What's wrong with the Atlanta Falcons' run game?

Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson is averaging 5 yards per carry. He is the only Falcon averaging over 4 yards per attempt, with quarterback Desmond Ridder at 3.8 and running back Tyler Allgeier at 3.2. Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- Bijan Robinson took a pitch to the right in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Washington Commanders and needed one yard. He started to break outside before turning upfield and saw two defenders waiting.

He couldn't get away.

All day long, Washington's defenders caused problems for Atlanta's run game. The Commanders stacked the box and essentially issued a challenge: Washington was not going to let the Falcons beat them on the ground.

It's been a familiar refrain the last season-plus in Atlanta. Stack the box as much as possible and take your chances with the rest.

"It's a hard look, just putting a body to a body. Obviously combos and all that get to where we need to," running back Tyler Allgeier said. "But just having an extra guy in the box can cause issues.

"But that's just a guy we have to handle."

This season, Atlanta has run 82 plays with defenses playing at least eight men in the box -- an average of 13.67 plays a game -- tied with the Houston Texans for second-most in the NFL.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Atlanta is averaging 3.6 yards a run this year when it faces an eight-man-or-more box, down from 3.8 yards a carry last season. This type of attention to the run game is familiar: Last year the Falcons ran 14.71 plays a game with eight men or more in the box, the most in the NFL.

"It doesn't matter how many guys are in the box," Robinson said. "We got to come up with a plan to get past because that's what we do, we run the ball to pass the ball."

One key difference could be the threat of a mobile quarterback. Marcus Mariota was used as a rusher more last season (career highs of 85 carries for 438 yards) than Desmond Ridder has been this season (20 carries for 75 yards).

Ridder can run, but Falcons coach Arthur Smith noted that they have different skill position players this year -- notable additions are Robinson, tight end Jonnu Smith and receiver Mack Hollins -- and he's also "tried to evolve" the offense to create more balance than last season.

There's also that teams might understand a little more of what the Falcons are attempting to do this year. Every rusher with at least 10 carries last season -- Mariota, Allgeier, Avery Williams, Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley -- averaged at least 4.8 yards a carry.

This year, Robinson is the only Falcon averaging over four yards per carry (he's at 5.0 yards per attempt) with Ridder at 3.8 and Allgeier 3.2.

It's possible it comes down to the blocking, too. Last season, Atlanta's run block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was 70.3% -- better than the league average the last two seasons. This year, it's below that at 67.9%. Every offensive line position is down in its win rate this season versus last, too.

In the last month, according to ESPN Stats & Info, only the center position (Drew Dalman) has had a run block win rate in any game over 70%. Smith, though, said he didn't see much of a difference in how they've been blocking runs this year versus last year.

"We kind of get some of those three, four, I call ugly runs, and then you obviously start hitting bigger ones later in the game," Smith said. "And you tweak some things or the games within the game. But sometimes, last year, too, there were some quarterback runs and things we were doing that opened some things up, too.

"That's kind of the give-and-take."

Dalman said because of how the Falcons played last year, he believes "teams come into games with that in mind," but they haven't changed the core philosophy of what they've tried to accomplish. They recognize, though, that they need to improve on where they are now.

Smith's run schemes use a lot of different movements to create space and opportunity. There's a balance, though, because while Robinson has been great as a rookie, Atlanta has to be careful not to overuse him.

Robinson said he still feels good six games into his NFL career, although three of the past four games have had Robinson under 50 yards rushing: 33 against Detroit, 46 against Houston and 37 on Sunday against Washington.

Those are also the Falcons' three losses.

"I feel good, just sore," Robinson said. "But other than that, I got to get my body right every single week. There's a couple sorenesses I got to get through.

"It's just like college. I got my routine and then we'll be good from there."

Atlanta needs all its runners to get in a routine. If they do, it can change the dynamic of the entire offense.