The Falcons have received a lot of coverage this year for their two-headed monster at running back. After Sunday's game, it's become clear they have an enviable duo at tight end, as well.
Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper — the former a seasoned veteran, the latter a rookie out of Stanford — each notched a touchdown against Carolina, helping the Falcons earn their third-consecutive win and expand their lead in the NFC South.
Hooper's score, his first as a pro, was one of the afternoon's biggest plays. As Matt Ryan took the snap and extended the ball toward Devonta Freeman, Hooper, along with fellow TE Levine Toilolo, looked like he was going to block. All three of the Panthers' linebackers eyed Freeman and prepared to defend the run.
Ryan faked the handoff, though, and as he rolled out, Hooper streaked across the turf. Carolina's LBs and defensive backs scrambled; they forgot to account for Hooper, who got wide open downfield, corralled a deep throw and rumbled into the end zone for a 42-yard TD.
"The linebackers were being real aggressive, trying to sell out the run, so that's kind of our counter to that," Hooper told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It kind of keeps them honest. Kyle (Shanahan) called it, we executed it, Matt threw the perfect ball and I just caught it and turn around and run."
Through four games, Tamme and Hooper have gained 157 and 140 receiving yards, respectively — good for 14th and 20th in the NFL at their position. Ryan has been particularly sharp when targeting those two, completing 21 of 26 throws to them for 297 yards and three TDs.
Atlanta has been spreading the ball around effectively — at least eight Falcons have caught a pass during each contest thus far in 2016 — and the tight end production is a big reason why.
"Defending the whole field is the biggest challenge for any defense. So when you have guys that can be featured in different ways, whether it's Jacob or (Hooper) … that's where it comes into effect," head coach Dan Quinn said.
"If it's a matchup on a tight end and a running back and a wide receiver, those are hard matchups to find. Any time you can create those matchups, that's a real challenge for the defense, especially when it gets to third down — you're trying to play tighter coverage, there's some man-to-man opportunities. Where do you put most of your help? Having (the tight ends) come through has allowed other players opportunities as well."