If the Rams are going to win on Saturday, they need to close down the dual threat of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman, who was the eight running back drafted in the 2014 NFL draft, has gone on to surpass all of the others. He has a total of 4,835 yards from scrimmage and has scored 37 touchdowns in his four years in the league. Coleman was drafted in 2015 as a compliment to Freeman but has seen a lot more action than would have been expected in the Falcons offense.
Against The Rush
The Rams defense has struggled this year against strong running backs. Only the Buffalo Bills (20) have conceded more touchdowns to running backs than the Rams (17). The Rams have also conceded 1,716 rushing yards and 707 receiving yards to running backs in 2017. This ranks 28th in the league. Against running backs alone, the Rams give up an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
A large part of the big number of rushing yards comes from big plays. Four times this season the Rams have allowed a running back to run for more than 60 yards on a single play. This equates to over 16% of rushing yards conceded on just four plays.
- Chris Thompson ran for a 61-yard touchdown in week 2 for the Washington Redskins.
- Alfred Morris made a 70-yard run to the Rams 5 yard line in week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys which resulted in a touchdown three plays later.
- Leonard Fournette rushed for a 75-yard touchdown in week 6 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- Alvin Kamara rushed for a 74-yard touchdown during the week 12 win over the New Orleans Saints. He also caught all six of his intended passes for 101 yards and another touchdown.
In addition, there have been periods during games when the defense has allowed big gains over multiple plays. Most recently in the week 13 win over Arizona Cardinals, Kerwynn Williams was able to run for 47 yards on one drive to set up an easy touchdown.
Wade Philips has been very good at making in-game adjustments, which has stifled the running backs offensive capabilities. With the playoffs being win or bust, pregame planning must be of the highest level to prevent any of these big plays putting an end to the season.
The Atlanta Falcons operate with a running back by committee approach with Freeman and Coleman. Between them, they have rushed for 1,493 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. They have also amassed 616 receiving yards and caught another four touchdowns.
Neither player has been as productive as in 2016, although they have both missed a couple of games this season. In 2016, when the Falcons led the NFL offensively, they collectively rushed for 1,599 yards scoring 20 touchdowns. Both also racked up 883 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns.
Despite a drop in production in 2017, both players have the rushing and receiving skills to hurt the Rams defense.
When playing other teams in the bottom 10 defenses against running backs, the Falcons are 2-2.
Against Buffalo Bills (30th), Coleman rushed for 77 yards. He also caught four passes from six targets for 65 yards. Freeman also had a good game, rushing for 58 yards and scoring a touchdown. He also caught both passes sent his direction for a total of 20 yards.
Despite losing 23-7 to the New England Patriots (25th), Freeman and Coleman combined for 106 all-purpose yards.
Freeman had 138 all-purpose yards and a touchdown against Detroit Lions (24th). In this game, Coleman had 46 rushing and 43 receiving yards.
In their win over the Packers (23rd), Freeman scored two touchdowns and ran for 84 yards. He also had 16 receiving yards. Coleman also scored a touchdown and had 45 all-purpose yards.
As mentioned earlier, stopping big plays is so important and both Freeman and Coleman have had runs of 20 yards or more on 11 occasions. Freeman’s longest rush of 44 yards, whereas Coleman’s longest rush on the season is 52 yards. Stopping the running backs from running is just one aspect of the game. Both Freeman and Coleman are very adept in the passing game and with Julio Jones keeping the secondary busy, stopping Matt Ryan from finding Freeman and Coleman is also an important consideration.
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