News broke Tuesday that the Atlanta Falcons will be placing Devonta Freeman on the IR with a foot injury. Freeman has been active for just two of the Falcons six games so far this season. He had already been declared doubtful for Week 7 which means this news is not really a huge surprise. However, for many this is another blow in a season full of them to the Falcons. However, there are reasons why this loss is not a disaster for the Falcons.
Falcons With Freeman vs. Without Freeman
The numbers make for pretty interesting reading.
very weird split that i’m not sure has any real correlation but
since sark took over
falcons with freeman: 19.2 points per game
falcons without freeman: 33.1 points per game
— 🔪👻🎃 calvin grisly 🎃👻🔪 (lakers 0-0) (@FourVerts) October 11, 2018
Now it is obviously a small sample size given that Freeman has played in 15 games compared to seven that he has missed (the missed games include the Dallas game where Freeman played the first drive). In addition, if we stick with small sample sizes then Freeman has missed six games the Falcons have played at home compared to one on the road. Just this season alone the Falcons have severe home road splits. In their two road games (both with Freeman) they are averaging 14.5 points per game. In their four home games (all without Freeman) they are averaging 34.5 points per game. So is the split due to Freeman or the Falcons playing at home in their dome? My vote is that the location has more to do with the results than Freeman.
Chance to Discover
The Falcons are in an interesting position with their backfield. Freeman is currently in the second year of his contract, which runs four more years. The Falcons have a potential out after next season when the remaining dead cap would be $9 million spread over two years. However, before they can consider that they need to make a key decision. What do they do with Tevin Coleman?
Coleman is in the last year of his contract. However, he has never really done anything amazingly exceptional as a Falcon. His use has been as the change of pace back to Freeman. From what we have seen so far in 2018 Coleman is not capable of being a number one back. It all started off well against the Panthers where he had 107 yards rushing on 16 carries. Since then, he has managed just 119 yards in the following three games without Freeman. In Week 6 he was actually out carried by rookie Ito Smith. The injury to Freeman gives Coleman an extended run of 10-more games as the lead back. How he does in those games may shape what the Falcons do going forward at the running back position.
What About Ito Smith?
The pressure is on Coleman big time this season because the Falcons drafted Ito Smith. Smith was not drafted to replace Freeman, so the only reason for spending a third round pick on him would be as a replacement to Coleman. Smith is not doing anything particularly impressive. He is averaging 3.2 yards per carry across his 32 rushes this season. However, he has scored three touchdowns this year being utilised as the change of pace back. He is essentially being to Coleman what Coleman was to Freeman. The irony huh?
Over the next four years Smith will earn $2.46 million, none of which is guaranteed. If the Falcons sign Coleman to a new contract he will earn at least double that in every single season and there will be a good proportion full guaranteed. Smith only has to be competent this year and the Falcons will have an easy decision sending Coleman off into free agency.
The Final Word
The Falcons kept their season alive on Sunday. Had they of lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then they would be 1-5 and as good as done. However, they won while the Panthers lost and now they at least have a shot. However, with their defense in tatters and every game coming down to the whistle the chances of them going all the way are slim. In addition, Freeman was not going to be the make or break element of this season. Therefore, getting to give their big money running back some time off is not a major issue. In addition, it give the Falcons a real chance to evaluate Coleman as a number one and Ito Smith as a true change of pace back. This might feel like a hammer blow to the Falcons today but come the end of the season it might well be a blessing in disguise.