Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan chuckled when asked what it felt like to have a rushing attack again.
It’s been awhile since Michael Turner helped to power the offense on a regular basis. The past three seasons, the run game was a mere afterthought.
But rookie Tevin Coleman, in his NFL debut, rushed 20 times for 80 yards and had a hard-charging 16-yard run nullified by a penalty. Devonta Freeman, who was coming off a hamstring injury, rushed 10 times for 18 yards.
“I thought our offensive line did a great job,” Ryan said. “I thought we ran the ball really, really well. I’m excited about the two young backs that we have.”
Coleman had a long run of 20 yards.
“I thought Tevin, for his first NFL game, he didn’t hesitate,” Ryan said. “He played really, really well.”
Freeman also caught three passes for 29 yards.
“I thought when Devonta was in there … both of those guys finished runs tonight,” Ryan said. “They showcased what they are all about. I think it’s one of those things where we can continue to get better with it.”
Ryan even got in on the rushing attack with a some bootleg runs. He finished with 7 yards on five carries.
“That’s part of the deal,” Ryan said. “That’s one of the things that comes along with the zone-read scheme, kind of getting outside the pocket as a quarterback. We did a lot of that earlier in my career…. I feel good doing it and those were big plays for us tonight.”
Coleman, a third-round pick out of Indiana, pulled ahead of Freeman in battle for the top running back spot late in the exhibition season. Both players suffered hamstring injuries, but Coleman returned from injury faster.
Freeman’s first action was against the Eagles.
“Things went real good for my first game,” Coleman said. “I was real excited with my play, the offense’s play and the defense. It was real exciting being out there with my team.”
Coleman, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season at Indiana, used his speed to get outside and run up the sidelines on a couple of nice runs.
“Everything came together and all coach (Dan Quinn) said was just finish,” Coleman said. “Just play fast and finish. That’s what we did. I was real excited about that.”
Coleman, like Ryan, praised the offensive line.
“My guys did good,” Coleman said. “We still have things to work on. We still have a long way. But, I’m really happy with them. They are working hard.”
Freeman did not play in an exhibition season game after injuring his hamstring on Aug. 6.
“It was good to get tackled again,” Freeman said. “I haven’t been tackled in a long time. It felt good to get tackled.”
Freeman was not pleased with his productivity.
“I feel like I was OK,” Freeman said. “I can get a lot better with my reads, my pass protection, catching the ball, finishing and controlling myself.
Coleman was pleased the rotation of the backs.
“The rotation was good and comfortable,” Coleman said. “We’re both amazing backs and we can both make plays. We both did make plays today. The rotation was good.”
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Credit: Christina Matacotta