Atlanta's Joker in the pack

By Thomas Willoughby

This isn’t their first rodeo. Across the past nine years, the Falcons have visited London twice, and currently sit 1-1. They’ll be hoping the third time‘s the charm when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.

We’ve not exactly seen a great deal to suggest it’s going to be smooth sailing, however. A 2-1 start to 2023 suggests a team with more going for it than not. But that week three defeat to the Lions did a lot of harm to how we perceive this side. The lack of offensive output in that 20-6 defeat is a considerable concern.

It’s all eyes on the quarterback, (not for the first time), and the young career of Desmond Ridder is being brought into question. He’s taken it in his stride, as he will do, but the issues that reared their head were certainly something to worry about. As the Falcons run game failed to make any meaningful strides against a stout Lions defensive front, the passing game was unable to pick up the slack. Even against a secondary not exactly built strongly at the back end.

Kevin Sabitus-Getty Images

Working through it

The good news is the Falcons have seen what issues they have, and can begin the correct them. The bad news is that they’re coming up against a side this week very much in the same image as those Lions. The Jaguars currently rank 6th when it comes to yards per carry, giving up a paltry 3.4 yards per attempt. The Falcons need much more than that if they’re to stand a chance this weekend.

More encouragingly, however, is in the passing game. The Jaguars are a bottom 10 yards per attempt in that respect, giving up 7.2 yards in that specific statistic. Clearly, if the Falcons are to prevail this weekend, the passing game needs to click. And it’s all eyes on Desmond Ridder once again.

The Joker in the Pack

Or, maybe, there’s something else that could come into play. A joker, if you will. I’ve long been the chairman of the “Cordarelle Patterson is the best player in the NFL” club, but we’ve not had the opportunity to see his mercurial talents this season. At all. Suffering a soft tissue injury early in pre-season, Patterson has been limited in practice all season, and inactive every Sunday. He’s made the flight over, however. And I saw, with my own eyes, him warming up and taking snaps. As many as anyone else, as best I could tell. He’s alive. He’s here. Surely he wouldn’t have made the journey if he wasn’t ready?

“CP’s gonna be questionable. Had another good week. See what it looks like on Sunday.” Said Smith when questioned on his status heading into week four. “You get Patterson back, he’s a different player, another guy that can line up in certain spots, but can still carry the ball.”

Patterson is listed as a “Joker” on the Falcons depth chart, a nod to the fact he does it a bit as a runner, and a bit as a pass catcher. He’s very much a multifunctional tool that both Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota have leaned on heavily over the past two seasons. And he’s someone that 2023 1st round pick, Bijan “Bisto” Robinson, is being molded in the shape of. 

The Falcons willing to line Robinson up as a runner and a pass catcher this season has yielded pretty good results this season. He’s the Falcons leading rusher, and has one touchdown as a receiver. And then there’s this.

Healthy rotation

The thing is there’s only so much he can do. There’s a noticeable difference in how effective the Falcons are when Tyler Allgeier is in the game, as good as he is. What Patterson offers is viable rotation. A man with the same sort of skillset that Bijan has with the ball in his hands. You don’t hold the record as having scored the most kicks for a touchdown without that.

More than that, he’s another safety blanket. Someone to dump the ball off to and make moves when there’s little on downfield. That takes the pressure off of Kyle Pitts and Drake London, two exceptionally talented guys who’ve had their share of struggles this season. And it certainly helps Desmond Ridder, as he continues to establish himself as an NFL quarterback.

The difference

This is a tough game to call. The Falcons have questions marks, the Jaguars have injuries, and it could come down to one or two plays. When things are that tight, having a Joker up your sleeve might be the difference.

Features Image Credit: Brynn Anderson-AP

Thomas Willoughby