How will Falcons divvy up touches once Cordarrelle Patterson returns?

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The Falcons could welcome back Cordarrelle Patterson this week as the team hosts the Chargers this Sunday. The veteran has been on the injured reserve since the team’s Week 4 victory over the Browns but returned to practice this week, initiating the 21-day window for him to return to the active roster. Patterson might not be able to go this weekend, but he said he’s feeling about 90%. He’s close.

Even without playing the last four games, Patterson is still Atlanta’s leading rusher. He’s totaled 340 yards and three touchdowns on 58 carries, good for a 5.8 yards per carry average. But the Falcons offense hasn’t been slowed down by his absence. The unit has four players totaling over 250 rushing yards in the first eight games of the season — the first time that’s been done in NFL history.

The Falcons offense averages 26 points per game (6th) because of their dominant run game and the efficient supplemented pass game. Atlanta averages 158.1 rush yards per game (5th) and 4.7 yards per rush (13th). Arthur Smith continuously pounds the rock — running the ball on 57.63% of plays (2nd). The Falcons throw it occasionally but do so efficiently, averaging 7.3 yards per pass (6th).

So, despite Patterson being out for half the season, the Falcons’ offense has been just fine. Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, Marcus Mariota, and Arthur Smith’s complex run scheme are to thank for that. The unit has run for 593 yards since Patterson hit the IR, posting at least 150 yards in three of the past four games.

The rookie from BYU has totaled 324 yards and one touchdown on 84 carries; Huntley has put up an impressive 265 yards on 57 carries. Mariota has been the wrinkle that continually makes the difference, though. The signal caller has totaled 280 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, second to only Patterson.

With such a proven backfield, it could be a little crowded when Patterson returns. There are only so many touches to go around, so how will Arthur Smith divvy them up?

Patterson is obviously a difference-making player with the ball in his hands. He should receive a bulk of the carries. But it’s clear the pounding is taking a toll on his body; Smith should reel him back a bit so he’s healthy for the stretch run. Patterson’s numbers took a noticeable dip at the end of last season for the same reason. Mariota will be a constant. There’s no reason his carries should be affected when Patterson returns.

That means fewer carries for one or both of Huntley and Allgeier. From what I’ve seen, Huntley is the more productive runner, and the numbers back that up. Allgeier might be a better receiver and pass blocker, but as a pure runner, the second-year pro has the edge. Huntley has done extremely well in this extended opportunity with Patterson out. It’s a tough call and one I’m not qualified to make. Still, it’s a good problem to have; Patterson believes there’s enough room for everyone to thrive.

“They did what they were supposed to do,” Patterson said, via the team’s website. “They did a heck of a job, and this week if I can’t go, they still are going to keep doing what they’re supposed to do until I’m back. And when I’m back, they’re still going to shine. I’m not coming to step on somebody’s toes. This is our team, and the team comes first.”

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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