FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Devonta Freeman wasn't about to get caught up in a debate regarding running back duos.
The two-time Pro Bowler knows one of the storylines going into Thursday night's NFC South showdown between his Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints is each team's backfield twosomes. Freeman and Tevin Coleman make for a pretty potent 1-2 punch, while the Saints' rookie Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are gaining plenty of yards, and probably more attention, for the division-leading Saints.
“Man, I'm not going to sit up here and start talking about which running back combo is the best,” Freeman said. “It's not about that. It's about us doing us. That's what we can worry about.
"But Kamara and Ingram, they're doing their thing. They're very talented. I give them plenty of credit.”
Going into Thursday, Kamara and Ingram have combined 2,397 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns on 367 offensive touches. Kamara has 1,220 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 145 touches; Ingram has 1,177 and nine touchdowns -- all rushing -- on 222 touches. Kamara leads all non-kickers with 68 total points and also is fourth in the league with 1,340 all-purpose yards, including 120 on kickoff returns.
“They complement each other really well,” Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said of Kamara and Ingram. “You've got Ingram, who's really a complete back, you know, power [and] he has a little bit of shiftiness to him, can catch the ball out the backfield.
“Then you have Kamara, he's just a gadget, man. You can line him up anywhere and he can just make plays all over the field. ... A modern-day Darren Sproles. He's a good football player.”
Ingram is dealing with a toe injury that leaves his status uncertain. If he doesn't play, that means the Saints will lean more heavily on Kamara. But it's reasonable to think Ingram will play in a game of this magnitude if the toe injury is not serious.
Meanwhile, Freeman and Coleman have a combined 1,539 yards and 12 touchdowns on 299 touches, although Freeman missed two games with a concussion. Coleman has 806 total yards and seven touchdowns on 151 touches; Freeman has 733 total yards and five touchdowns -- all rushing -- on 148 touches.
“They're both fantastic backs,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Freeman and Coleman. “We feel like we know them very well in our division. Those guys both have done an outstanding job. They understand the scheme. They're versatile in regard to their protections. I think it's a tremendous challenge.
“They're both guys that you have to play well as a defensive 11 because they can kind of cut back and make you defend the whole field. Atlanta's done a great job, and Dan [Quinn] has done a great job and their staff of putting in those positions to make it really challenging. They've been a big part of the offense's success there and a big weapon certainly for Matt [Ryan] and the offense there, and also for the defense while they're on the field.”
The Falcons are 7-1 in the past two seasons when Freeman and Coleman have teamed for 200 total yards. Their largest output was 296 combined yards in last year's 45-32 victory at New Orleans, when Coleman had three rushing touchdowns and Freeman had a touchdown reception. Their only loss when they've gained 200 yards collectively was in Week 4 of this season against Buffalo, when they combined for 220 yards.
From a defensive perspective, the Falcons know they must be well aware of the Saints' screen game with Ingram and Kamara, as both have more than 40 catches. Drew Brees gets the ball out to them quickly.
“[Coach Payton] likes to get the ball to them not only in the run game, which they're great at as well but in the passing game,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said of Ingram and Kamara. “They can line up as wide receivers. Huge screen team, from that standpoint. And I think [Payton] does a great job of balancing the run-pass ratio with those guys to keep you off-balance as a defense.”
The Falcons have the speed at linebacker, particularly with Deion Jones, to match up with the Saints' running backs. The Saints are solid up front on the defensive line.
It should all make for an interesting tag-team match.