Watch an offense long enough and it will show you its' true identity. Smoke and mirrors may try to deceive, but stress points will show a scheme's true colors.
That happened last season in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns, with the Falcons down three points late in the third quarter.
- Falcons Building Blocks: Drake London | Kyle Pitts | Troy Andersen
- One burning question for each position group post-minicamp: Pt. I, the offense | Part II, the defense
- Falcons camp previews: Passing game | Secondary
- Full of Life: How Bijan Robinson fell in love with football
- How Bijan Robinson made quality first impression on Falcons teammates
- Finding Falcons rookie series: Bijan Robinson | Matthew Bergeron | Zach Harrison | Clark Phillips III | DeMarcco Hellams | Jovaughn Gwyn
That's when head coach Arthur Smith uttered a now famous phrase that the Falcons were going to "run the piss out of the ball." There may have been a swear word or five in there, too. Who's to say?
The offensive play caller wasn't lying. The Falcons ran it right at Cleveland's defense, with spectacular effect. A total of 10 straight times on a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Falcons didn't pass. Not even once.
Caleb Huntley and Tyler Allgeier proved tough filling in for an injured Cordarrelle Patterson. The offensive line? Downright dominant.
The set an offensive tone on that drive that would last through the rest of the season. The Falcons were a running team. They were efficient and effective even when the whole world knew they were going to run. They were effective with young, previously unheralded runners. That helped the Falcons get by even when the passing game was in the dumps.
That led to some strong rushing numbers and ranks. The Falcons were third in rushing yards (2,718), fourth in yards per carry (4.9) and seventh in runs over 20 yards (17).
They were also first with 559 rushing attempts.
That might not be a ranking they want to replicate.
Smith has said he'd like the 2023 Falcons to have more offensive balance, something that wasn't achievable the previous year.
Smith also said having a strong offensive line is paramount and a foundational part of the Falcons identity. And, when it comes to running the football, the Falcons offensive front is as good as anyone. Chris Lindstrom was the best run blocking guard, per analytics site Pro Football Focus. Kaleb McGary was the second-best run blocking tackle. Jake Matthews was also highly rated in that regard, and the group was precise working together as a group.
Left guard Elijah Wilkinson is the only starter who didn't return this season, and the team will let Matt Hennessy and Matthew Bergeron battle for that open spot. Everything else remains the same, leaving little doubt that they'll be strong in this area once again.
They'll also be blocking for an outstanding group of running backs. Tyler Allgeier set the Falcons rookie rushing record with 1,035 yards. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 3.58 per attempt after contact, ranking fourth among runners with at least 174.5 attempts.
Patterson's healthy again and ready to assume a versatile role where he moves around, but the veteran as proved tough in the red zone and a punishing runner between the tackles with breakaway speed on the outside.
Then there's Bijan Robinson, the No. 8 overall pick and the best running back in college football last year. He'll add a dynamic the Falcons didn't have last year, with a shiftiness and surprising physicality with the ball in his hand.
Smith's another asset here, with a smart and deceptive rushing scheme that makes life a little easier on the backs and their front.
There's little to be decided in camp in these regards, outside the battle at left guard, though some offensive line depth spots have yet to be decided. Keith Smith will be the fullback, and it's hard to imagine the Falcons keeping more than the three aforementioned running backs. The tight ends and receivers play a role in the run game as well, and there's a mentality here that they must block well down the field.
While the offense won't look the same as it did last year and we'll see more of an even split, the Falcons are committed to running the football well and running the football often. Efficiency will be key. So will the continuity they maintain at important spots, and the threat the playaction passing game becomes because of an ever-present rushing threat. How efficient can they be? How will Smith distribute carries? That has yet to be determined in what will otherwise be a source of stability on a team with so much new in other phases of the game.
Take a look at our favorite photos of year two players from the 2023 Atlanta Falcons Creative Days.