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Falcons' Passing Game Stays Balanced in Week 1

During Atlanta's season opener, more than 20 minutes of action passed before Julio Jones made his first catch. This would've likely been problematic a year ago. On Sunday, however, it didn't stop the offense from starting fast.  

Before Jones got involved, Matt Ryan completed seven of eight attempts for 90 yards, utilizing five different targets in that stretch. Mohamed Sanu gashed Tampa's zone D for a 59-yard gain in the first quarter; shortly thereafter, he caught his first touchdown of the year, giving the Falcons a much-needed red zone conversion.

Devonta Freeman aided the passing game early on, too, as did Jacob Tamme and Patrick DiMarco. Before Jones' name appeared on the box score, Atlanta had put 10 points on the board.

The balanced attack continued as the afternoon wore on. Altogether, eight Falcons caught a pass against Tampa Bay. Five notched at least four receptions; four tallied 50-plus receiving yards. And Jones still found a way to haul in six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.

By spreading the ball around so effectively, Atlanta demonstrated it has the weapons needed to move the ball downfield — even if its premier option isn't taking over.

"Obviously we know coming into games that people are going to have plans to adjust to Julio. I thought some of our other guys did a great job of stepping up," Ryan said. "When people are going to try to take him away, you have to have other guys step up and make plays."

Among those who stepped up was Tevin Coleman, who snagged five passes for a team-high 95 receiving yards. Through Sunday's action, only 10 players — nine of whom are wideouts — ranked higher in that category.

Freeman chipped in with 20 yards of his own on four catches. He and Coleman registered a combined 157 yards from scrimmage (115 in the air, 42 on the ground), making up 42 percent of Atlanta's total net yards.

The RB duo has become especially dangerous on screen routes. This was evident at training camp, and it became clear in Week 1 as Coleman authored the second-longest play of the contest.

"It just makes it that much harder (for the defense)," head coach Dan Quinn said. "I think the screen game kind of coming alive, it's another factor of what we do. Defensively, that's very hard to defend — with the run game, with the play-action, now you add the screen game in with guys like (Freeman and Coleman) that are significant factors. It just opens up more opportunities. We've got an explosive group."

Jones' record-breaking numbers in 2015 have many wondering if he can amass 2,000 yards in a season. As offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said in December, that plateau can be reached, but "you hope it doesn't happen, because you'd like to spread it around and be a little bit more balanced."

The Falcons were certainly more balanced in Week 1 than they were through most of 2015, when Jones racked up the fourth-most targets in NFL history, according to Sporting Charts.

"We just have to clean up the little things," Jones said. "We compete and we have toughness. Everything is there. Guys went out there and competed. We gave a great effort. As a whole, I just feel that we need to clean up penalties. We just have to play a clean game. Everything else is there."

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