Falcons can't forget about Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman

Devonta Freeman had 11 carries for 20 yards on Sunday against the Buccaneers. Photos by Frank Mattia/Iconsports Wire

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Entering the season, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn raved about Devonta Freeman's passion and drive, emphasizing how Freeman always challenges himself to elevate his game.

That being said, there were times during Sunday's 31-24 season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Freeman stood and watched from the sideline, and it wasn't because the Falcons had a cushion. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan vowed to go with the ``hot hand'' at running back, meaning Freeman would have to share time with speedy Tevin Coleman. But there's something to be said about developing a rhythm rather than shuffling in and out of the game.

In the end, Freeman, the starter, played 36 of 65 offensive snaps while Coleman played 32. Coleman accumulated 117 total yards on his 13 touches, while Freeman had 40 yards on his 15.

So moving forward, how does Quinn plan to approach the situation, knowing the last thing he wants is to neglect his Pro Bowl running back in Freeman?

"We know both these guys are going to be a factor,'' Quinn said. ``We just had two running backs active [Sunday], so for the whole portion of the game, both of them have done significant things really well. We’re going to utilize them both.

``Devonta has shown he’s definitely capable of carrying a load all the way through. But the fact that we have two guys that we’re able to feature is important. Both of them are going to be a really big factor in what we’re doing."

Neither Freeman nor Coleman could get much going in the running game against the Buccaneers. The Falcons had 52 rushing yards on 22 carries, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. In fact, quarterback Matt Ryan had a better yards per carry average (3.3) than both Coleman (2.8) and Freeman (1.8).

The blocking was shoddy, at times. Then there were times when the backs just didn't find the hole. Not to mention the Buccaneers should get plenty of credit for flying all over the field, particularly linebacker Kwon Alexander with his 17 total tackles.

``We had some opportunities to hit some big ones,'' Quinn said. ``They’ve got some really talented guys in the front, and we knew it’d be a challenge in the run game but can you have a couple of those that go for the 20 or 25 yard run? When those don’t break, then it doesn’t show up that we had a successful day running.

``That might’ve been a combination of did the receiver come down and crack? Did we open up the hole? Or did one guy get beat? For those guys, when they hit to that next level and they can get on a safety or on a linebacker, that’s when those explosive plays come. [Sunday], our explosive plays came in the pass game. We felt we missed some opportunities in the run game to have those explosives. They ran hard, but when those opportunities come, that’s about doing right longer and finishing on this play, and we showed some of those examples [Monday]."

The Falcons hope to fix those run-game woes this week against Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders. Last week, the Raiders gave up 88 rushing yards on 22 attempts to Mark Ingram and the New Orleans Saints. The Raiders were 13th in the league against the run last season, surrendering 104.9 rushing yards per game.

We'll see how Freeman, the fantasy football star last year with 14 total touchdowns, is utilized in Week 2. If he's at all concerned about having to share touches, he's certainly not showing any animosity toward his teammates. In fact, Pro Bowl fullback Patrick DiMarco pointed to one instance from Sunday that was indicative of just what type of teammate Freeman truly is.

``I think Tevin might have missed a protection Sunday, and Free was the first one to say, `Hey your footwork here was a little messed up,'" DiMarco said. ``We're together. We feed off each other. When Tevin sparks, Devonta is the first one jumping up on the sideline.

``We talked about it [Monday] and Free said, `When you guys eat, I eat. When your family eats, my family eats.' We build of each other and grow with each other.''