It’s been a while since Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman did their thing together, and the Falcons’ running backs are eager to get back to doubling up on NFL opponents in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Bears.
“We just feed off each other, and compete off each other, which is great for both of us,” Coleman said. “We make each other better. That’s my boy. When he makes a play, he’s like, ‘Go get you one.’ “
They got plenty last season as the league’s top backfield tandem, combining for 2,482 rushing and receiving yards and 24 touchdowns.
Freeman led the way, earning a Pro Bowl nod after rushing for 1,079 and 11 scores and catching 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns. He missed the final three exhibition games, the first two while in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He was cleared to play in the finale, but coach Dan Quinn held him out.
With four of the same offensive linemen ready to go, and Wes Schweitzer folding into the right guard spot where Chris Chester retired, Freeman is ready to get back to work. He had just one carry, for 3 yards, and one catch, for 15 yards and a touchdown, in his only preseason action.
“I’m comfortable with anybody you put in front of me. ... Like I always tell them, just give me a second-and-a-half,” Freeman said. “You help me, I’ll help you.”
Bears coach John Fox on Wednesday told the Chicago media that it’s been a little tricky preparing for the Falcons because they have two new coordinators in Marquand Manuel on defense and Steve Sarkisian on offense.
He’s not expecting much to change, though, on offense. Reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan still will pull the trigger at quarterback, All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones remains a threat, and Fox expects the Freeman-Coleman combination to be busy in Solider Field.
“It would be hard to drift too far away from what they did last year,” Fox said. “You always want to put your players in the best position ... and (the Falcons) have got a pretty good stable of them offensively.”
The Falcons will face a defense quite different from its own Sunday, when the Bears will deploy a big front seven most frequently in a 3-4 alignment.
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, a second-round draft choice in 2015, goes 6-feet-4 and 320 pounds. Ends Mitch Unrein (6-4, 301) and Akiem Hicks (6-5, 332) also cast large shadows.
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (6-4, 251), who played at the University of Georgia before Chicago drafted him ninth overall last year, had seven sacks – like Hicks -- in just 12 games as a rookie.
“The interior three are obviously much bigger guys, guys who will try to run through the middle of you, but that’s kind of the difference in every team,” Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said. “You’ve got inside guys and more skilled pass-rushing guys on the outside.”
Chicago’s size, including that of the Bears’ other three linebackers – Danny Trevathan (6-1, 239) and Jerrell Freeman (6-0, 235) on the inside – and Willie Young (6-4, 258) on the outside – may make the Falcons’ stretch running plays even more popular than usual.
“They’re a physical, downhill team,” Freeman said. “They do a lot of good things, but you can’t judge too much off the preseason.”
The Falcons are equipped to handle all that Chicago beef with the quick Freeman and the fast Coleman.
Before the Super Bowl in February, Patriots coach Bill Belichick complimented the Falcons’ tag team.
“They’re fast, they catch the ball well, they’re hard to tackle,” Belichick said. “They catch the ball down the field. They’re certainly dangerous on catch-and-run plays — check downs, screens, things like that.
“They can get outside, they can run inside, they do a great job of breaking tackles. They make people miss in space. They run over guys, they run through them, they dodge them, and they don’t fumble.”
Freeman and Coleman may not be particularly attractive to fantasy football players because it’s rare for one player to shoulder the majority of work on any given Sunday, but they often make life doubly miserable for opponents.
“Yeah, because you don’t get as beat up as you would in a one-back system,” said Coleman, who also had but one catch and one reception in the preseason. “You’ve got a fresh (back) going in, and it makes you fresher to make more plays.”
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