Skip to main content

Nerdy Birds: Rookie 1,000-yard club, dominant run defense and Younghoe Koo

The Falcons will have the opportunity to reach the postseason for the first time in the last six seasons, but they'll need to close out the season strong.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons enter the final five weeks of the season in a position that is unfamiliar as of late: They're in control.

Atlanta sits at 6-6, the club's best record entering Week 14 since 2017, when the Falcons sat at 7-5. That year, Atlanta was third in the NFC South. The last time the Falcons led the division this late in the year was 2016, when the team also held a 7-5 record going into the stretch run. In both of those seasons, Atlanta made the playoffs, as the No. 2 seed in 2016 and as a wild card in 2017.

The Falcons will have the opportunity to reach the postseason for the first time in the last six seasons, but they'll need to close out the season strong. According to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Falcons have a 63% chance to make the postseason entering Week 14. A win over the Buccaneers would lift those odds to 85%. Arthur Smith may have said it best earlier this week when addressing the local media about the prospect of finishing the season strong.

"We have our work cut out for us, but we're excited to be in this kind of game," Smith said. "We're anticipating another high-energy crowd on Sunday in what should feel like a playoff game."


Rookies Repeat

Appearing in his 12th career game last week, Bijan Robinson eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards on the season, tying William Andrews (12 games in 1979) as the fastest player to reach 1,000 scrimmage yards in franchise history.

Despite only needing 12 games to do so, reaching 1,000 yards as a rookie is no simple feat. In fact, prior to 2021, only two Falcons rookies had ever reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage in team history: Andrews (1,332) and Julio Jones (1,015). Since then, Atlanta has invested heavily in young skill players through the draft and has seen an immediate return on investment. With Kyle Pitts (1,026 yards in 2021), Tyler Allgeier (1,174 in 2022) and Bijan Robinson (1,022 in 2023), the Falcons are the first team to have a 1,000-yard rookie in three consecutive seasons in NFL history.

Robinson can continue to move up the charts on Sunday, needing five yards to surpass Pitts for the third-most yards by a rookie in team history.


Clichés and coach-speak have become common around the NFL regardless of whether you are speaking at the podium after a game like a head coach, going back and forth with your friends in the group chat or tweeting hot takes into the void. Maybe they've lost some pop in the take economy but sometimes those clichés contain some truth. That a defense has to stop the run is one of those truisms.

Struggles stopping the run hits like a series of body blows. Steadily surrender 4-, 5-, 6-yard runs and suddenly you find yourself having to change things up. Dedicating more resources to it can lead to a situation when the uppercut comes in an explosive play or back-breaking touchdown. You have to find ways to stop the run and you have to do it without overcommitting or pulling resources away from other areas. Fortunately for the Falcons, they have consistently found ways to limit opponents in the run game this season.

The Falcons have been the best run defense in the NFC this season by EPA per carry (-0.17) and defensive success rate (64.7%). The Falcons rank second overall in EPA per carry behind New England (-0.20) and third in success rate, trailing the Patriots (68.5%) and Browns (65%). Atlanta has allowed just 3.9 yards per carry on 329 rushing attempts this season and just four touchdowns on the ground. According to Next Gen Stats, the Falcons have limited opponents to minus-86 yards over expectation, which ranks fifth in the NFL this season, and minus-6 first downs over expectation. Atlanta also ranks seventh in the NFL in ESPN's run stop win rate (32%).

One factor in the Falcons success has been their ability to create negative plays in the run game. The Falcons rank second in the NFL in stuff percentage, with 24.3% of opponent runs stopped for a loss or no gain, and 38% of runs have had contact behind the line of scrimmage. The Falcons are allowing just 1.2 yards before contact per carry, which shows the team isn't giving opposing ballcarriers much room to work with.


Early Down Run Defense (first and second downs)

Table inside Article
Stat Falcons NFL Rank
RYOE -157 1st
EPA per Carry -0.25 t-1st
Success Rate 68.1 2nd
Stuff Rate 24.6 2nd
YBC per Carry 0.9 t-3rd

Atlanta's success against the run on early downs has been vital to its overall defensive success this season. The Falcons lead the NFC and rank second in the NFL in EPA per carry (-0.25) and defensive success rate (68.1%) on first and second down. Additionally, Atlanta's minus-157 rushing yards over expectation on early downs leads the league. Its 24.6% stuff rate ranks second.

Koo Birds

The last time the Falcons faced the Buccaneers, Younghoe Koo drilled a 51-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Falcons the 16-13 win. The kick marked Koo's seventh game-winning field goal as time expired since the start of the 2021 season, tied with Las Vegas' Daniel Carlson for the most in the NFL over that span.

Fans have become accustomed to Koo stepping up in big spots for Atlanta over the past half decade. Since being signed by the Falcons midway through the 2019 season, Koo has made 143-of-156 field goal attempts (91.7%), including 23-of-28 attempts of 50+ yards (82.1%). Both his 91.7 field goal percentage and 82.1% from 50+ leads the NFL over the past five years. Additionally, among all kickers with at least 100 career field goal attempts, only one has a made field goal percentage higher than 90%: Koo.

A two-time team captain and Pro Bowler, Koo has been an integral part of the special teams unit in Atlanta over the past five seasons and can continue to climb the all-time scoring ranks in team history on Sunday. With one point, Koo will surpass Mick Luckhurst (558 from 1981-87) for the third-most career points scored in franchise history.

Hog Mollies

Atlanta's offensive line has continued its solid season in 2023 both as a run-blocking and pass-blocking unit. The Falcons have rushed for at least 100 yards in nine games this season, including six straight between Weeks 6-12. On the season, the Falcons have rushed for 1,652 yards on 386 carries, the third-most carries and sixth-most yards in the NFL. Atlanta has averaged 4.2 yards per carry and ranks ninth with 540 yards before contact.

In the passing game, the Falcons have allowed the second lowest pressure rate in the NFL (27.6%), trailing only the Miami Dolphins (25%), dating back to Week 5. The Falcons have allowed just 74 total hurries, which ranks second. They've also allowed 17 sacks, good for 11th in the league over that span. Additionally, the Falcons are one of six teams to feature four-or-more offensive linemen to have generated an offensive success rate higher than 45% when those players are pass-blocking (minimum 250 pass-blocking snaps).

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Related Content