Atlanta's unsung ground game complements Ryan's air show

HOUSTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones get top-billing in the high-flying Falcons' attack, but running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman helped turn Atlanta into a scoring machine.

Ryan and Jones were surrounded by media at Monday's Super Bowl Opening Night show at Minute Maid Park, the home of Major League Baseball's Houston Astros, with the dynamic ball carriers content to field questions in the background.

Related: Key players and injuries for the Atlanta Falcons

Key players and injuries for the Atlanta Falcons
See Gallery
Key players and injuries for the Atlanta Falcons
Key offensive players

Matt Ryan, quarterback

The Falcons are led by Ryan, their stud quarterback. Ryan has had a solid career, but he elevated his play this season. He set personal bests of 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Furthermore, Ryan led the league with an astounding 117.1 passer rating. If the Falcons are to win their first Super Bowl, it will likely have everything to do with Matty Ice's performance.

(Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Devonta Freeman, running back

In his third year with the Falcons, Devonta Freeman once again led the charge from the backfield. He improved upon last season's rushing numbers, running the ball for 1,079 yards on much fewer carries. Freeman continued to be dangerous in the passing game, as well, with 462 receiving yards. Freeman scored 13 touchdowns in the regular season.

(Photo by Simon Bruty /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Julio Jones, wide receiver

Julio Jones needs no introduction. He is arguably the greatest receiver in the NFL, dominating almost every game with his hands, feet and physicality. While he did not replicate his ridiculous numbers from last season, Jones still caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. Jones' receiving yards were second in the league behind the Colts' T.Y. Hilton.

(Photo by Simon Bruty /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Tevin Coleman, running back

Despite not being a starting running back, Tevin Coleman put up solid numbers in his sophomore season. Acting in relief of Freeman, Coleman amassed nearly 1,000 yards, giving the Falcons arguably the best group of receiving running backs in the league. Look for Coleman, who scored 11 touchdowns in the regular season, to get plenty of work against the Patriots.

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Offensive line

The players responsible for giving Ryan all that time to throw the ball are the offensive linemen. The line includes Jake Matthews at left tackle, Andy Levitre at left guard, Alex Mack (pictured) under center, Chris Chester at right guard and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle.

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Key offensive injuries

Mack and Jones are the two offensive names on the Falcons' injury report. Jones did not practice Wednesday due to a lingering toe injury. Still, short of aggravating the toe further, you better believe Jones will play in the Super Bowl. The Falcons' starting tight end, Jacob Tamme, is on injured reserve and will miss the game.

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Key defensive players

Defensive line

The Falcons' defensive line will have their work cut out for them as they try and get to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The line consists of defensive ends Brooks Reed and Tyson Jackson (pictured) and defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Grady Jarrett. Dwight Freeney, who has 122.5 sacks in his career, should get a few chances in relief to knock down Brady.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)


The Falcons' linebacking corps is made up of Deion Jones, Vic Beasley Jr. (pictured) and De'Vondre Campbell. Beasley recorded 15.5 sacks this season and was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons

Defensive backs

Assuming the Patriots' offensive line will do their job and protect Brady, it is the Falcons' defensive backs who will have to prevent wide receiver Julian Edelman from getting open. The Falcons' playmakers in the secondary include cornerbacks Robert Alford and Jalen Collins (pictured) and Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal at safety.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Key defensive injuries

The only defensive player listed on the Falcons' injury report is Freeney, who missed Wednesday's practice for non-injury-related reasons.

(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Special teams

Matt Bryant, kicker

Matt Bryant converted 34 of 37 field goals this season. The 41-year-old ageless kicker has been superb all season, and should the game come down to a field goal, there is nobody else Atlanta would want kicking the ball.

(Photos by Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


On the gridiron, their contributions pay off where it counts most - on the scoreboard.

Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Coleman gained 520 yards and notched eight touchdowns to lend deadly balance to the Falcons' offense.

Together, they helped Atlanta finish fifth in the league in rushing yards, and first in regular season scoring with 540 points.

"I ain't trying to brag too much but man, we can both get it done and that is tough, that's tough. He's (Coleman) got that speed, he's got that burst," Freeman told a small group of reporters.

SEE ALSO: Where are they now? The 6 quarterbacks drafted before Tom Brady in 2000

"He can catch it out of the backfield, he can run those (pass) routes. And I can do the same thing. Speed out of the backfield and having a quarterback that puts us in position to make plays. That's tough."

Freeman caught 54 passes for 462 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Coleman corralled 31 for 421 yards and three scores.

Featured running back Freeman said he draws inspiration from a player who will be on the opposite sideline in Sunday's title game -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Freeman was taken in the fourth round with the 103rd pick of the 2014 NFL draft while four-time Super Bowl winner Brady was also a late selection going in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

"Look where Tom Brady was drafted. He's a dog. Tom Brady's a dog. That man walks around with a chip on his shoulder," said Freeman. "I walk around with a chip on my shoulder. We have a lot in common." (Editing by Steve Keating)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.