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Nerdy Birds: Bijan Robinson's elusiveness and fast starts on defense

Ultimately the results have not been what the team has aimed for in the win-loss column, but there is evidence of the evolution of the offense of which Robinson is a major factor.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta's offensive identity has been closely tied to its running game over the last two seasons. Since 2022, the Falcons have run the ball 870 times. That's the fourth-most carries by any team over that span. The offense hasn't been deterred by teams trying to load the box and take that aspect of the game away either.

Since 2022, the Falcons have the second-highest number of carries and the second-most yards on runs with eight or more defenders in the box. Atlanta's 43.8 success rate on runs against stacked boxes ranks fourth over the last two seasons and the Falcons have gained 74 yards over expectation on those runs. With the run game making up a prominent part of the team's identity, head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot have constructed one of the most dynamic and unique backfields in the NFL.

Boasting second-year running back Tyler Allgeier, who set the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie last year, the always explosive joker Cordarrelle Patterson and this year's eighth overall draft pick, Bijan Robinson, the Falcons remain one of the more run-heavy teams in the league. While also remaining one of the most successful. Ultimately the results have not been what the team has aimed for in the win-loss column, but there is evidence of the evolution of the offense of which Robinson is a major factor.

Robinson at a Glance

Table inside Article
Stat Robinson
Carries 125
Rushing Yards 612
Yards per Carry 4.9
Yard after Contact 428
10+ Yard Runs 20

Robinson has shown the speed, power and balance that made him such a weapon for the Texas Longhorns and led to Atlanta calling his name in the NFL Draft last spring. Perhaps the biggest asset that Robinson has brought to the offense in the early part of his career is his ability to avoid negative plays. Robinson has the third-lowest percentage of runs resulting in zero or negative yards (12.8%), trailing only Lamar Jackson (11.9) and Gus Edwards (12.0).

Having a low stuff rate is critical for a team that wants to run the football. Losing yards at any time, but particularly on early downs, makes things much harder for the offense. It gets the offense off schedule, putting it in difficult second and third downs thus making it harder to keep drives going. Robinson's excellent balance plays a key role in helping him avoid negative runs.

Early in his career, Robinson has already shown a penchant for running through and avoiding contact. According to Next Gen Stats, he averages 3.4 yards after contact per carry and only sees contact before the line of scrimmage on 36.8% of his runs, which is one of the lowest marks in the league and highlights both his elusiveness and the solid blocking by Atlanta's offensive line, tight ends, receivers and, of course, Keith Smith at fullback. In addition to his yards after contact, Robinson has also averaged 3.74 yards after the close, meaning he's gaining nearly four yards per carry after a defender gets within one yard of him. He's generally not getting taken down by the first defender.

This allows him to get into his second skill: Speed.

Robinson has been one of the best backs in the league in terms of breaking loose for chunk runs. According to Tru Media, 16% of Robinson's runs have gained at least 10 yards and Robinson is fourth in the NFL hitting 15+ MPH on 28% of his runs.

Among players with at least 100 rushes, he leads the league in explosive run rate with 11.2% of his runs gaining 12-or-more yards. Robinson is tied for the second most explosive runs in the league with 14. Robinson has generated 96 rushing yards over expectation. He has also logged six carries of 10-or-more yards over expectation and his 20 rushes of five-or-more yards over expectation is tied for the league lead with Raheem Mostert.

Robinson is doing all of this with teams anticipating that he's going to get the ball. According to Next Gen Stats, Robinson has faced light boxes, or boxes with seven or fewer defenders on just 39.2% of his carries. He's faced loaded boxes, meaning there are more defenders than blockers, on 36% of his carries. That isn't to say the Falcons are leaving him on an island to juke his way out of tackles on every run though. Atlanta has had blocked runs or plays with equal or more blockers than defenders on 64% of Robinson's carries.


Robinson's elusiveness, speed and power have been a boost for Atlanta's offense, but he's also been aided by the accompaniment of a steady stream of body blows from the physical Allgeier and the violence of a hard-running Patterson. The trio has had a cumulative effect on defenses, wearing them down as the game progresses which helps lead to more explosive runs.

As a team the Falcons have 38 runs of 10-plus yards, tied for fifth-most in the NFL this season, 12.2% of their runs gain 10-plus yards. According to Tru Media, the Falcons have an explosive rush rate of 8.7% with 27 explosive runs. The team has had runs for zero or negative yards on just 19.3% of carries and Atlanta ranks fifth in the NFL with 38 rushes of 10+ yards.

The Falcons have the third-most rushing yards (774) and have scored six rushing touchdowns in the second half of games. These aren't garbage runs either. Atlanta isn't salting games away with late runs. If anything, the Falcons have used their rushing attack to claw back into games or to shorten the game with extended possessions.

Atlanta sits in an intriguing position despite dropping its last three games. The Falcons control their own destiny and can grab a hold of the division lead by beating the Saints on Sunday. This week is an important game and Atlanta will continue to lean on its running game, and Robinson, as it tries to turn things around and go on a late-season surge.

Fast Starts on Defense

This season, Atlanta's defense has started fast both in games and drives. The Falcons are one of two teams (L.A. Chargers) to not allow a touchdown on the opening drive and are tied for the fewest points allowed on opening drives this season with six.

On opening drives through 10 games this season, Atlanta's defense has forced five punts, stopped opposing offenses on fourth down twice, forced two field goals and recovered one fumble. In the past four weeks, the Falcons stopped Tampa Bay on fourth down, recovered a fumble in Tennessee and forced punts in each of the past two weeks. With a division rival coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, a quick stop or a takeaway would get the stadium rocking and give Atlanta an opportune chance to take a lead early in this game.

Not only has the defense started fast on opening drives, but it has also found success limiting opponents on first down. This season, only 42.8% of opponents' first-down plays have gone for at least four yards on this unit, which leads the NFL. The key on Sunday will be to continue that first-down performance, while not allowing additional yardage on second down. Atlanta's defense should find success if they can force this New Orleans offense into third-and-long. On third down attempts of eight or more yards, the Saints offense has converted 16.9%, good for 23rd in the NFL.

Quick Hits

The best ability is availability

In addition to being a three-time team captain, a Pro Bowler and the Falcons' 2023 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award nominee, Jake Matthews is on the brink of setting a franchise record.

Dating back to Week 3 of his rookie season in 2014, Matthews has started 154 consecutive games for Atlanta, marking the longest active streak of starts in the NFL at any position. When Matthews starts at left tackle on Sunday, he will surpass Matt Ryan (154 starts) for sole possession of the longest streak of starts in franchise history.

Protecting the QB

Over the past seven weeks, no offensive line has had more success in protecting the quarterback than Atlanta's. Since Week 5, the Falcons have limited opposing defenses to a 25.8% pressure rate on dropbacks, the fewest in the NFL.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the New Orleans Saints, presented by Fast Twitch.

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