Who will step up if Cordarrelle Patterson can’t play Thursday?

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Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson is a game-time decision for Thursday night’s matchup against the New England Patriots The team still has a premier pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts, but in the event Patterson can’t play, are there any other playmakers on this team that can make a difference?

It is very likely that the Patriots will force the Falcons to rely on guys like Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe, Christian Blake, and maybe even Frank Darby. Pitts will still get his targets, but there is reason to expect Bill Belichick to scheme the rookie out of the game plan.

Over the last three games, the Patriots have allowed an average of 162 yards per game. In fact, the last time a player posted 100 or more receiving yards was CeeDee Lamb in Week 6, and that was one of only two occurrences all season long.

Since Calvin Ridley’s departure in Week 8, Atlanta’s production at receiver hasn’t been consistent on any level. This does include one game against Carolina who is ranked number one in the NFL in pass defense, however, the other two opponents have been ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Against Carolina, Tajae Sharpe and Olamide Zaccheaus were the only two receivers to get any targets and still only accounted for a combined 70 yards. Against New Orleans, Russell Gage was the leading receiver going for 64 yards on seven catches, but was outdone overall by Patterson’s 126 yards.

Gage disappeared in Week 10 when he was targeted just three times and finished with zero catches. Matt Ryan targeted a receiver 14 times in total, but ended the game with a completion percentage of 28.6 when targeting his wideouts. Pitts managed to get his due by gaining 60 yards and was the most targeted pass-catcher, but it’s easy to take him away when the other players around him offer no threat to opposing defenses.

Outside of Miami, this could be the most man coverage that Falcons receivers see all season far with a near split on zone-to-man ratio. J.C. Jackson is ranked third among all cornerbacks in the NFL with a grade of 84.4. He also ranks first in interceptions (four), second in pass breakups (six), and third in passer rating allowed (42.3) while in man coverage. In the likely event that Arthur Smith flexes Pitts out wide, Jackson would probably line up opposite of him. Using Pitts in a lot of pre-snap motion can be a way to get the rookie the ball and create separation from the defender.

Getting the passing attack going will be a tall order. Not only does Patterson take away an element of the ground game, but his versatility also limits what the team can do in the passing game. Based on recent weeks, the Falcons just don’t have receivers who are skilled enough to be relied upon as the number one option. We’ll see if that changes on Thursday night.

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