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Early Bird Report: What Devonta Freeman's return means; Julio Jones wants something more than touchdowns

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes what the return of Devonta Freeman could mean as well as Julio Jones’ team-first mentality.

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All signs point to the Falcons having starting running back Devonta Freeman in the fold this weekend against the Steelers, which is obviously great news for the offense.

“It’s always good for us if he’s able to get back out this week,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s such a talented player, so good in the run game, so talented for us out in the backfield for the passing game. He’s a matchup problem … But he brings a lot to the table. He brings a little bit of a unique skill set to the table for us.”

The Falcons’ offense ranks highly in nearly every major statistic except for rushing offense. Through the first four games, Atlanta is 21st in rushing yards per game with an average of 96 yards.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote more about what Freeman’s return could mean for the Falcons, which you can read here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

ESPN: No touchdowns yet for Julio Jones, but he prefers wins

Julio Jones has gained 502 receiving yards through the first four weeks, the most of any player in the NFL, but critics continue to point to his zero touchdown receptions. For Jones, a player owner Arthur Blank described as “very sefless” to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, the only thing that matters is wins.

The Falcons certainly appear to have an offense capable of winning games this season, especially with rookie receiver Calvin Ridley, who currently leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with six, emerging alongside Jones.

"It's all about my teammates and being successful, at the end of the day," Jones said. "I've had a lot of success by myself, but it's not good when you can't go and accomplish things as a team and have success as a team."

To read the rest of McClure’s piece, click here.

NFL.com: Top rookie-veteran duos

The Falcons appear to have a very good read on receivers coming out of Alabama. Their previous two draft picks that fit that bill are currently the NFL’s leading receiver in yards (Julio Jones) and touchdowns (Calvin Ridley). It’s been an impressive start for Ridley, the team’s first-round draft pick in April, and he could help create a bit more breathing room for Jones on the other side if he keeps up this pace.

Atlanta’s dynamic receiving duo has started to open up some eyes around the country, and it landed atop Gil Brandt’s list of the top rookie-veteran duos for NFL.com.

“Ridley did not begin his career with a bang, logging zero catches (on just two targets) in Week 1,” Brandt writes. “But while he has yet to start a game, the first-round pick has ramped up the pace considerably, collecting an astonishing six touchdown receptions in three games since -- the most in the league, and an NFL record for a rookie in his team's first four games. His reception and yardage totals (15 and 264, for a healthy 17.6 average) are nothing to sneeze at, either. Ridley is an excellent route-runner who also brings loads of speed and outstanding hands to the table.

“He's undoubtedly helping to open things up for Jones -- who, oddly, does not have a touchdown catch yet, though he leads the NFL with 502 receiving yards -- and the rest of the Falcons' offense. I think Ridley will continue to cede starts to veteran No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu, but Ridley is a more potent big-play threat than Sanu, having outgained Sanu by 80 yards despite playing 51 fewer snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Right now, Ridley looks like a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.”

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