It’s the third week of the NFL season and the Falcons are looking to go 3-0 for the first time in eight years when they travel out to San Diego to face the Chargers. This will be the Falcons first real test because the Chargers do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball.
Like the Falcons, the Chargers are 2-0 and are coming of a 38-10 win against the Tennessee Titans last week. The Falcons defense will have their hands full with quarterback Philip Rivers who has thrown for 515 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception so far this season. Rivers loves to use his tight ends Dante Rosario and Antonio Gates early and often. Rosario leads the Chargers in receiving touchdowns with three while Gates, who did not play last week due to a rib injury, should be healthy enough to play on Sunday.
But the key for the Chargers offense maybe running back Ryan Matthews who is expected to make his 2012 debut against the Falcons. Matthews rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
As good as the offense has been, the defense is probably just as talented. The Chargers are ranked No. 1 in the league in rush defense and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is the reason for their success. Franklin takes on the double teams which frees up the inside linebackers to make plays. In Week 1 they allowed Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden to rush for only 42 yards and last week they held Chris Johnson to 17 rushing yards on eight carries.
The Chargers are also strong against the pass as they come in at No. 12. They only have one interception which belongs to Eric Weddle, but Atari Bigby, Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are talented defensive backs that rarely make mistakes. And let’s not forget the pass rush which is led by outside linebacker Shaun Philips who already has 2.5 sacks.
The Falcons are coming off a 27-21 win against the Denver Broncos. Matt Ryan led the offense as he threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns, and Roddy White caught eight passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. Ryan comes into the game with the NFL’s highest quarterback rating at 117 and White leads the team with 14 catches for 189 yards.
Michael Turner was not able to get going for the second straight game, rushing for only 42 yards on 17 carries. It will be tough for the Falcons to get the run game going on Sunday against stout rush defense, but they have to continue to run the ball as much as they can so it will open the passing game which has been very strong the last two games as well as the preseason.
The defense, while not statistically great, has been making big plays as they forced four turnovers in the first five possessions against the Broncos. If the Chargers don’t want that to happen on Sunday, they have to make sure they know where William Moore is at all times. Moore had one sack and one pick to go along with his eight tackles. Stephen Nicholas is also having a great start to the season, notching eight tackles and one forced fumble last week.
The one thing to watch for is the cornerback spot as Christopher Owens will not play because of concussion he suffered against Denver. This means Robert McClain and Dominque Franks will see more action at the nickel spot while Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will be the starting corners for the second consecutive game.
Since Mike Smith has been the head coach for the Falcons, they have been a perfect 5-0 when playing on the west coast. They have a 7-1 record against the Chargers and the last time they traveled to San Diego, the Falcons won 22-16 in 2008, which was Ryan’s rookie year.
The Chargers are a much improved team from last year and are the likely favorite to win the AFC West. But the Falcons are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL and show no signs of slowing down.
Will the Falcons improve to 3-0 or the Chargers shutdown Ryan and the red hot Falcons offense?