Inside Zac Robinson's Falcons Offense: Speed, Shifts & Controlled Chaos

Here's how new coordinator Zac Robinson is changing the Atlanta Falcons' offense.
Zac Robinson is entering his first season as the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator.
Zac Robinson is entering his first season as the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Atlanta Falcons receiver Darnell Mooney navigated through his first month at the team's headquarters in Flowery Branch, he had help from a pair of returning wideouts.

Drake London and KhaDarel Hodge are the lone-two players in Atlanta's new-look receiver room who caught passes for the Falcons last season. They offered guidance and direction to the newcomers, including Mooney.

But once London and Hodge had seen enough from new quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, the pass catchers began talking about differences between Atlanta's 2023 and 2024 offenses.

The topic of conversation? Pass attempts - which London and Hodge believe will come aplenty under Robinson.

"We're throwing the ball," London and Hodge told Mooney. "Putting the ball in the air."

Robinson, a three-year starting quarterback at Oklahoma State University from 2007-09 before spending four years on various NFL rosters, has a pass-happy background. He was the Los Angeles Rams' quarterback coach in 2023 before following new Falcons head coach Raheem Morris to Atlanta this spring.

The 37-year-old Robinson brings a different aura and style than Arthur Smith, the Falcons' head coach and offensive play-caller the past-three seasons who played offensive line collegiately and previously worked as a tight ends coach.

Robinson hails from an offense that led the NFL in running 11 personnel - one running back, one tight end, three receivers - last season. The Falcons, conversely, ranked No. 31 league-wide in 11 personnel, but led the league in 12 personnel - one running back, two tight ends, two receiver - looks. The Rams, meanwhile, were last in 12 personnel.

Under Smith, the Falcons fielded some of the league's best rushing attacks, ranking No. 3 and No. 9 across the past two years, respectively. But Atlanta never finished better than No. 16 in passing across Smith's three seasons and was outside the top 20 in 2022 and 2023, underscoring the struggle to find balance.

With Robinson, the Falcons are hoping for better results through the air, and Cousins - a four-time Pro Bowl passer - certainly helps that mission. But so does Atlanta's remodeled receiver room, which includes Mooney, Rondale Moore and Ray-Ray McCloud, among others.

The Falcons wanted to add speed around London. They've done that. They added another piece around star tight end Kyle Pitts with the signing of Charlie Woerner, who played over 300 offensive snaps for the San Francisco 49ers last year.

A strong one-two punch remains at running back, where Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, who combined for nearly 1,700 rushing yards last season, each return.

There's a blend of familiar faces and fresh life that Atlanta hopes leads to a new, more consistently productive offense. Nevertheless, the Falcons will look different under Zac Robinson's command - starting with the groupings they'll field.

"Certainly, my background over the last five years has been 11 personnel," Robinson told FalconsSI. "It really is going to go game by game in terms of how much we're in 11 and how much we're in 12 and we are always evolving with those things.

"But certainly would expect a little bit of an uptick in 11 personnel."

Part of the luxury within the offense, Robinson said, is the versatility Woerner and Pitts provide. Woerner is a block-first player who thrives in-line, while Pitts can play both attached to the line of scrimmage and at receiver - Robinson said he's learning both receiver and tight end this summer.

On paper, the Falcons are in 12 personnel with Pitts and Woerner, but if Pitts is at receiver, only one tight end - Woerner - is on the line, which gives defenses the look of 11 personnel.

Such personnel manipulation is merely one of several ways Robinson's offense strains defenses. Allgeier noted frequent motions and reads as other new aspects, an addition the third-year rusher feels fits the Falcons' weapons.

The eye-candy has caused headaches for Atlanta's defense, linebacker Kaden Elliss said.

"The shifts, the motions, the turbos, the trades - it's very purposeful," Elliss said during OTAs. "It's not just smoke and mirrors. There's a reason they're trying to make the defense adjust, yes, but at the same time, with all their motion, all their different movements pre-snap, there's a purpose to put their guys in a better situation for that play and put us in a pickle oftentimes.

"That's what everybody's trying to do in the NFL, and this branch and what Zac's putting together is at the top of the list."

Robinson's offense is a mixture of Atlanta's strengths from last season and the core principles to Sean McVay's unit in Los Angeles. Among the most prominent similarities is the continuation of the wide zone rushing offense, though the Falcons are expected to incorporate additional running styles.

But it's here - the motion and shifts - that may serve as an indicator of Atlanta's overall offensive success this fall. Robinson said everything is predicated on marrying the run and pass, something the Falcons have failed to do in recent years.

Atlanta is trying to create conflict for defenders, but if the offense becomes one-dimensional, the eye-candy is just that: A visual charade, not an effective ploy. Robinson is adamant such a dilemma won't arise.

"We're not going to motion just to motion," Robinson said. "We know the conflict that can cause on the other side of the ball, when you do motion effectively, and you do have an intent behind what you're trying to do.

"We'll always try to marry everything up, whether it's run game, pass game - all those things will have a rhyme or reason behind it."

The Falcons' parts won't just be moving, but they're expected to be moving fast. This, according to center Drew Dalman, isn't new from Smith, but it's nonetheless a welcome sight.

"It's been our M-O since I've been here, and I've been really fortunate to have that," said Dalman, who's entering his fourth season. "But to see that continue and allow us to rip off the ball and play to our strengths, that's really awesome that I saw it previously and I see it continue with this offense."

Still, learning a new offense is far from easy. Doing it while trying to build chemistry with a new quarterback only greatens the challenge.

London, the Falcons' leading receiver the past two years, said the process is like starting at square one, or having to learn multiplication all over again.

Trying to grasp Robinson's scheme proved difficult at the beginning, London said, due to the amount of information thrown at the players - but Robinson, with the help of assistant coaches Ike Hilliard, K.J. Black and Chandler Whitmer, helped dumb down the lessons and make it easier to learn.

The scheme's complexity, however, is part of what has made it so effective when installed elsewhere, be it Los Angeles or with any of McVay's disciples.

Falcons sixth-round rookie receiver Casey Washington, an early standout during OTAs and minicamp, has no other professional experience to compare Robinson's offense to, but he knows its origins and likes what he's seen through his first two months in Atlanta.

"Creative," Washington said about Robinson. "And he does it the right way, and I'm super excited to see where it's going to go. Where the offense came from, they produce, and hopefully we can do that here, too."

The sentiment was echoed by undrafted rookie wideout Isaiah Wooden, who added another element: Robinson is intentional in stressing explosive plays - an Achilles heel of Atlanta's offense under Smith and further reason for conviction in the receiver room's speed-centric makeover.

"Very creative," Wooden said. "He's a person that's going to push the ball down the field. He wants to get his playmakers the ball. Being who I am, a person that loves to take a top off the defense and have the ball, being a gadget guy, I really love that being a part of this offense."

Creativity isn't necessarily innovation. Robinson won't be reinventing the wheel with the Falcons' offense. Instead, he's building on it - while adding flavors of his own from over two decades of experience around the game.

"I always say I think some of the better creativity comes from when you collaborate with others," Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford told FalconsSI on June 5. "And so I think Zac has done a great job of seeing some of the things the guys are really good at and then incorporating it in with his own things that he's used to.

"It's been really fun."


Think about some of the NFL's best offensive minds, and Morris has probably worked with them - be it McVay, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel or San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, among several others.

Now, there's Robinson.

"I see Zac Robinson, and I see him in the same light," Morris said. "I see him growing, developing, bringing his timing and rhythm and his balance to our offense that we can have go out here and play."

That was during Morris's introductory press conference Feb. 5. Over three months later, as the Falcons navigated through a growth-filled period of OTAs, Morris took a moment to reflect on Robinson's tenure.

Naturally, Morris's mind went to the quarterbacks, where the Falcons paired Cousins with No. 8 overall pick Michael Penix Jr., veteran backup Taylor Heinicke and undrafted rookie John Paddock.

Communication has been Robinson's biggest asset. It's how he helped London simplify the offense, and the ease of his teaching has translated to the quarterbacks, who Morris said fostered a strong understanding of each other in a short amount of time.

Robinson and Morris spent the past three years together in Los Angeles, giving Morris insight as to how Robinson is wired - but still, stepping into a prominent role put a spotlight on the first-time play-caller.

And thus far, Robinson has met expectations.

"I’m really fired up and pleased with Zac overall," Morris said. "Just emotional intelligence. I love the calm, cool demeanor that hasn’t changed. It’s exactly what we thought, and we hoped for. We have that ability to work together that I would want."

For as much camaraderie as Morris has with Robinson, perhaps nobody on staff has known the Littleton, Colo, native longer than quarterback coach T.J. Yates.

Robinson and Yates met as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy in 2008. Robinson entered the professional realm one year before Yates, but the two stayed in touch all throughout their journeys as backup quarterbacks-turned-coaches.

For Robinson, that journey included a brief stint as an analyst at Pro Football Focus. For Yates, it featured a two-year run from 2022-23 as the Falcons' receiver coach, where he said he was less comfortable than he is now, working with passers.

Yet be it as players or coaches, Yates and Robinson have had considerable professional crossover. They're now around one another much more than ever before, but their past together has already created strong chemistry - which is particularly important when considering Morris views quarterback as one of the most important positions in sports.

"It's been great," Yates said. "We're very similar in demeanor, how we see the game and how we go about our process and stuff. So, it's been a really seamless transition to working with a guy that I've never worked with before and never really spent much time with before in a long-term capacity."

Unlike Yates, Ledford had no prior experience with Robinson. Still, Morris and Robinson chose to retain Ledford after seeing the personality of Atlanta's offensive line on tape.

Ledford said he thinks Robinson has done a good job blending the Falcons' offense with his own philosophies. There are a lot of schematic similarities, Ledford noted, to the extent that he doesn't have to teach the linemen any new concepts.

Instead of overhauling the fundamentals up front, Robinson's offense has merely led to a spring and summer filled with altering vocabulary in Ledford's room.

"As coaches, (we're) kind of like, 'Hey, you remember this? This is like this now - we'll call it (different),'" Ledford said. "It's trying to make it where it looks and feels the same in certain aspects.

"And obviously, some of it's different - with anything like that, it's going to be different, but we tried to make it to where it's as easy of a transition as you can get without a complete overhaul for the guys."

Everything has meshed well, said Ledford, who later added he thinks the transition to Robinson's offense has been pretty smooth.

Installing a scheme is one aspect of being a new offensive coordinator. Calling plays is another. Robinson has experience, but it's minimal - while with the Rams, he did simulations in training camp and in the preseason last August, losing 41-0 to the Denver Broncos.

During OTAs, the Falcons gave Robinson more opportunities to find his stride, calling live periods in jog throughs and practice sessions.

However, there's only so much one can simulate, and while Robinson said growth comes from reps, he's eager to get into a competitive setting - though Morris believes he's been in one mentally for the past several years.

"I think he’s been preparing for that play-calling role since I met him," Morris said. "But I think those things happen naturally. When it’s your first time going to call it full-season, live, you’re going to be way more locked and dialed in than most. It just is what it is."

Morris described as the nature of the beast and the urgency one creates for themselves. He feels Robinson has created a strong foundation of urgency that will carry through summer break and into training camp.

In the NFL, May and June are made for learning and developing. Most think of this for players, but it's true for coaches, too. Robinson experienced a heavy dose of on-the-job training - all the while carrying the stress of having to teach his offense to Atlanta's players.

Expectations are high for the Falcons, as much internally as externally. How well Robinson's offense - with a shiny new quarterback surrounded by several high-powered playmakers - performs may ultimately dictate how far Atlanta goes this fall.

So, pressure? One may say that is the nature of the beast.

"Nobody’s expecting you to be perfect," Morris said, "but we expect to be our very best."

Daniel Flick


Daniel Flick is an accredited NFL writer for Sports Illustrated's FanNation. Daniel has provided boots-on-ground coverage at the NFL Combine and from the Atlanta Falcons' headquarters, among other destinations, and contributed to the annual Lindy's Sports Magazine ahead of the 2023 offseason. Daniel is a co-host on the 404TheFalcon podcast and previously wrote for the Around the Block Network and Georgia Sports Hospitality Media.