Cover 9@9: Falcons’ Bijan Robinson forgotten man at 1-yard line

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson runs during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson runs during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

1. The no-spin zone: The most troubling matter to come out of the Falcons’ 31-28 loss to the Vikings, was that they didn’t score when they were on the 1-yard line.

The Falcons drafted Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick this year, and he didn’t touch the ball once in that scenario. If the Falcons had scored a touchdown, the Vikings likely would have folded. Instead, they were allowed to keep hanging around.

“Then, when you have a back like Tyler (Allgeier), who, to me, is one of the better short-yardage goal-line backs in the (NFL), there are times we put him in there, Bijan out there, people played it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “There are times where we’ve gotten Bijan the ball out there. At the end of the day, we have to find a way – these aren’t excuses – I’m just kind of giving you the rationale and the strategy behind it.”

Let’s review the scenario.

Chris Lindstrom committed a false start to move the ball back to the 6.

Jonnu Smith nearly scored on a screen pass, but was stopped at the 1.

Smith was snuffed on a jet sweep the tight end.

Allgeier was dropped for a 4-yard loss.

Younghoe Koo came on for the 23-yard field goal.

If you’re going to run a jet sweep, give that to Robinson.

“You have to have your whys, why you’re doing something,” Arthur Smith said. “If it doesn’t get you the result, OK, what happened? What do you need to do better? So, there’s a lot that goes into it. We have a lot of guys that can make plays.”

Jonnu Smith would later turn that same screen into a 60-yard touchdown reception. Allgeier ran with power late to help the Falcons briefly retake the lead.

“Certainly, you saw Tyler Allgeier take over that fourth quarter,” Arthur Smith said. “That’s not a knock on anybody else, but the way that game went – and we have a ton of respect for the way (Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian) Flores operates going back to New England. They like to package things. They kind of run a defense similar to an offense, the games within the games. We were kind of bluffing some checks and they were checking out of some pressures, and we hit some big plays.”

But they didn’t go power-on-power and big up 8-3 with the chance to blow open the game.

2. Is Robinson healthy? Robinson has played two games since the Tampa Bay game when he had only one carry and his playtime was reduced. (An injury reporting matter that still is under review by the NFL office as of Tuesday afternoon).

He has had 11 carries in the losses to the Titans and the Vikings.

“Yeah,” Smith said when asked if Robinson was healthy. “He played a lot of snaps (against the Vikings). And sometimes, his impact away from the ball can open things up.”

Robinson has rushed 103 times for 517 yards and a touchdown. He also has 28 receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

“For any rookie, the seasons are long,” Smith said. “You’re going to have ebbs and flows. He still has a huge impact on the game. He’s got 700 yards. You’re still looking for ways, and you know it’s a long journey. We’ll see how this second half of the season goes.”

3. Passes out of the backfield: Robinson’s role in the passing game appears to have been overstated. He mostly has been used as a check-down receiver.

He hasn’t been a weapon out of the slot.

Robinson has run 78 routes outside of the backfield – about eight per game – according to Next Gen Stats. He has amassed 43 yards on those routes.

He hasn’t made an impact any of those routes.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons coach Arthur Smith discusses the use of rookie running back Bijan Robinson in the red zone.

4. Getting ready for Kyle Murray: Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who has not played all season and is recovering from knee surgery, is expected to start against the Falcons. There is no film of Murray playing in the new offensive scheme the Cardinals installed under first-year coach Jonathan Gannon.

“He’ll take the ‘One’ reps, and if all goes well, he’ll start,” Gannon told the Phoenix-area media Monday.

Murray is to be activated from the NFL’s “physically unable to perform” list Wednesday, according to Gannon.

“We have to be willing to understand it might not look like Kyler,” Gannon said. “I think he has a good expectation of that, the coaches have a good expectation of that. I know this, he’s going to come out there, play his game and help us win.”

Murray, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft, signed a five-year, $230 million contract extension July 21, 2022. A total of $160 million of the deal was guaranteed.

He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2020 and 2021, while guiding the Cardinals to a 8-8 mark and 9-5 marks. He has started 57 NFL games and has a 25-31-1 record as a starter.

The Cardinals were 3-8 last season, when Murray sustained a torn ACL in his right knee in December in a game against the Patriots.

“We’ll monitor it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “You’ve got to have a plan for both (Murray and Tune).”

Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing is a first-year coordinator, and there’s not much out there on his tendencies. He previously was the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland for the past three seasons and spent time with the Vikings.

The Falcons will have to stick to the basic rules of their scheme early and then make in-game adjustments.

5. Copycat league: However, teams have dug into the film archives and found plays that have hurt the Falcons’ defense and have been able to repeat them.

Tennessee’s DeAndre Hopkins’ 47-yard touchdown catch, appeared to be the same route that Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans scored on from 40 yards out. Hopkins’ 61-yard touchdown on a seam route was the same route concept the Texans used to find Dalton Schultz open and tie the score late.

On Sunday, Minnesota’s Brandon Powell said the game-winning play was taken from the Falcons’ game against the Detroit in Week 3. The Falcons played the same coverage – Cover 4 with a tucked nickel – and the play was still open.

“As the season goes on, there’s things that you’re doing well,” Smith said. “Things come up, and you’ve got to put a stop to it.”

6. Lapses, explosive plays: Veteran Calais Campbell has discussed cutting down those lapses on defense, and safety Jessie Bates has been on a crusade to cut down the explosive plays. Against the Vikings and the 6-foot-3 and 216-pound Dobbs, the Falcons missed 16 tackles.

“The biggest thing is just paying attention to the details,” Falcons defensive tackle David Onyemata said. “So many things we could have done way better from the first snap in the first quarter all the way down through the game that shouldn’t have put us in the situation that we ended up being in.”

The Falcons won’t glean much from studying old Murray video in the Air Raid/pro-style mash-up that former coach Kliff Kingsbury was trying to put together.

“So, the thing is also honing in and make the defense our own and making the play calls are own,” Onyemata said. “Knowing that we are the key to the plays. We are the ones that make the plays go. Being in the right position. Being in the right alignment. Being in the right places at the right time.”

7. Series history: This will be the 33rd regular-season meeting between the teams. The series is tied 16-16. The Falcons won the last meeting, 20-19 on Jan. 1.

8. Where to watch, listen and livestream: What you should know about Sunday’s game between the Falcons (4-5) and the Arizona Cardinals (1-8), which is set for 4:05 p.m. at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

TV: CBS. Play-by-Play: Spero Dedes. Analyst: Adam Archuleta. Sideline: Amanda Renner.

Local radio: 92.9 The Game. Play-by-play: Wes Durham. Analyst: Dave Archer. Executive producer: Beau Morgan. Engineer: Miller Pope. Pregame/postgame show – Hosts: Chris Goforth and Mike Johnson, with Dylan Matthews and Orin Romain as studio producers at 11 a.m.

Satellite radio: SiriusXM NFL Radio. Falcons channel 381or the App. Cardinals 226 or the App. (Games also are available on the SiriusXM App. Fans can find their team’s channel under the “NFL Play-by-Play” tab or by searching their team’s name.)

Livestream: Streaming inside the Atlanta market: Fans in the Atlanta market can stream the game on the Atlanta Falcons app. NFL app (subscription required). Out of the country: GamePass International.

9. Depth chart: Here’s the official depth chart for Sunday:

OFFENSE

WR Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge

TE Kyle Pitts, John FitzPatrick

LT Jake Matthews

LG Matthew Bergeron, Jovaughn Gwyn

C Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RG Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton

RT Kaleb McGary, Storm Norton

TE Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt

WR Drake London, Scotty Miller, Van Jefferson

FB Keith Smith (Team list him as Pitts backup, but lines up at fullback in games)

RB Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier

Joker Cordarrelle Patterson

QB Taylor Heinicke, Desmond Ridder, Logan Woodside

DEFENSE

DL Kentavious Street, Albert Huggins, Travis Bell

DL David Onyemata, Ta’Quon Graham

DE Calais Campbell, Zach Harrison, Joe Gaziano

OLB Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter

ILB Kaden Elliss

ILB Nate Landman, Andre Smith Jr.

OLB Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone

CB A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes

S Jessie Bates III, Micah Abernathy

S Richie Grant, DeMarcco Hellams

NB Dee Alford, Clark Phillips III

CB Jeff Okudah, Tre Flowers

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Younghoe Koo

P Bradley Pinion

LS Liam McCullough

H Bradley Pinion

PR Dee Allford, Scotty Miller, Mike Hughes

KOR Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Hughes