The Atlanta Falcons are going to make a cross-country journey this weekend, ending up in San Diego to face a Chargers team that played extremely well in all phases last week against the Tennessee Titans. A very tough road test, the Falcons are 5-0 all time against the Chargers.
San Diego looked a little weak in their first game of the season against an Oakland Raiders team that many believe is the worst in the league. For an offense that has been so productive over the years and is constantly threatening the big play, the Chargers only scored one offensive touchdown, a pass by Rivers, and five field goals. Not exactly what you’d like to see from a team that got every opportunity to score, and even punted a good number of times. But, a win is a win, and a road win is tough even if the opponent is poor.
Things went differently for the Chargers at home against the Titans. The Titans lost their best corner in free-agency, and don’t boast a whole lot of talent across the board on defense, or offense for that matter. Philip Rivers and his Chargers teammates threw three touchdown passes and rand for two more as they had their way with Tennessee’s defense. San Diego clearly outclasses a less than elite level Tennessee team.
Tennessee also didn’t mount much offensively either. They are starting a second year quarterback who, while extremely athletic and mobile, is limited in reading progressions and doesn’t have an outstanding supporting cast around him. San Diego effectively stuffed the run against Chris Johnson, and forced the Titans into third and long situations, situations where QB Jake Locker struggles. Not to mention that the Chargers have two very good pass rushing players playing outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.
I would expect the Chargers to try to do the same thing against the Falcons this week. Stuff the run on first and second down, force Matt Ryan & Co. into long third down situations, and force punts. With veteran linebakcer Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, the Chargers can play the run very well. They also have Shaun Phillips and rookie Melvin Ingram at outside linebacker who represent a significant pass rush when the Falcons do throw the ball or are forced into passing downs. The Chargers also have two very good starting corners in Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, two very underrates corners who can flat play coverage. Add safety Eric Weddle making plays deep over the middle and tackling everything in sight, the Chargers defense represents quite a challenge for the Falcons offense.
Defensively, the Falcons will face probably a bigger challenge in trying to contain Philip Rivers and this potent Chargers passing game. They will be fairly balanced, as they showed the ability to effectively run the ball against the Titans, but also complete passes in the short, intermediate, and deep passing game. This Chargers offense will be even more potent if star running back Ryan Matthews is in the lineup. He missed the first two games this season with a broken collar bone, and while he has been receiving full practice reps so far this week, he will be questionable for the game on Sunday. Not having to worry about him would be huge, because there are so many pass catching threats in San Diego’s arsenal like Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal andAntonio Gates (who is also listed on their injury report and missed last weeks game).
The weakness in San Diego’s offense is its line. Left tackle Jared Gaither may or may not play, and even when he does play he is very inconsistent. Expect the Falcons to line John Abraham across from the left tackle and try to take advantage of that position. A couple of other positions on the line are patchwork jobs, and need testing. The Falcons will have chances to get to Rivers, to hit him, and also to sack him. If they can disrupt the passing game ever so slightly up front, the job of the defenders dropping into coverage becomes that much easier.