six games, making four starts.
It’s really incredible what Freeman has been able to do in an offense that has struggled to establish the run the past couple of seasons forcing quarterback Matt Ryan to pass more often than not. Freeman has been able to take the pressure off of Ryan as he’s generated touchdown scores in all but one game this year.
Freeman has totaled 100 plus yards rushing in three of the last four games and has totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage over the last four. With a trip to struggling Tennessee on tap for Sunday, Freeman and the Falcons should find themselves in line for a bounce-back win.
Division rival New Orleans ruined Atlanta’s perfect 5-0 start last Thursday. Even though they lost 31-21, Freeman was still able to total 156 yards and two touchdowns on 21 touches. The 5’8″ Florida State product is a fantasy gem right now and it seems Shanahan and the Falcons offensive staff will be able to keep that going.
The 23-year-old Freeman goes against a Titans team that just allowed Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller to run for 113 yards, a touchdown as he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Considering Miller had only 131 rushing yards combined and no touchdowns in four games previously, Freeman could be looking at another huge day.
It could be hard for Freeman to top his career-day against Dallas when he combined for 193 total yards and three rushing touchdowns on 35 touches, but he could come close this week.
After ranking 27th in rushing attempts per game, the Falcons have completely turned it around with 29.5 carries a game. An aging Steven Jackson had only one 100-yard game in 2014 as he mustered six touchdowns in 15 starts. Having an improved Freeman is a sigh of relief for the Falcons.
Tennessee is allowing opposing runners the fourth-most touchdowns (six), fifth-most yards (129.5) and sixth-highest yards per carry mark (4.7) per game.
The area that the Falcons should be able to exploit is Freeman’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Despite the fact that the Titans have been stingy against running backs in the passing game, allowing just a total of 70 yards, Freeman has been a huge asset there. He has 32 grabs, 296 yards and a receiving touchdown.
The starting backs that Tennessee has faced this season are Doug Martin, Isaiah Crowell, Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon and Lamar Miller. Outside of Martin and Miller, none of those guys are really pass-catching backs. The Titans haven’t seen a player with Freeman’s versatility and that is something to monitor this Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“He’s an explosive runner. Man, I’m telling you, the way he finishes, there’s a little bit of violence in how he plays — in a good way,” New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said in a conference call with the Atlanta media last week.
Behind Freeman is third-round rookie Tevin Coleman. Coleman had an ugly fumble in the redzone last week, one of the team’s three, but that doesn’t mean his role will be reduced. He has 35 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown this season behind Freeman.
Freeman is the feature piece out of the backfield and is arguably the most talented athlete on the Falcons’ offense outside of wide receiver Julio Jones.
Using Freeman and Coleman out of the backfield at the same time whether that means Freeman spreads out wide would be a creative idea by Shanahan.
Freeman will continue to shine as long as he stays healthy and Atlanta keeps getting the ball in his hands as much as possible. Against Tennessee don’t expect anything different.