The Falcons don't have a true featured running back.
Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson share touches in the Falcons scheme, and while it's not an even split, it's fairly close three games into this season.
We'd anticipate the workloads remaining static, with Davis getting more opportunities in each game.
There is a faction of fans, however, who think Patterson should get the lion's share.
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The stats so far:
Davis has 36 carries for 137 yards to this point, averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and 14 receptions for 68 yards. Patterson has 21 rushes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He also has 153 yards on 13 catches.
Patterson has shown well working out of the backfield and is clearly explosive when given the ball in space.
Should head coach and offensive play caller Arthur Smith start leaning more on Patterson at running back? That's the subject of this week's Great Debate between Scott Bair (that's me!) and Tori McElhaney. This is also time to remind everyone that this is supposed to be fun. Let's not act like we're covering the Pentagon or anything. We're talking football here, so let's enjoy it.
Alright, Tori, it's time to take a side. Should Patterson take a position as the primary option out of the backfield?
Look, I like Patterson's workload where it is. I think he's a threat coming out of the backfield, but I think what makes him a threat isn't what he does simply as a running back. It's the versatility he provides as a receiver, too. In the last two games, Patterson is only averaging 2.21 yards a carry. Meanwhile, he's averaging just under 13 yards per catch. Why change something that is working for him (and the team) to put more emphasis on something that's not?
If we're looking at this small sample size of three games, I tend to think the role this staff wants Patterson to play looks more like the last two games than the home opener against Philadelphia in which his rushing yards outweighed his receiving yards. I think the Falcons offense has been more successful with Patterson playing an expanded role as a passing threat.
I also don't think that in Smith's scheme it really matters who's No. 1 and No. 2 because between Davis and Patterson they have two different skill sets. In some packages, Patterson is No. 1. In others, it's Davis. I often think too much is made of who's No. 1 and who's No. 2. At the end of the day, the Falcons need to be better running the ball consistently, regardless of who is bringing it out.
But I am getting ahead of myself, what are you thinking?
Bair: I just knew you were going to come at me with his 2.21-yards per carry average off the top. Going for the knockout in Round 1? Uncool, McElhaney. Even though I braced for it, that stat still feels like a trump card.
Even if I cry small sample size til I go hoarse, I'm still probably on the wrong side of this debate. No matter. I'm gonna stand up for a vocal minority who want Patterson on the field most all the time.
If those same folks were watching baseball, they'd probably like hitters who swing for the fences every time, batting average be damned.
Every time Patterson touches the ball, there's a small part of everyone watching who wonders whether he'll take it to the house. They're willing to sacrifice a few 1- or 2-yard gains for the chance at a home run.
There's also a possibly that he'll get more consistent over time. Let's also not forget that he's new to the position and could get better making the proper cuts and just the right time, especially in outside zone runs.
We also have to look at the exchange. Davis has been okay, but is still under four yards per carry. Go for the big swing more often, whether you're rushing or finding Patterson in the flat. He can do so much that defenses won't be sure how Smith is going to use Patterson on a given play.
Out of curiosity, is part of your conviction maintaining the status quo rooted in keeping Davis heavily involved? What's your take on his performance thus far?
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McElhaney: There needs to be more production from Davis. I will say that right off the bat. However, I hope that this is taken with a grain of salt because I am not putting the lack of consistency in the run game solely on Davis' shoulders. That's unfair considering it's not like Patterson has gotten insanely better outcomes than Davis when bringing the ball out of the backfield. So, it does beg the question in my mind of how much this lack of production issue lay in a number of different avenues?
I don't think the Falcons' issues in getting the run game going hinges on the success of one singular group. It's everyone: offensive line's run blocking, Patterson and Davis' vision and decision-making, and play calling, too. So, as displeased in the run game as I have been, I also consistently remind myself that it's not something that one person is going to be able to fix at this point in time. Again, it's on everyone.
I know there are some out there that would put the blame on Davis and Patterson. You don't see that age coming out of the backfield often. There are others, though, that have a lot to say about the offensive line, or situational play calling. Whatever the case may be, one would assume there's a little bit of truth in all of that as to why the run game hasn't been a consistent factor through the first three games.
So, I am not going to sit here and write that Davis' lack of production as the lead back is his fault because that's not how I see it. I don't think it should be a "Davis vs. Patterson" conversation. I think it should be a "What needs to collectively change to get the run game going" conversation, because I think we all know that even though they are the features of the run game, Davis and Patterson are not the sole reason the Falcons haven't earned many first downs via the run. There have been many running backs coming and going out of Atlanta in recent years... No one has really made their mark.
Bair: I 100-percent agree that the Falcons require better on the ground and that it requires all 11. The ultimate team game requires everyone doing their job right. Even one critical mistake, from a missed block to a missed hole or an imprecise cut, or even the quarterback getting his team into the right call, can impact a run's success or failure.
There's a ton at play here. There's also a simple fact that the Falcons need improvement from the run game, whether it's on 1st-and-10 or 3rd-and-1. The Falcons have some intriguing talent carrying the ball, and must accentuate it. I covered LaDainian Tomlinson a billion years ago and he believed that, even if the other team knew what was coming, he should still be able to get four-plus yards. He often did. That, in my mind, is the sign of an excellent run game. The Falcons aren't there yet, though it's possible if the operation can get cleaner all around, no matter who's toting the rock.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.