In the heart of Atlanta in Week 6, the Falcons faced off against the Washington Commanders, and the clash of titans had fans at the edge of their seats. On a pivotal play in the fourth quarter, Bijan Robinson found himself just one yard away from glory. However, two tenacious defenders stood in his path, determined to deny him that precious yard. The encounter was a microcosm of Atlanta’s ongoing struggle – their run game was under siege by Washington’s unrelenting defense. The Commanders made it clear: Atlanta wouldn’t beat them on the ground.
For Falcons fans, this has been an all-too-familiar sight, as opponents continually stack the box and challenge them to find other ways to win.
Why the Falcons Struggle with Stacked Boxes
A Run Game in Peril
As the 2023 NFL season unfolds, it’s evident that Atlanta faces a unique predicament. They’ve run 82 plays against defenses featuring at least eight defenders in the box, averaging approximately 13.67 plays per game – tied with the Houston Texans for the second-highest in the league. This scheme hasn’t been kind to the Falcons’ ground attack, as their yards per carry have slipped from 3.8 last season to 3.6 this year when facing such a stacked box, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We run the ball to pass the ball,” Robinson aptly described the Falcons’ strategy, underscoring the need to adapt and overcome the challenges they encounter on the field.
A Changing Landscape
One noticeable change in Atlanta’s offense is the shift from a mobile quarterback like Marcus Mariota last season to Desmond Ridder this year. Mariota rushed for a career-high 438 yards on 85 carries last season, providing a dual threat that made opponents second-guess their defensive alignment. In contrast, Ridder’s running style is less prolific with 20 carries for 75 yards.
Coach Arthur Smith, however, hasn’t relied solely on his quarterback’s legs. Notable additions to the team, such as Robinson, tight end Jonnu Smith, and receiver Mack Hollins, have diversified the offensive playbook. Smith has also “tried to evolve” the offense to establish a more balanced attack compared to last season. Nonetheless, opposing teams appear to have gained a better understanding of the Falcons’ game plan this year.
A Numbers Game
Last season, Atlanta’s rushers boasted impressive yards per carry averages, with every rusher carrying the ball at least ten times averaging 4.8 yards or more per attempt. This year, Robinson is the sole Falcon maintaining an average above four yards per carry at 5.0, while Ridder and Allgeier find themselves at 3.8 and 3.2, respectively.
One factor that might explain the faltering run game is the blocking. According to ESPN Stats & Information, last season, Atlanta’s run block win rate was an impressive 70.3%, exceeding the league average. This year, the rate has dipped slightly to 67.9%. Every offensive line position is recording lower win rates compared to the previous season.
The Quest for Consistency
To address this challenge, Smith’s run schemes have embraced various movements to create space and opportunities. Nevertheless, they must strike a delicate balance, avoiding the overuse of rookie sensation Robinson, who has been the standout performer in the backfield.
Robinson, six games into his NFL career, has expressed optimism about his physical condition despite three games with less than 50 rushing yards in recent weeks. Notably, these three games correspond to the Falcons’ only losses. Robinson stated, “I feel good, just sore,” and emphasized the importance of maintaining a routine, much like his college days.
Bringing It All Together
Atlanta faces the daunting task of getting all its running backs into a routine to change the dynamics of their offense. The Falcons must adapt, evolve, and improve their run game to provide a solid foundation for success. In a league where adaptability and innovation are the keys to victory, the Falcons are on a mission to conquer their run game woes and emerge as formidable contenders in the NFL.
In the city of Atlanta, where football is a way of life, the Falcons are determined to overcome stacked boxes, adapt to new challenges, and emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. As they strive for perfection, the Falcons are poised to reclaim their rightful place in the league’s upper echelon.
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