Chris Harris: Patriots-esque game plan beat Broncos

didn’t test the “No Fly Zone” much on Sunday. Instead, the Atlanta Falcons jerseys picked on linebackers with their superb running backs.

Devonta Freeman and 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.

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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 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 said, via the Denver Post.

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Not only did Gronk exploit the matchup with Denver linebackers that January day, but New England running back 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.

This week’s marquee matchup features the NFL’s highest-scoring offense versus the dominant defense of the past two seasons.

The question on the mind of 4-0 Denver Broncos fans as they prepare to square off with the 3-1 Atlanta Falcons: who will be under center when the whistle blows?

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Although sat out Wednesday’s practice with an injury to his left shoulder, he told NFL Media’s James Palmer that he still expects to start at quarterback on Sunday.

That doesn’t mean he has the green light from coach , though.

Siemian conceded that he doesn’t know how his arm will feel because he has yet to test it since suffering the injury in last week’s game.

Kubiak plans to take the decision all the way up to game time if necessary, per Palmer. The Broncos are confident enough in Siemian’s football IQ and preparation to play him even if he misses the bulk of practice reps this week.

If Siemian’s shoulder isn’t healthy enough to play, though, Kubiak has no qualms about turning to backup Paxton Lynch.

Kubiak has made it clear this week that Siemian won’t have to worry about losing his job to the more physically gifted rookie. The question is whether the starter’s shoulder will cooperate by Sunday.

The Panthers will ride into Week 3 without the services of Jonathan Stewart.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera told reporters Monday that the veteran running back will miss Sunday’s game against the Vikings with the hamstring injury he suffered in a 46-27 win over the 49ers.

Stewart is scheduled to undergo an MRI, but Rivera made it clear that the back could be out “at least a week or two,” meaning he’s no sure thing for the team’s Week 4 tilt against the Atlanta Falcons, either.

Stewart left Sunday’s game in the first quarter and never returned, leaving Fozzy Whittaker and versatile fullback Mike Tolbert to carry the load. Look for Carolina to also activate Cameron Artis-Payne this week.

It’s not good news for Carolina — especially with Minnesota’s raucous defense up next — but few teams do a better job of getting their bench players ready to roll. Whittaker proved that Sunday, blasting through San Francisco’s defense for 100 yards off 16 carries.

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