Coleman as Copperfield: The Running Back’s Curious Disappearing Act

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 01: Tevin Coleman (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 01: Tevin Coleman (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Atlanta Falcons’ Tevin Coleman’s shrinking role in a once prolific offense is another glaring question mark as to rookie NFL Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s play-calling prowess.

Somebody head to Publix and scour the milk cartons, because we’ve got a case of a missing person on our hands.

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, Atlanta’s downfield speed complement to Devonta Freeman’s shifty footwork in the running game, has been virtually erased from the offensive scheme.

Coleman’s disappearing act six games into the season makes him somewhat of an unwitting magician—now you see him, now you don’t.

More from Blogging Dirty

The lack of Coleman’s incorporation into the game plan has gummed up the gears of a Falcons offense that once churned with frightening efficiency.

The offense looks listless, out-of-sync and one-dimensional, and a large reason for that falls squarely in Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s lap.

Sarkisian’s Three-Card Monte approach to the running backs has rendered lackluster results so far, to put it lightly. His hi-jinks particularly revolve around Coleman’s absence in a receiving role, one in which he excelled in 2016.

With his straight-line speed and ability to haul in the deep ball, Tevin Coleman is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Lining him up as a wide receiver, with Devonta Freeman in the backfield, is a wrinkle that former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan utilized often last season to wild success.

It creates confusion, mismatches, and allows Matt Ryan full access to Atlanta’s impressive array of offensive weapons.

Yet, inexplicably, Sarkisian has let this aspect of the offense gather dust in his bag of tricks, choosing instead to feature Coleman primarily as a change-of-pace back to spell Freeman.

Through six games last year, Tevin Coleman had racked up 320 yards on 18 receptions. 2017 so far? 14 catches for 157 yards. Save for a highlight reel, full-extension catch against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6 (which displayed the threat he poses to defenses), Coleman’s inclusion on plays downfield has been severely limited.

With some of the cutesy calls and 4th and 1 jet sweep-ery (ugh) that have defined Atlanta’s offensive identity so far, it’s baffling that Steve Sarkisian has not gone back to what works—what led the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

It’s either simple inflexibility in play-calling or a deficit in acknowledging this team’s strengths and weaknesses. Both are equally concerning.

Ultimately, the players must execute the plays as called, but coaching provides the situational framework for them to operate. That framework regarding Tevin Coleman resembles more ill-conceived guesswork than the definitive scheme of a seasoned offensive coordinator.

If Steve Sarkisian wants to turn it around, he must trust—and use—all of the talent at his disposal.

Next: Sean Weatherspoon is reportedly coming back

If Tevin Coleman continues to remain an afterthought in this offense, then the Atlanta Falcons quest to return to the Super Bowl may just be smoke and mirrors after all.