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Nerdy Birds: Bijan Robinson chasing history, Arnold Ebiketie rising up

Plus a deep dive into the Falcons success in key pass rush stats. 

Chasing history

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Bijan Robinson enters the regular season finale tied with William Andrews (1979) for the most yards from scrimmage by a rookie in team history with 1,332. With one yard this Sunday, Robinson will set a new club record, marking the second-straight season a rookie running back broke a franchise record after Tyler Allgeier set the all-time mark for rushing yards last year.

Table inside Article
Player Season Scrimmage Yards
Bijan Robinson 2023 1,332
William Andrews 1979 1,332
Tyler Allgeier 2022 1,174

Allgeier's record isn't safe either, as Robinson sits 88 yards shy of topping the 1,035 rushing yards Allgeier posted in 2022.

If Robinson rushes for 52 yards and adds 12 receiving yards, he will become the 10th rookie running back in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, and 50 receptions. He would be just the fifth player to accomplish this feat since 2000.

In addition to being one of the most productive rookies in team history, Robinson has also been one of the more impactful rookies league-wide. Robinson ranks 14th in the NFL and leads all rookies in touches (254), logging 33 more than the next rookie, Detroit's Jahmyr Gibbs. Robinson ranks 12th among all players in scrimmage yards (1,332) – seventh among all running backs – and second among all rookies, trailing only Los Angeles' Puka Nacua.

Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier #25 prior to the Week 17 Game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on Sunday, December 31, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

Shutting down extended plays

The Falcons have been one of the top defenses in the NFL against the pass this season, ranking fifth in the NFL with a 59.1% success rate on passing plays.

Overall, Atlanta has allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards in the NFL this season (3,443). The Falcons defense has limited opposing passers to a 61% completion rate, 1.9% below Next Gen Stats expected completion percentage. Atlanta has allowed minus-32.8 passing EPA and minus-0.06 expected points added per dropback while posting 199 quarterback pressures and 39 sacks.

One particular area where Atlanta's defensive effort has stood out has been on extended dropbacks. Those dropbacks are defined as the quarterback taking four seconds or longer to throw a pass. On those plays, Atlanta has the third-best defensive success rate (84.9) in the league. The Falcons have allowed opposing passers to complete just 38.2% of passes on extended dropbacks.

Additionally, the Falcons have generated minus-69.1 pass EPA and minus-0.8 EPA per dropback.

Here's a breakdown of how solid Atlanta's defense has been producing sacks on extended dropbacks:

Table inside Article
Team Ext. Sacks
Atlanta 10
San Francisco 7
Tampa Bay 7
Minnesota 6

Atlanta's pass rush success in these moments is a tribute to the effort of its front seven and the sticky coverage of its secondary.

The Falcons lead the NFL with 10 sacks on extended dropbacks while also notching 20 pressures. Atlanta has been significantly more effective in generating pressure late in downs, notching a 72.1 pressure rate on extended plays versus a 25.9% rate on quick and in-rhythm throws.

AK on the rise

In last week’s edition of Nerdy Birds, we mentioned the improved pass rush across the board this season. In fact, Atlanta's improvement from 21 sacks in 2022 to 39 so far in 2023 marks the largest year-over-year improvement in the NFL this season and the largest improvement by the Falcons since at least 2000.

One piece of that increased production this season has been the development of second-year pass rusher Arnold Ebiketie. In 175 pass-rush snaps this season, Ebiketie has recorded 30 quarterback pressures.

Among defenders with at least 150 pass-rush snaps, Ebiketie's 17.1% pressure rate ranks 14th in the league, slightly edging out San Francisco's Nick Bosa (17) and Cleveland's Myles Garrett (17). We're not comparing Ebiketie to Bosa or Garrett as their pass-rush snaps, pressures and sack numbers are at the top of the league. However, the increased production of Atlanta's second-round draft pick from last season has been an encouraging sign of what could become of Ebiketie as he continues to develop.

Elite against the run

This season, Calais Campbell has recorded 15 stuffs in the run game. Stuffs are defined as run plays resulting in zero or negative yards. Campbell's 15 are tied with Buffalo's Ed Oliver for the seventh-most among defensive linemen in the NFL this season. Those with more than Campbell are Derrick Brown (20), DeForest Buckner (17), Maxx Crosby (17), Khalil Mack (17), Quinnen Williams (17) and Aaron Donald (16). Not bad company to be in.

Despite 2023 being the 16th season of Campbell's career, he has remained a dominant force against the run.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the New Orleans Saints.

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