FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It took Arthur Smith exactly five minutes and 1,074 words to answer the question of why Bijan Robinson has had limited touches in the red zone through the first nine games of 2023. I won't copy the entire quote here on account of it being over a massive transcription. So, I suggest that, if you want to hear word-for-word what Smith's answer to that questions was, go to 2:50 on the video above.
It's not an easy five minutes to follow. Sometimes sentences start and wrap around to something else entirely. Other times there's repetition. It's Smith trying to make a point without becoming too nuanced and weighed down in football jargon.
In the end, though, I needed more than those those five minutes and 1,074 words as I sat down to write this article, an article I knew had to be on the Falcons red-zone offense. However, I will give Smith this: Those five minutes and 1,074 words did set a course for me. For that, I am thankful. He also said on Friday that "you have to be critical or you'll never improve."
So, here we are.
I spent hours on Thursday going back through every single red-zone play the Falcons have had so far in 2023. Yep. Every single one. I charted the outcomes of all 28 appearances. I highlighted the key trends that took form. I went through what Smith spent five minutes talking about on Wednesday. (Believe me when I say it took a lot longer than five minutes to do so).
Before I pass on my learnings and notes, I will leave you with this thought: Statistics cannot -- and will not -- tell you everything you need to know about the game of football. I know this. I also know that I am not a play caller. Never have been, never will be. So, I cannot -- and will not -- speak to the play designs themselves. I will only speak to the outcomes. So, consider this entire article an attempt by yours truly to set a proverbial table for you. You (as the reader) can pick and choose what looks good, what looks not-so-good and what you want to set your sights on. Either way, consume what's in front of you. I think it's important.
Big picture stats from the red zone
28 trips | 14 touchdowns (seven passing, seven rushing) | 9 field goals | 5 penalties (3 delay of games, 2 false starts) | 4 turnovers | 1 turnover on downs
Red zone targets
WR Drake London: 9 targets, 6 catches and 2 touchdowns
TE Jonnu Smith: 6 targets, 5 catches and 1 touchdown (1 pass, too, that was intended for MyCole Pruitt but fell incomplete)
TE Kyle Pitts: 5 targets, 2 catches and 1 touchdown
RB Bijan Robinson: 4 targets, 4 catches and 2 touchdowns
WR Mack Hollins, WR Scotty Miller, TE MyCole Pruitt, RB Tyler Allgeier and FB Keith Smith combined: 9 targets, 5 catches and 1 touchdown
Red zone carries
RB Bijan Robinson: 9 carries for 27 yards (2 carries for a loss or no gain), 1 touchdown
RB Tyler Allgeier: 26 carries for 68 yards (6 carries for a loss or no gain), 3 touchdowns
J Cordarrelle Patterson: 3 carries for 5 yards, no touchdowns
TE Jonnu Smith: 1 carry for no gain
1. In terms of singular touches, Tyler Allgeier is the most featured Falcons player inside the 20-yard line. More so, he is often the first person Arthur Smith leans on once the Falcons get to the red zone. In 14 of the Falcons 28 red zone appearances, the first play once there is a handoff to Allgeier. Of those 14 carries, Allgeier has had a positive run of 2-plus yards 8 times.
2. The only red-zone touches Cordarrelle Patterson has came in the form of three carries in three of the Falcons five trips to the red zone against Tampa Bay in Week 7.
3. Desmond Ridder's red-zone numbers are fascinating. The Falcons' most productive red-zone play is a zone read where Ridder keeps it and bounces to the outside. Ridder's three rushing touchdowns have come off this play and his decision to keep the ball instead of handing it off to a back. More so, it would have been four touchdowns scored off this play if the ball wouldn't have been fumbled out the back of the end zone in the Falcons final red-zone appearance in Tampa. Ridder has been sacked three times in the red zone, turning the ball over four times (three of which came in one game vs. the Bucs).
4. The Falcons have attempted two nontraditional plays inside the red zone. Neither has yielded a particularly positive outcome off the play itself. The first came in a wildcat look with KhaDarel Hodge taking the direct snap vs. the Texans in Week 5. The snap was fumbled but Hodge was still able to pick up three yards to set up a 6-yard touchdown catch by Bijan Robinson. Against the Titans in Week 8, Jonnu Smith was given the handoff in the backfield with the intent to throw to fellow tight end MyCole Pruitt. The pass fell incomplete. Ridder was sacked on the next play and the Falcons brought out Younghoe Koo for the field goal.
5. The player who statistically shows the lowest risk vs. highest reward margin is Bijan Robinson. He has made every catch when targeted, turning two catches into touchdowns. He has an average of 3 yards per carry inside the red zone with 9 carries in total. Allgeier sits at 2.61 yards per carry average in the red area with nearly triple the amount of touches. Drake London also shows a low risk/higher reward margin in the red zone with 6 catches on 9 targets and 2 touchdowns. As a receiving target, only Jonnu Smith has a better targets-to-catch percentage (having made every catch when targeted but one, which this author believes was uncatchable anyways).
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Arizona Cardinals.