The Falcons were at their best this season — 2-2, with close losses to the Saints (27-26) and Rams (31-27) — when versatile running back Cordarrelle Patterson was healthy. The former Bears wide receiver/kick returner was averaging 113 total yards per game and 5.9 rushing yards per carry in four games until he went on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Patterson hasn’t been as productive since returning in Week 9 — 18 carries, 62 yards (3.4 average) and two receptions for 11 yards in two games. But he’s a threat for a breakout game as he continues to get back into his athletic rhythm.
Patterson’s versatility puts every defender — and literally, every defender — on alert, but rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn figures to be in the middle of it. Sanborn had 12 tackles, two sacks and an interception that was nullified by a disputed penalty against the Lions last week — his second NFL start since entering the lineup following the trade of Roquan Smith.
The Bears not only lead the NFL in rushing yards (201.7 per game), but they have rushed for 237 yards or more in their last five games — an average of 246.0 yards per game. (The Ravens have the next-highest rushing average in that span at 197.5 yards per game).
Justin Fields is a big part of that, of course. The second-year quarterback has rushed for 555 yards on 62 carries (9.0 average) in those five games. But even without Fields’ production, the Bears still would rank 12th in the NFL in that span (135.0 rushing yards per game) and 10th in yards per carry (4.9).
Running back Khalil Herbert, who is averaging 64.3 rushing yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry, is on injured reserve with a hip injury. Rookie Trestan Ebner is expected to replace him as a complement to David Montgomery.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Fields is coming off back-to-back games of 178 rushing yards against the Dolphins (an NFL regular-season record for a quarterback) and 147 last week against the Lions.
The Falcons have yet to face a quarterback even close to that kind of running threat. Quarterbacks have just 23 carries for 89 yards (3.9 average) in 10 games this season.
But Fields also should have opportunities in the passing game. The Falcons’ defense is 32nd and last in the NFL in passing yards allowed (280.1 yards per game). In his last three games, Fields is averaging 147.0 passing yards but has a 108.9 passer rating (seven touchdowns, one interception).
Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool, acquired in a trade with the Steelers on Nov. 1, has three receptions for 21 yards in two games. The 6-4, 238-pound Claypool is expected to play a bigger role in his third game, but what that means in a formative offense is an unknown.