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The role the run game will play in Falcons rematch with Carolina Panthers

Both Atlanta and Carolina want to attack via the run. Which run game will prevail on Sunday? 

Atlanta Falcons running back Mike Davis #28 runs with running back Cordarrelle Patterson #84 during joint practice with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday August 18, 2021. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons running back Mike Davis #28 runs with running back Cordarrelle Patterson #84 during joint practice with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday August 18, 2021. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There is one school of thought about the Falcons upcoming game against the Panthers in Charlotte, and it has to do with establishing the run. Both teams want to do so, but their motives are a little different. The Falcons want to prove they have turned a corner in the run game. The Panthers want to show they can beat the Falcons the same way they did the first time (i.e. with a productive rushing attack).

From the Falcons perspective, the run game has looked as workable as it has all year. In back-to-back games the Falcons have accumulated more than 100 rushing yards against two solid run defenses in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. Cordarrelle Patterson (who makes up a large portion of the Falcons offensive production) said there is a new determination this unit has found in the run game.


"The first few weeks - or however many weeks - during the season, the run game was not there, but honestly it's been there these last two weeks," Patterson said, "and we just gotta continue to push every day just to show the coaches that we can run the ball."

Patterson said he and Mike Davis are playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove the Falcons run game can be one that opposing defenses have to account for. The Falcons were one dimensional as an offense for too long. They want to change that, and they have seen that change throughout the last two weeks.

"We want to run the ball. So, let's do it," Patterson said. "Why can't we rush over a 100 yards a game? Why can't we be those guys?"

From head coach Arthur Smith's perspective, the last two games have looked more like what he envisioned this run game being in Atlanta. He said sometimes establishing the run in a new scheme takes time. He said there has been a lot of work put in to get the concepts right, and that work "needed to pay off" for the Falcons. And based on the last two games, it looks like it's starting to.

"I think we're getting more in sync," Smith said. "We certainly do things better, but we've got to keep trending in the right direction to give us a chance to win and play well down the stretch."

So, continuing to take positive steps forward in the run game will be of a continued importance to the Falcons in Charlotte. But their opponents also want to run the ball.

From Carolina's perspective, the one thing they know they can do against the Falcons is run the ball. When the Panthers were in Atlanta in Week 8, they had 203 rushing yards worth of productivity doing so. Chuba Hubbard finished the game with 82 of said 203 rushing yards. But more notable was Sam Darnold's numbers. The quarterback leaked out for 66 yards on eight carries. That's good enough for an eight yard average per carry.

It's important to note, though, that the Falcons won't see the exact same Panthers team on Sunday. Carolina has parted ways with their offensive coordinator, Joe Brady. And they've picked up Cam Newton, who will be the Panthers quarterback come Sunday. As far as running threats go, if Darnold picked up 66 yards against the Falcons last time, if Atlanta's defensive front doesn't contain the pocket, who knows what Newton will do.

And that's why Dean Pees puts stopping the run so high on his to-do list on Sunday. He said he particularly wants to see a change in the Falcons stopping the quarterback from scrambling. He noted it wasn't necessarily the designed runs that he felt hurt the Falcons defense the last time these two divisional opponents met. It was when the quarterback dropped back only to pick up a first down with his legs. That, Pees said, was disappointing and something he wants to see the Falcons correct.

When asked if he envisioned Carolina attacking the Falcons via the run on Sunday, Pees answered quite honestly: "Oh, absolutely," he said. "Why wouldn't you?"

Pees said when you've been in the business long enough, you pick up on trends. Well, when it comes to playing a team twice, they're not going to shy away from doing something that worked the first time.

"If you're having trouble with something, they're going to find out if you've fixed it," Pees said.

So, yes. He fully expects the Panthers to run the ball, and to do so frequently.

But in the same vein, that's likely what the Falcons want to do, too, just perhaps for a different reason. Does that mean Sunday's game will be a shootout as both teams work to establish the run? Probably not. The Falcons won't get too far out of Matt Ryan's wheelhouse. But it's definitely an intriguing thought.


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