Skip to main content

Nerdy Birds: Drake London, leaning on the run game and analyzing a smothering defense

Diving into the stats of the Falcons' top-ranked rushing attack and defensive prowess. 

Leaning on the run game

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons rushed for 177 yards on Sunday in a 29-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts. It marked the fifth time this season the Falcons have totaled more than 150 yards on the ground. It was the 15th time they've accomplished the feat under Arthur Smith.

It's no secret that the Falcons have struggled with consistency on offense this season, but when their run game finds a rhythm, it has generally spelled success.

Overall, Atlanta ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing at 1,947 yards and 129.8 yards per game. The Falcons rank ninth in explosive run rate with 8.2% of carries gaining 12 or more yards. They are tied for the fifth-most rushes of 10+ yards with 55.

Atlanta's dynamic backfield is undoubtedly the focal point for opposing defenses, but Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and Bijan Robinson all possess an impressive ability to run through contact, which has helped to neutralize that defensive focus. Here's a snapshot of where Atlanta ranks amongst the best teams in yards after contact.

Table inside Article
Team Rush Yards After Contact
Baltimore 1,517
Detroit 1,397
Atlanta 1,361
San Francisco 1,324
Miami 1,309

The Falcons have recorded 1,361 yards after contact, which is the third-most in the NFL after ranking second in 2022 at 1,911.

Robinson has totaled 597 yards after contact, the 10th-most in the NFL this season, while his 3.18 yards after contact per rush ranks seventh. Meanwhile, Patterson has managed 3.13 yards after contact per carry with Allgeier close behind at 2.97. According to Next Gen Stats, all three have gained nearly four yards per carry after a defender has closed within one yard.

Furthermore, Robinson has totaled 25 carries that have gained at least five yards over expectation this season, which is tied for the third-most in the league. He has hit at least 15 miles per hour on 27.1% of his carries, the third-highest rate among running backs with at least 100 carries. Robinson has been the second-fastest running back at the line of scrimmage in the NFL this season (13.58 MPH) trailing only Raheem Mostert (13.82).

Rushes with 5-plus yards over expected

Table inside Article
Player 5+ RYOE
Christian McCaffery 36
Raheem Mostert 27
Bijan Robinson 25
James Conner 25
Jahmyr Gibbs 25

Standout Sophomore

Drake London had a breakout game in Week 14, catching 10 passes for 172 yards to set new career highs, but he's proven to be a very reliable target throughout his early career.

London is just one reception shy of breaking Julio Jones' club record for most receptions in a player's first two seasons and needs 15 yards to pass Calvin Ridley (1,687) and Bert Emanuel (1,688) for the most receiving yards by a Falcon in their first two seasons.

Table inside Article
Player Years Receptions
Drake London 2022-23 133
Julio Jones 2011-12 133
Calvin Ridley 2018-19 127
Mike Pritchard 1991-92 127

London's impressive numbers don't just stand out among his former Falcons peers but also his contemporaries. Among second-year players, London ranks fourth in receiving yards (1,674) and third in receptions (133) and targets (208). He ranks fourth in receiving percentage (63.9%), hauling in 133 of his 208 targets.

Speaking of targets, London has been targeted on 24.8% of the Falcons passing plays during his two seasons, which ranks fourth among second-year players that have run at least 500 routes. Additionally, his 25% target per route rate also ranks fifth among those players.

Atlanta's offensive success rate when targeting London is 52.9%, and 43.9% when he runs a route, showing his impact on the game even when he's not getting the ball. London has averaged two yards per route run and 0.15 EPA per target while averaging 10.87 air yards per target during his career. He has generated a first down on 43.5% of his targets over the last two seasons, the best mark among all players drafted in 2022, the seventh-best mark among all wide receivers, and the 10th-best overall.

London's ability to make contested catches and his abilities as a physical runner after the catch have helped him stand out. According to Next Gen Stats, London has generated a team-high plus-146 receiving yards over expected and plus-7.6 receptions over expected this season. Over the last two years, he has made 17 tight-window catches with 46.4% of his receptions having gained more yards after the catch than expected by the NGS model.


Getting after the passer

As the regular season is nearing an end, the Falcons pass rush has seemingly found its stride.

Against Indianapolis, Atlanta's defense recorded a season-high six sacks. The unit has tallied nine sacks over the past two games – the most in the NFC and second-most in the NFL over that span.

With the additions of Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree and others this offseason, there was a heightened expectation for the pass rush in 2023. The Falcons also spent a third-round selection on Ohio State defensive lineman Zach Harrison. As the season has progressed, Harrison has seen an uptick in playing time and has taken advantage of his opportunities, notching three sacks over the past two games, including his first-career multi-sack game last week.

Through 16 weeks, the Falcons have recorded 36 sacks. Atlanta's 15-sack improvement from 2022 is the largest year-over-year increase of any team in the NFL this season. In fact, the 2023 Falcons 15-sack improvement is tied with the 2016 Falcons for the largest year-over-year improvement by Atlanta since at least 2000.

Chicago's Justin Fields has a unique ability to extend plays; however, that additional time in the pocket should provide Atlanta with opportunities to build on that season sack total. This season, Fields has been sacked on 11.2% of dropbacks, which is second-most in the NFL. Only New York's Zach Wilson (12.5%) has been sacked at a higher rate on pass attempts this year.

While admittedly a lofty expectation, if Atlanta can duplicate its output from the previous two games in the final two games of the season, the 2023 Falcons would match the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs and 2021 Tennessee Titans for the fifth-highest year-over-year sack improvement of any team since 2000.

Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie #17 during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Thursday, December 28, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

Smothering defense

The defense limited Indianapolis to 10 points in Week 16, marking the fourth time this season Atlanta has held an opponent to 10 or fewer points. Only Baltimore (six), Buffalo (five) and Dallas (five) have more such games this year. Additionally, the Falcons four games limiting opponents to 10 or fewer points are the most in a season by Atlanta since 2010.

Through 16 weeks, the Falcons defense has had a 62.8% defensive success rate – the fourth-highest mark in the NFL this year and the highest by Atlanta at this point of the season since at least 2000. The defense, under first-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, has also limited opponents to a 33.7% third-down conversion rate, the lowest at this point of a season by the Falcons since 2005 (28.5%).

When opposing offenses have made it to the red zone, this defense has made it challenging to find the end zone. Only 38.1% of opposing drives in the red zone have resulted in touchdowns – the lowest in the NFL and the lowest by Atlanta at this point of a season since at least 2000.

In fact, Atlanta's 38.1 red-zone percentage is the lowest of any team through 16 weeks since the 2015 New York Jets.

All in all, this defense has been producing at a high rate and will have two more guaranteed opportunities to make its mark on the 2023 season.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Chicago Bears, presented by Fast Twitch by Gatorade.

Related Content