The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons boast two of the running back tandems in the NFL.
But one half of each tandem might be missing when the teams meet at noon Sunday in Atlanta.
With Mark Ingram still serving a four-game suspension for New Orleans and Atlanta's Devonta Freeman "day to day" with a knee injury that kept him out of last week's win over Carolina, this meeting between the Saints and Falcons will feature Alvin Kamara and Tevin Coleman as headliners.
"Certainly, going into this game, usually you are talking about two running backs that are really playing well," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Both teams are fortunate that, because of the depth in the backfield, they really have other guys that are more than capable, obviously."
Kamara and Coleman each have help — Kamara in the form of Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams; Coleman in Ito Smith — but they're also clearly getting more work than they would if their regular partners were available. Kamara has played a whopping 79.2 percent of the snaps on offense; Coleman's 16 carries last week were far more than his career average of 9.2 per game.
For the defenses, though, there is little difference in preparation.
Part of what makes the backfields in New Orleans and Atlanta so dangerous is that the Ingram-Kamara and Freeman-Coleman combinations are similar enough that every back can play any role.
"I really don't think that just having Coleman back there takes anything away from what they're trying to do," Saints linebacker A.J. Klein said. "I think they really stick to their guns with the run game. ... They're going to run the same offense. Doesn't matter who's back there."
Atlanta has had more success on the ground than the Saints so far.
After a somewhat slow start with 74 yards in the season opener against Philadelphia, Atlanta (1-1) ripped off 170 yards last week in a 31-24 against Carolina, led by Coleman's 107 yards on 16 carries.
Atlanta ranks sixth in the NFL so far in yards per carry, averaging 5.93 yards.
"Their strength is the offensive line getting up to the second level and getting to the linebackers," Klein said. "They try to get you running sideways. They're one cut and up the gut, and last week they had two or three 20-plus yard runs. If they hit a crease, they can take it."
Kamara has been devastating in the Saints' passing game so far, but his numbers haven't come on the ground yet — in part because the Saints (1-1) have been forced to play from behind in both games.
New Orleans is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry, a number that ranks second-to-last in the NFL this season, and Kamara is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry (21 carries, 75 yards) — far less than the 6.1-yard average he posted a season ago.
But the running game's importance is obvious; the Saints finally broke through against Cleveland when Kamara ripped off an 18-yard gain in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 21-18 win.
"It’ll be an important part of this week's game on the road," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Obviously, this past week, when we rushed it better in the latter part of the game, it helped us all offensively. Prior to that, we missed a ton of opportunities, just scoring opportunities."
Quinn isn't buying the narrative that New Orleans is struggling to run the ball without Ingram.
"We went through kind of the same thing two weeks ago in the red zone," Quinn said. "We were doom and gloom, and then we played better in the red zone last week. ... They've got talented guys, they've got a talented team, so we know they're more than equipped to do that, but they’re just really kind of getting things rolling. I don't dig too deep into things very early into the year from a statistical standpoint."
Quinn said he's more worried about the Saints' capabilities.
And like his own team, New Orleans still has plenty of talent at running back when one member of the group isn't available.