When asked about Cordarrelle Patterson’s potential as a wild card in the Bears’ offense, coach Matt Nagy couldn’t help himself from a little sardonic humor befitting an offense that has underachieved in the first two games of the season.
“It’s a benefit — unless it’s third-and-one, and you’re trying to get a first down with him back there,” Nagy said to laughter at the Halas Hall media room.
He was referring to an ill-fated play in the opener against the Packers that lost two yards.
But even the Bears’ struggling offense can’t hide Patterson’s potential as a playmaker. Lining up as the lone back behind Mitch Trubisky on a first-and-10 play from the Bears’ 32-yard line in the third quarter against the Broncos in Week 2, Patterson took a pitch from Trubisky, ran to the left side and turned it upfield for a 46-yard gain. The play is the Bears’ longest from scrimmage in the first two games and led to their only touchdown — a one-yard run by rookie running back David Montgomery.
The 6-2, 238-pound Patterson’s speed was noteworthy. According to NFL Next Gen stats, he reached a top speed of 22.23 mph on the run — the fastest by a ball carrier in the last two seasons. (For comparison, Usain Bolt’s top recorded speed in the 100-meter dash was 27.8 mph — and he weighs 207 pounds and wasn’t wearing a football uniform with full pads.)
But both plays — the third-and-one failure and the 46-yard gain — showed how fine the line is between a good one and a bad one. On the third-and-one, center James Daniels was beaten by Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and Patterson had no chance. The 46-yard gain was blocked efficiently at several points, with tackle Charles Leno, guard Cody Whitehair, wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton playing key roles.
“Dude was rolling,” Burton said. “What did he get — like 22 miles per hour? He was rolling, man.”
The versatile Patterson figures to be an even more valuable weapon if Nagy’s offense finds its groove.
“I enjoyed watching him when he was teammates with Tyler Bray [the Bears’ third-string quarterback] at Tennessee,” Nagy said. “Now what he’s morphed into as a player throughout his [NFL] career, it’s pretty unique.
“As a play-caller, it allows you to be flexible with what you can do. You saw [against the Broncos] that we were able to get him on the edge. He’s a big dude that’s flying around there with a lot of speed.”
With his ability to line up virtually anywhere on the field, Patterson gives Nagy several options that will keep defenses guessing. He also gives the Bears a Mutt-and-Jeff combination of gadget players — along with 5-6, 191-pound Tarik Cohen.
“He’s similar but different to Tarik,” Nagy said. “They can both play wide receiver. They can both play in the backfield. And they’re both very smart — it’s pretty cool to see the volume they can handle. We just have to make sure we don’t do too much of it.”
Patterson has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in victories against the Bears — with the Vikings in 2013 and with the Patriots last year. He hasn’t had a kickoff return in two games this season but has contributed on coverage teams and had one tackle against the Broncos.
“There’s a lot of stuff you’d love to do with him,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, “but it’s about managing his special-teams reps and the volume he gets. But he’s a great football player. He would love to be on the field every single snap — offense, defense, special teams, whatever.”