Taking lessons from grueling, hard-fought wins can be difficult. When both teams are clearly flawed and struggle to execute in critical areas, it becomes difficult to be overly optimistic because they have glaring limitations. Opening weekend games are always tricky to assess due to the lack of reps in the preseason and how much fortunes can change in the regular season.
Coming out of the Falcons’ first opening-day victory since 2017, there is one true certainty about how they will operate this season. They are going to run the ball and force defenses to handle their physicality and complexity for all four quarters.
As my colleague Cory Woodroof accurately stated, Arthur Smith has ingrained a backbone back into the franchise after the franchise seemingly lost it in 2019. They have a real identity of challenging defenses with a mixture of old-school running philosophy and new-age inventiveness of blocking schemes and creative run designs.
With the passing game becoming a work in progress following Matt Ryan’s departure, the pressure has been on Smith to be able to make in-game adjustments. It happened once again on Sunday as Desmond Ridder appeared jittery in the pocket behind an offensive line struggling to live up to high expectations.
Rising up in the face of adversity
Facing the obstacles of a disrupted gameplan and essentially having to go one-dimensional, Smith leaned on the franchise’s all-time rookie rushing yardage holder and one of the best young talents in recent history to carry the offense. Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson were exceptional in their efforts to carry the Falcons to a much-needed opening-day victory.
From bruising runs to exhilarating bursts, the league’s new prolific running back tandem showed what they can do as individual ball-carriers and playing together in the same formations. Even when Carolina seemed to stifle one of them, they responded with remarkable individual efforts.
Robinson’s first career touchdown is a testament to how outrageously talented he truly is. His balance, bend, shiftiness, and ability to be decisive with sharp movements in making defenders miss were on full display. While the eighth overall pick was electrifying, the Falcons’ fifth-round gem from last season was brutalizing. Allgeier’s first touchdown showcased how much of a handful he is to bring down.
The desire to not allow the offensive line’s lack of push to derail him from getting into the end zone is another prime example of Allgeier’s tremendous skill set. With a running style resembling a pinball, his vision and agility make him far more than a standard power back who runs between the tackles and over defenders. He can turn the corner and make game-changing diving touchdowns to turn games around.
As the Falcons aim to evolve into a more well-rounded offense, the young running backs will only continue to grow. Allgeier is becoming a stronger communicator and taking the initiative to guide Robinson in his first season as a pro.
Coming from a hard-working, no-nonsense background, the former BYU star would mostly remain quiet in listening to coaches and letting his performances do the talking. You can see him breaking out of his shell by being more vocal and energetic on the field. How he develops as a leader will make a significant difference across the entire organization, but especially to Atlanta’s newest rising bright star.
Robinson is in a terrific environment to flourish. There is a clear strategy behind utilizing his attributes in a variety of ways. Allgeier and Cordarelle Patterson have spoken candidly about doing what they can to help him get acclimated to the pros. That unity will only propel him to take on bigger workloads and handle pass protection duties.
It’s evident Robinson is ready to be the focal point and produce explosive plays when required. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the rookie phenom had 16 touches on 31 snaps. From running crafty counters to power stretches to catching quick passes, he is ready to be the all-purpose force everyone envisioned him to be when selected by the Falcons.
The Packers will provide a sturdy early-season test to see how consistently thunder and lightning can strike in the same game. There is also a good possibility that a joker will be added to the fray, as Patterson has returned to full practice this week. For all the apprehension about how Desmond Ridder will perform under Smith’s offense and connect with a supporting cast filled with exciting playmakers, the coaching staff knows they have the foundation to remain competitive and put opposing defenses in disadvantageous positions.
That starts and ends with the running game. The Falcons built a solid base in 2022 with their performances on the ground. In 2023, they know they can become one of the feared running teams in the league and, most importantly, win the close games that they mostly fell short in last season.