First-place Falcons hope to keep running against Chargers


ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have remained consistent in their commitment to running the ball without becoming predictable.

Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley says that's why the surprising Falcons are leading the NFC South.

“There is a reason why they are first in their division,” Staley said. “They are number one in their division because they’ve put together a really good season on offense.”

The Falcons (4-4) will look to stay there when they play the Chargers (4-3), who are coming off a bye week, on Sunday.

Atlanta remained competitive despite playing its last four games without top running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who had knee surgery. Patterson returned to practice on Wednesday and could come off injured reserve as soon as Sunday.

Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota will face the Chargers’ Justin Herbert in a matchup of Oregon alumni.

The Falcons rank fifth in the league in rushing and 29th in passing. Even so, Mariota has thrown seven touchdown passes in the last four games.

“I think his comfort level is showing week to week,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

Damiere Byrd is emerging as a deep threat for Mariota with four catches for 142 yards and two TDs the last two weeks. Second-year tight end Kyle Pitts had five catches for 80 yards and a TD in last week’s 37-34 overtime win over Carolina.

“They’re doing a really good job,” Staley said. “They run the ball at a really high level, and then they throw the ball down the field. They get a lot of explosions both ways.”