Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 403d

Falcons struggling with fewer touches for Devonta Freeman

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has gone three consecutive games without scoring a touchdown.

He doesn't care.

"As long as we get the win, as long as we get the 'W,' I'm good," Freeman said. "Individual stats, that feels good, too. But I feel like the win overall as a team is better for all of us."

The 4-3 Falcons are 1-2 during Freeman's three-game scoring drought as they head into Sunday's NFC South matchup against Carolina (5-3). Freeman still leads the team with five touchdowns, all on the ground. But as ESPN Stats & Information noted, Freeman's touches have gone down from 19.8 per game during the first four games -- when the Falcons went 3-1 -- to 13.0 over the past three.

The last time the Falcons faced the Panthers -- a 33-16 victory in Charlotte last December -- Freeman had 21 touches, with 13 rushes and eight receptions. Freeman averaged 19 touches in his past four games against the Panthers, when the Falcons went 3-1.

Coach Dan Quinn continues to emphasize establishing the running game first with "high 20s" in attempts per game. And the screen game could come into play Sunday against the Panthers, who like to blitz and have menacing pass-rushers up front.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian discussed getting both Freeman and Tevin Coleman involved in the passing game. Both have 15 catches this season.

"They're a heck of a matchup problem for defenses," Sarkisian said of Freeman and Coleman. "And depending on formations and types of defenses we get -- man coverage, zone coverage -- you can try to create some opportunities that way.

"I know in the past couple of weeks, we've called a couple things specifically for Tevin. It wasn't the coverage we were looking for, and the ball ended up going somewhere else, which is natural in football. That happens when you're calling pass plays. Sometimes the defense can dictate where the ball's going to go on specific plays. All in all, we know they're a great matchup for us against defenses."

As for the running game, Freeman believes it's progressing. Freeman averages 4.5 yards per carry; Coleman averages 5.4.

"We're doing good," Freeman said. "We just can always get better. I think we rushed for 140 yards combined last week. We still can get better. It's a lot of detail things we can fix to get to that next level."

Getting the running game going could be a tough task against Panthers, with a run-stuffer like Kawann Short up front and an intimidating linebacker trio of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. The Panthers allow 81.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks fifth best in the league.

"These guys, like, they're super-smart on defense," Freeman said of Carolina. "That's one thing I like about them because it forces us to continue to be on our details. We're super-smart on offense, so it's going to be a good challenge.

"I think between the Carolina linebackers and the Tampa Bay linebackers, those are the best group of linebackers I play against every year. ... They dogs, and all the respect to all of them."

Freeman, who banged up his right shoulder last week and has been limited in practice, said he's good to go.

"My shoulder's good," Freeman said. "I'm a hard-body. Got a good hit, but I'm a hard-body. It ain't nothing."

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