HOUSTON — Devonta Freeman knows that the Patriots will have a good plan to slow down the Falcons and their top-ranked scoring offense in Super Bowl LI on Sunday.
“Of course,” the Falcons running back said on Wednesday. “That’s the whole purpose when you have two weeks [between games]. You’ve got a smart coach . . . and smart players, fundamental football, techniques and everything in the details of the system. Of course they are going to figure out ways and schemes to stop us and game plan around us.”
Ah. But will any of it work?
“No, I don’t think so,” Freeman said. “Not when we are out there with the confidence we are playing with right now. We’re unstoppable.”
It’s interesting that Freeman would be the one to verbally challenge the Patriots defense so directly since it may fall on him to back it up. Super Bowl dogma suggests that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick attacks teams with a defensive philosophy of taking away their most dangerous weapons. In the case of the Falcons, that would have to be Matt Ryan’s passing game, which targets All-Pro Julio Jones and a cast of other well-regarded receivers.
So what does that leave for the Falcons? Their running game. And their running backs.
“I think it is always important to have a balance between the run game and the pass game,” Freeman said. “We execute in all three phases and I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll come home with the Super Bowl.”
Freeman isn’t the Falcons’ only running back. He and Tevin Coleman are practically interchangeable at the position.
“Devonta and Tevin are two of the best in the league,” Ryan said on Wednesday. “They complement each other so well. The unique thing about us with them is they’re both three-down backs. It’s rare that you have one guy on your roster like that. We have two.”
They’re so similar, Ryan said, that he doesn’t even need to know which is in the backfield when he calls the play or makes his checks.
“There’s really no change in what we do no matter which guy is in there,” Ryan said.
It’s a fairly unique setup. Most teams that rely on two running backs do so because no one of them can carry the load. With the Falcons, they do it because both can. At least for now. Freeman’s agent made waves this week by publicly suggesting his client be paid like an elite running back. He is under contract through the 2017 season. Freeman doesn’t see that as a distraction, though.
“Where I come from, where I grew up at, I could be playing in the middle of the field . . . and a shootout might start,” Freeman said of his childhood in Miami. “You know, that’s a distraction. Dodging a bullet or something like that, that’s a distraction. That’s frustration, going to sleep every night thinking you might hear gun shots. That was the stuff that was distracting to me. This is football. Ain’t no distraction.”
And neither are the Patriots.
They can spend every minute from now until kickoff dreaming up ways to try to clip the Falcons’ wings. Bill Belichick and his gang can go into their defensive laboratory and concoct any number of potions. It won’t matter, Freeman said.
“We have the same thing too: smart coach and smart players,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great matchup between us. They have a lot of great athletes on their defense. They are number one in the NFL for a reason. We are number one in the NFL for a reason. So I’m just excited to see how the matchup turns out.”
Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman accounted for nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage this season. The breakdown: