Falcons turn to committee without Cordarrelle Patterson, with decent results

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons gave the NFL a first glimpse on Sunday in Tampa of what their running game, one of the league's best so far in 2022, will look like over the next month without leader Cordarrelle Patterson, who went on the injured list last week.

The Falcons, third in the league in rushing, ran for 98 of their 151 yards in the second half, where it seemed like Atlanta was able to get more push from the offensive line. The Falcons also ran more in the second half (20 rushes) than in the first (11 rushes) despite at one point trailing by 21 points.

That’s part of how Atlanta wants to play. Run the ball when it can. Stick with its plan as much as possible. And that plan, for now, feels like it will be a mix and match to keep teams off balance.

Patterson, the receiver turned running back, has been a revelation for the Falcons since arriving before the 2021 season. He has become the centerpiece in the team’s offense, both in where he lines up and how he’s used.

But his primary spot has been in the backfield, particularly this season where it became clear from the start he would be the main option for Atlanta. There are skills Patterson has other running backs do not possess. This isn’t criticism. It’s fact. For the Falcons, until Patterson returns to the lineup, their running game will look different.

Patterson received a lot of carries before a knee injury knocked him out until at least November. The Falcons were always going to manage his work despite his rushing attempts per game jumping from 9.6 last season to 14.5 this season.

So somewhat of a run-by-committee approach was always going to happen. With him out of the lineup, it might be more so over the next month.

“Depends on what we’re going to call,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “No different than certain things we ask guys to do when he was in there. There’s certain things, schemes that we may ask Tyler (Allgeier), just get everybody to roll. We like to play everybody.”

Allgeier received the most work Sunday against Tampa Bay, both in snaps (39, which was 59% of Atlanta’s offensive plays) and in carries (13 for 45 yards). Behind him is Caleb Huntley, who played 16 snaps (24%) and touched the ball on eight of those plays for 34 yards -- a 4.3-yard-per-carry average.

Atlanta also uses Avery Williams, who had a touchdown run Sunday, in perhaps the role most similar to Patterson both as a rusher and a route-runner. He had 17 snaps (26%), three carries for 11 yards and was targeted twice, catching both passes for 10 yards.

“I think for sure, eases off the body, especially when you have guys that rotate in,” Allgeier said. “Like boom, get me in, boom get Hunt in and then get a little splash of Avery and it blew the defense off guard.”

That quarterback Marcus Mariota can be utilized as a runner (seven carries, team-high 61 yards) can help, too, because it offers potential run-pass option plays and can leverage the defense based on decisions Mariota makes to hand off the ball or keep it himself.

The Falcons also could get back veteran Damien Williams soon. Williams, who injured his rib on the second drive of the season in the opener against New Orleans, is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. While Smith wouldn’t commit to him being a return-to-practice option Wednesday, he didn’t rule it out, either, as the Falcons want to see where he is physically before making the call.

Williams told ESPN on Monday that mentally he is ready to return, but he wants to be smart with things physically to see where he’s at before he would be back. Williams said he has been in meeting rooms and trying to stay in tune with what Atlanta has been doing and any changes that might end up being made.

Williams said he had cartilage torn from the rib. It was extremely painful and hampered his breathing. He knew what had happened because it had happened to him a few years ago .

“I couldn’t get out of the bed,” Williams said. “Couldn’t lay on my stomach.”

Whenever Williams does return, he’ll add a veteran presence as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield along with what Allgeier and Huntley have brought in the interim.

It all probably means that until Patterson returns figuring out what the team is going to do running the ball will be a week-to-week question.