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Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman looking like next dynamic RB duo

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Devonta Freeman is very familiar with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

The Atlanta Falcons running back knows Stewart and Williams made up a rather potent running back tandem for the Carolina Panthers from 2008 to 2014. In fact, Stewart and Williams, nicknamed both “Smash and Dash” and “Double Trouble,” each rushed for 1,000 yards back in 2009.

"They were really good with that 1-2 punch," Freeman said. "I still talk to DeAngelo sometimes. When I was coming into the league, he was in the corner on the bus with me at the [NFLPA] Rookie Premiere, just giving me little keys on how to be successful in the league."

Speaking of success, can Freeman and teammate Tevin Coleman evolve into the next dominant running back combo? "Free and Fly" has a nice ring to it. And they’re off to a pretty good start this season.

Going into Sunday’s matchup against the Panthers, Freeman and Coleman have combined for 617 yards on 93 touches with five touchdowns, four on rushes by Coleman. Both are catching the ball well out of the backfield, with Coleman improving dramatically in that area. And the threat they bring in the running game opens up the play-action game for quarterback Matt Ryan.

“I think they both are really good and make the offensive line look really good,” center Alex Mack said of Freeman and Coleman. “I’m really happy about it. Our whole team is fighting to get those couple extra yards, and the running backs are turning those couple extra into a lot.”

Could Freeman and Coleman be the next combo to each rush for 1,000 yards? Freeman is on a 1,400-yard pace and is averaging a league-best 6.3 yards per carry. Coleman is on pace for about 600 rushing yards right now, but this is the same guy who routinely broke free for long touchdown runs in college at Indiana.

“If that could happen, that would be great,” Freeman said of each reaching 1,000. “But we don’t try to be like nobody. We try to be like us.”

Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon used to have to defend against the Stewart-Williams combo and sees a similarity.

“It just doesn’t matter which guy you hand it to; they’re going to get into the end zone, they’re going to make you miss, they’re going to do what they’ve got to do for the football team to help us win,” Weatherspoon said of Freeman and Coleman. “We love that about those guys.

“I do remember the Carolina guys and how they did a great job of running the football. Our guys do the same. I bet Mr. [Arthur] Blank is smiling and saying, 'Ah yeah, I’ve got two of them.' Them boys, they’re doing their thing. I just take my hat off to them. We gotta keep it going because we’re about to be in the thick of it with our third divisional game coming up.”

It will likely be tough to run the ball consistently against Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and the stingy Carolina defense on Sunday. The way Kuechly and Davis move from sideline to sideline makes it virtually impossible to run outside. The Panthers' defensive line, led by tackle Kawann Short, makes it difficult to run inside. So maybe Freeman and Coleman might have their best success as pass-catchers in this game. Or maybe they’ll help set up the play-action, with the way the Panthers come hard downhill, allowing Ryan to hit on some big passes down the field.

Whatever the case, Freeman and Coleman have opponents on high alert. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked if they remind him of his former tandem of Williams and Stewart. (Williams is now with the Steelers, while Stewart remains with the Panthers but is sidelined by a hamstring injury.)

"I’ve never thought about it, but I do see some similarities," Rivera said. "Both guys are dynamic and cause you different issues. They complement each other very well, and we will have our hands full."


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