As the Falcons took down the reigning Super Bowl champions and improved their record to 4-1, they set a franchise record for most points through the first five games of a regular season (175). What makes this achievement especially impressive is how many different ways Kyle Shanahan's group has shredded opponents in 2016.
The past two games in particular showcase the offense's ability to adapt. Versus Carolina, Julio Jones exploited one-on-one opportunities as he and Matt Ryan dominated in historic fashion. The Broncos, however, presented an entirely different challenge. In addition to their collection of sack artists, they boast a secondary that conceded a league-low 199.6 passing yards per game heading into Week 5.
Denver's pass-rush was indeed bullish on Sunday. Its outside coverage was reliable, as well. But the Falcons still managed to find the matchups that prepared them to exploit one of the sport's best defenses.
The Atlanta Falcons beat the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. Go inside the post game locker room with a few shots from our photographers.
RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been running the ball effectively, and each has shown he can be a valuable receiver, too. As CBs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. concerned themselves with Jones, Mohamed Sanu and other wideouts, Denver's LBs were tasked with guarding Coleman and Freeman.
Suffice it to say, that didn't go well for the Broncos. Coleman, Freeman and Patrick DiMarco combined for 180 receiving yards at Mile High Stadium — the most a team's RB corps has earned in an NFL game since 2013, per ESPN Game Stats and Info.
And all but four of those yards came against linebackers.
"They have a really good defense and their secondary is outstanding. We have great wide receivers and I have great respect for what they do, but we felt like our best matchups was getting our backs out of the backfield," Ryan said. "We have two really talented guys. There aren't many guys in this league that can run the football, pass protect and then motion out and run routes like wide receivers, and we have two of them. We are really fortunate and very lucky to have them and branch out today."
Coleman shined as he racked up 132 receiving yards on four catches. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan targeted him twice when LB Todd Davis was in coverage, and the second-year back caught both of those passes for 97 yards. Ryan fired one attempt to Coleman when LB Brandon Marshall was in coverage, and Coleman, who used his speed to gain plenty of separation, reeled in a well-timed throw and ran 31 yards for a touchdown.
When watching the video of that score, notice how quickly Ryan zeroed in on No. 26. He likely figured Atlanta had a mismatch on its hands, and as soon as his target blew past Marshall, Ryan made the Broncos pay.
"When the linebacker came up on me, that's when I knew I was getting the ball. I just turned on the jets," Coleman said. "It's a great defense, but they just had the linebackers on us and we are faster than them. It was a great call by Kyle (Shanahan) to have us run with the linebackers on us."
"(The running backs) were lined up at the receiver position. They had a good plan for us," said Broncos safety T.J. Ward. "We knew we would (contain Jones). The way we play coverage on him, it was going to be hard for him to be successful. But when you do things like that, you leave other areas of the field open, and they took advantage of them."
At present, D-coordinators know that focusing a lot of attention on Jones can allow Ryan's other options to excel. This has happened in two of the previous three weeks. And, of course, they know that giving Jones man-coverage can lead to disaster, as Carolina recently learned.
So there's no clear solution to repressing Atlanta's balanced attack. What is clear, though, is the Falcons have one of the most versatile offenses in the NFL, which makes them an imposing threat to any club — regardless of personnel or scheme.
"We're just now putting all those pieces together and putting everybody in position," Freeman said. "Everybody is learning their role. I definitely feel like everybody is learning their role. The coaches really understand us and what we can do. I definitely think we're the best in the league right now."