LAKE FOREST – He can barrel through people, and he can leap over them. He’s 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and he’s a shear force with the ball in his hands.
Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson is unlike any player in the NFL.
With eight career kick return touchdowns and a 29.4-yard average return, his special teams prowess is no secret around league circles. Multiple teams – including the Bears – tried to find way to get him the ball on offense. The Falcons seem to have unlocked him better than anyone.
After playing for the Bears in 2019 and 2020, Patterson signed with Atlanta last year and rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns on 153 carries, while also catching 52 passes for 548 yards and five touchdowns.
This season, he missed about a month due to injury, but has returned in recent weeks and continues to be a key part of the Falcons’ fourth-ranked rushing attack.
“He’s, respectfully, an alien,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said this week.
Teams (he’s played for five) have tried to make him a receiver. Others have tried to make him a running back. Nobody did it successfully until now. Bears linebacker Nicholas Morrow indicated that it’s not rocket science. Turning around and handing the ball into Patterson’s gut takes away so many variables.
“They put the ball in his hands as early as possible,” said Morrow, who played with Patterson in 2017 with the Raiders. “When you play receiver, there’s some things, right? Got to have protection. Got to have a quarterback who can get him the ball – I don’t know who his quarterbacks were, I’m not disrespecting them in any way – so there’s multiple facets of getting the ball into a playmakers hands. Whereas at running back, it’s: ‘Here you go.’”
In only six games this season, Patterson has rushed for 402 yards and five touchdowns on 76 carries. The Falcons run the ball at a high clip and have four different players with at least 300 rushing yards, including quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Tackling a big guy like Patterson is all about taking the right angles. Morrow said a defender doesn’t want to tackle him high because he has the strength to throw off an arm tackle. Safety Eddie Jackson agreed.
“Got to have your aim point on point,” Jackson said. “You can’t come in on your heels. You’ve got to come in with a full force that you’re trying to tackle him, you’re trying to bring him down to the ground and that just has to be your mindset. If not, he’s gonna run you over.”
Patterson has been used almost exclusively as a running back this season. Matt Nagy’s 2020 Bears tried to turn Patterson into a running back, but they never seemed to fully commit to the idea. Atlanta offensive coordinator Dave Ragone was the Bears’ passing game coordinator that season. There are numerous former Bears down in Atlanta, including several assistant coaches and players. Former Bears general manager Ryan Pace is a senior personnel executive for the Falcons.
On special teams, Patterson has returned only four kicks this year, but three of them were last week against Carolina. The most effective way to keep the ball out of his hands might be to kick it through the end zone.
Leave it short and he will take it out.
“He’s a guy, he don’t take knees,” Jackson said. “That’s the crazy part. He would come out 108, 109, 106, 105, 101. Like, CP bringing it all out of the end zone.”
Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower kept his plans close to the vest with regards to whether or not kicker Cairo Santos will kick to Patterson.
Fullback Khari Blasingame is on the kickoff coverage team for the Bears. He said nothing changes in preparation, but the Bears need to have multiple tacklers coming at him.
“It’s definitely different just from the size standpoint,” Blasingame said. “Most returners aren’t built like him.”