For those who haven't been watching, the Atlanta Falcons defense under first-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen have quite literally gone night and day in every category. That's not hyperbole, folks: one look at current NFL defenses in most major categories (yards per game, yards per carry, third down conversion percentage, etc.), and the Falcons are pretty much everywhere in the top 10, with their "worst" statistic being points per game at 14th (20.1).
That said, while the Falcons defense has been special in what feels like ages for Falcons fans (missed tackles not included because there's still too many), it's actually interesting to look at one incredible statistic that this Atlanta defense has been immaculately impressive at: stopping running backs from scoring.
Let's take a quick look at this statistic: touchdowns are normally what determines whether or not an offense is "good" or "bad" in the eyes of most. This is primarily because while the main objective is to naturally score more points than your opponent, we're all fantasy football owners and want those six points a receiver or runner gets as it could ultimately determine a win or loss for ourselves.
Despite all of this, we normally agree that the best defense the Atlanta Falcons have ever fielded was the fabled 1977 "Grits Blitz", which notoriously doesn't get talked about with teams like the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens, '02 Bucs, "Legion of Boom", or the 2015 Broncos because they didn't finish the job with a Super Bowl victory, yet they have better statistical records than any of those teams in a then-16 game season.
This Falcons defense, however, has been so potent at stopping the run, they're close to breaking a record that has been around since the 2011 season: fewest amount of rushing touchdowns surrendered throughout a season. Keep in mind, opposing running backs have been able to break off "big play" runs of 10+ yards on this Falcons defense, but they have yet to physically make the ball break the plane of the goal line against this team.
The current record holder of this unique defensive prowess is the San Francisco 49ers, who only surrendered three rushing touchdowns en route to an NFC Championship appearance (which they ultimately lost to the eventual champion Giants). What isn't talked about though is the 49ers didn't surrender a rushing touchdown until the final two weeks of that regular season, a highly impressive feat.
While the Falcons currently have only surrendered two rushings touchdowns themselves through the game against Minnesota, here's an interesting note about those two: they were scored by quarterbacks. Yes, that's right: this Falcons defense has not seen an opposing running back score by actually doing their "primary" job of scoring on the ground. While running backs have scored on Atlanta, it's been through the air, and even then it was only against one team (Washington, who saw both score on receiving touchdowns).
It currently remains to be seen if the Falcons can "finish the job" and break this record, no matter how obscure it is. Defenses still can't break that 1977 team's points per game record of 9.2 or overall points allowed (129), and they've been trying ever since the 16/17 game slate has been in existence.
If this Falcons defense finishes with only surrendering rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks and never see a running back reach paydirt, two things will be noteworthy: Atlanta will have another record in the NFL, and who knows what else this defense can do?