Week 3, at San Diego
Please excuse the brief hiatus. I've been working the BB&T Atlanta Open for the past week and a half, and have been completely immersed in tennis recently. But the tournament is over and done with, and it's time for more football, thankfully.
If you'll recall the first two previews, we now continue on as the Falcons travel to San Diego in Week 3 to take on, that's right, their third straight AFC West opponent. The Chargers were a bit disappointing last season. They finished 8-8 in 2011, largely due to that dreadful six-game losing streak they hit in the middle of the year.
Ryan Mathews is now running the show in the backfield, Philip Rivers is looking to ease up on the number of picks he throws and I'm still not sure who's going to step in the receiving corps. Norv Turner's squad went through a lot of changes this offseason, so let's take a look at what Atlanta will be dealing with in this one.
All-time series record: Atlanta leads 7-1. The Falcons are 5-0 playing in San Diego, and 5-0 on the west coast with Mike Smith at the helm. Things are looking up already.
Key additions: Melvin Ingram, Atari Bigby, Robert Meachem, Jarrett Johnson, Eddie Royal? (not sure if he can be considered in the key category)
Overview: San Diego always seems like a team with plenty of talent, but things never really pan out like we expect them to with this team. Norv Turner surprisingly was kept on for another year, but one more 8-8 season and he'll be out the door I would imagine.
The offensive line appears to be a huge concern right now. Kris Dielman retired, Marcus McNeill is gone and injuries have plagued this group in the past. Jared Gaither is a great player, but he has to prove he can stay healthy.
Defensively the Chargers dropped completely off from 2010. Johnson and Bigby were two big signings this offseason, and Ingram and Kendall Reyes are two young guys who were drafted to address some major needs.
As far as the offense goes, Rivers and Mathews make an excellent one-two punch. Rivers had his share of issues in 2011, but he still managed to put up 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns for an 88.7 QB rating. His pass protection wasn't the best, so you can't really blame him for some of his woes.
Analysts point to the receivers as a strong point for the Chargers, but who is going to take the lead role here? Vincent Jackson is gone. Robert Meachem has breakout potential, but he still has to prove himself. Malcom Floyd always manages to get hurt, Roscoe Parrish isn't anything special and Eddie Royal isn't going to blow anyone away. Antonio Gates in the biggest weapon in Rivers' arsenal, but even he's problems staying on the field lately.
Matchup to watch for: Falcons D vs. Ryan Mathews
This is a pretty obvious battle to point out, but it's hard to ignore. I'm a huge Mathews fan, and I'm not the only one who believes he'll move to elite status in 2012. Mike Tolbert is gone, so No. 24 has free reign over the backfield (don't even try to bring up Ronnie Brown).
Mathews can be a threat catching the ball as well, so the Falcons will constantly have to pay close attention to him. Atlanta was terrific at stopping the run last year, and Mike Nolan will certainly keep that trend going into this next season. Stop Mathews, and Rivers is going to have to do it all on his own.
Prediction: I've leaned towards the Falcons emerging victorious in the first two matchups, and this one isn't going to be any different. They are completely capable of defeating any of these West Coast teams. If Rivers plays more like he did in the couple years prior to 2011, it was certainly be a shootout. The Chargers, though, don't block or rush the passer well (sound familiar?). Mathews can be limited, and Koetter can keep sending Roddy and Julio flying down the field.
What's your take on Week 3?