In week 3, the Atlanta Falcons will go on the road again. Just another heads up, the Falcons will not have back to back home games all 2012, so get used to the home-away flip flop all season long.
Philip Rivers is a quarterback who is well known for leading a high-flying offense that takes a lot of shots down the field, and who are extremely effective at completing those passes. The Falcons may have not be extremely well prepared for defending these types of passes in the past couple seasons, but against the 2012 edition of the Chargers, I think it is certainly possible.
Two things are prominent. The first is that the Chargers no longer have Vincent Jackson. He was their best receiver, and he made catches at all three levels of the passing game from shallow slants, to routes that stretched the field. The new #1 receiver for San Diego is Malcolm Floyd. He is nearly as talented as Jackson when healthy, but the key to him being successful is being healthy. I wouldn’t count on that at all. Also, he has a tendency to disappear from games from time to time with long stretches of games with few to no catches. Lining up across the field from Floyd is former Saint Robert Meachem. In the Saints passing attack he was under utilized because Brees spreads out the touches to so many different targets. Meachem was the #2 in N.O., and will be a very good one in San Diego. Between Floyd and Meachem, the Falcons will have their hands full.
The key to beating this Chargers team is defeating their offensive line. Sure Philip Rivers had an off-year and threw a lot of interceptions. It could be the beginning of the end for Rivers, but I am absolutely not willing to bet against Rivers in this matchup. The one way to truly beat them is to get pressure of Rivers, and theirs is a line that can be had. Remember Marcus McNeill? He was released in favor of placing Jared Gaither at the left tackle position. Gaither played well when spelling McNeill last season, but he isn’t elite, and got beaten at times, especially on a Thursday Night Football matchup against the Oakland Raiders. He was cut by the Ravens and Chiefs already in his career, so there is potential that he could be a liability. Gaither is not the only new face on the left side of this line. Veteran Kris Dielman retired this offseason after dealing with concussions. Also, their early projected starting RT would be a new starter for 2012. The Falcons defensive line needs to get to Rivers early and often to disrupt the deep passing routes which will disrail the entire San Diego offense. Of particular note from that Thursday Night game mentioned above, Rivers was abused all game long, and they still only lost by a touchdown.
It seems like everything really comes down to winning in the trenches, doesn’t it? The most potent element of San Diego’s defense is its line. The Chargers’ secondary certainly has good DBs in Eric Weddle, Quentin Jammer, and others, but in order for any of them to be effective, they need to be able to get after the quarterback. The Chargers were 23rd in the league in sacks with 32. That is only one less sack than the Falcons had in 2011. They already have a good pass-rusher in Antwan Barnes (11 sacks in 2011) and a great playmaker in Shaun Philips. The do lack a pass-rusher on the other side, and they drafted Melvin Ingram from South Carolina to do just that. He will be a rookie in just his 3rd game of the season, so his impact could be minimal. He will also be playing in a 3-4 defense, whereas he played in a 4-3 defense in college. Making the transition could be a challenge for this rookie. Without that second pass-rusher, the Chargers will have a difficult time getting to Matt Ryan, and he could pick the Chargers apart. No defensive secondary can hold up forever, and the Chargers secondary isn’t exactly a defensive juggernaut.
The Chargers also give up a great deal of yards on the ground. The Falcons do this extremely well, and with the new look offensive line should go back to their mauling ways. With the run setting up the pass, the Falcons should be able to roll to their third straight victory, and second road win of the season. The Chargers are a lot like the Falcons: two offensively minded teams with a lot of young offensive talent and some defensive play-makers. I think both teams lack a certain amount of mental toughness or sticktoitiveness that hurts them in big games. That being said, the Falcons have upgraded their offensive and defensive coordinator positions, as well as replacing their offensive line coach. I believe that this will lead to a more tough team that won’t back down, and will impose its will on teams like the Chargers. Final score: Falcons-28 Chargers-23.