Chris Harris: Patriots-esque game plan beat Broncos

Kyle Shanahan didn't test the "No Fly Zone" much on Sunday. Instead, the Atlanta Falcons picked on Denver Broncos linebackers with their superb running backs.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 167 receiving yards. Coleman was particularly deadly. The speedy back sometimes lined up as a receiver, drawing a linebacker in coverage, torching the Broncos for 132 receiving yards on four catches (33.0 yards per catch average) with a touchdown.

The Broncos' defense allowed more points (23), total yards (372), passing yards (250) and yards per play (6.0) than in any other game this season. Matt Ryan's 98.4 passer rating was more than 25 points higher than the past six quarterbacks to face the Broncos (Tom Brady, Cam Newton (twice), Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston).

Coleman became the first player to record 100-plus receiving yards against the Broncos this season. The last player to breach the 100-yard barrier was Rob Gronkowski in the 2015 AFC Championship game (144 yards on eight receptions).

That string is notable because the Patriots were the last team to exploit Broncos linebackers in coverage the way Shanahan did Sunday.

"We haven't seen that scheme since the AFC championship. That's Patriots all day," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said, via the Denver Post.

Not only did Gronk exploit the matchup with Denver linebackers that January day, but New England running back James White got open often and earned 16 (!) targets, but only caught five passes. (Ask anyone from Boston, and they'll tell you that the Patriots, not Denver, would be Super Bowl champs if White didn't have butterfingers.)

Putting Denver's linebackers in precarious positions is easier said than done. The Falcons, like the Pats before, own unique personnel to exploit the matchups. On Sunday, Shanahan deployed the perfect game plan to penetrate a previously impervious defense.

That game script was out there, but most teams don't have a Coleman-Freeman tandem that can take advantage.

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