Last year, Atlanta threw the ball 632 times and ran it on just 372 occasions. That's a far-from-ideal 63/37 split. Despite Matt Ryan's presence, and despite Julio Jones' all-world talent, the front office knew that gap had to shrink—if not vanish altogether.
So the Falcons drafted Tevin Coleman in the third round. Dan Quinn brought in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who likes to call a balanced game. And they installed a zone blocking scheme, which, historically, leads to successful ground attacks.
Atlanta's effort to find equilibrium bred lots of positivity, at least from within the organization. Until Monday, however, no one knew if it would translate to the field.
Now, it's easy to understand the optimism.
In beating the Eagles in front of a national audience, Falcons RBs collected 30 handoffs, while Ryan attempted only 34 throws. The veteran quarterback even took off five times, meaning Atlanta technically ran more than it passed. Quite a difference from 2014.
This approach paid off in a number of ways. For one, it let Coleman get into a rhythm. The young halfback impressed in his professional debut by logging 80 rushing yards on 20 carries—a four-yard average. It took pressure off Ryan, too, which helped on a night when he wasn't at his best.
It also made the play action a consistently effective device: According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan completed five of seven PA attempts for 96 yards and a 113.7 QB rating.
Coleman's success, though relatively moderate, forced the Eagles' defense to stay on its toes. Suddenly, the Falcons were no longer predictable. No longer could the opponent assume Atlanta would get the bulk of its offense through the air.
Instead, Shanahan's crew managed to produce in a variety of ways.
"Overall tonight I thought Kyle called a great game," said Ryan. "I thought we ran the ball really well. I'm excited about the two young backs that we have. Tevin, for his first NFL game, went out there and he didn't hesitate. He played really, really well. I thought when Devonta (Freeman) was in there too, both those guys finished runs tonight. They showcased what they're all about. I think it's one of those things we can continue to get better with."
Coleman's understanding of Atlanta's blueprint undoubtedly helped him gash Philadelphia's defense. He previously learned the wide zone at Indiana—now utilized by Shanahan, as well—and with good vision and the ability to one-cut-and-go, his skill set makes him a logical option for the Falcons.
"That helped me a lot," Coleman said of the knowledge he gained at school. "Just having the experience of it and having it in practice. It made me better out here. It made me see the right holes out here."
Another reason the gifted rookie excelled was Atlanta's remodeled offensive line. Assembled following the exhibition finale, Chris Morgan's five-man unit looked surprisingly solid in both run blocking and pass protection. Jake Matthews performed well coming off a back injury; Mike Person, a natural guard, wasn't a liability at center; and the right side of Chris Chester (G) and Ryan Schraeder (T) limited its mistakes, for the most part.
Although this group can improve in many areas, it held its own versus an adept front seven. That in itself is a crucial step in the right direction.
"I think our guys out there did a great job of communicating and making sure everyone was on the same page," said Andy Levitre, whom the Falcons acquired to play LG on Sept. 4. "Credit to the guys for helping me out. Tevin is good, man. He runs hard. I thought he did a good job hitting the holes. It's a credit to those guys—even the receivers blocking. It takes all 11 guys on offense to move the chains."
The running game is still a work in progress—Atlanta averaged 3.27 yards per carry against Philadelphia—but it's hard not to feel encouraged by Monday's improvements. If the O-line meshes, and if Coleman builds on his strong start, the Falcons will be well on their way to boasting an excellent, if not elite, offense.