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Four Critical Matchups In The Falcons-Chargers Game

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We've spent some time getting to know the San Diego Chargers this week, and now it's time for our usual end-of-week breakdown.

If the Falcons want to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2004, they're going to need to play a complete football game and overcome the inherent challenges of having a short week all the way across the country. Given this team's general excellence in spite of mistakes and shakiness this season, I think they can do it.

Preamble is for suckers. Let's roll right into the preview, after the jump.

John Abraham vs. Philip Rivers

Like we've said, you gotta hit Rivers to stop him. Thanks to a shaky tackle situation in San Diego, the Falcons have a better chance of doing that than usual.

If you're going to ask anyone to rush the passer and expect results, it would be John Abraham. With an easier-than-usual matchup and the importance of shutting down Rivers, expect Abe to have a nice game. I'm not saying he's going to match his game against Blaine Gabbert (3.5 sacks) last year...but hey, it'd be nice.

Stephen Nicholas/Sean Weatherspoon vs. Ryan Mathews

When Mathews runs, he's more or less invariably effective. In 2011, he got over 1,000 yards in just 222 attempts, a nice 4.9 yard average per rush. The Falcons have had real trouble stopping running backs in 2012, to the point where the ghost of Willis McGahee comfortably got over 100 against them.

It'll be put to the Falcons' top-notch outside linebackers to stop Mathews, particularly if the front four continue to be only middling in that regard. Thankfully, Nicholas and 'Spoon are fast enough, good enough, and gosh darn it, people like them. This is also Mathews' first game of the season, so there's an element of the unknown there.

Of course, Mathews is coming off a clavicle injury, so he may not be 100%. That would make things a little easier.

Antonio Gates vs. Thomas DeCoud/William Moore

I'm not worried about Dante Rosario. Guys come out of nowhere and have big games sometimes, but a guy like Rosario who was never any better than decent for the Carolina Panthers isn't likely to suddenly become a top-flight tight end. They'll just want to watch him near the end zone.

So worry about Gates, one of the finer tight ends of his generation and a favored target of one Philip Rivers. Thankfully, William Moore and Thomas DeCoud have been unreal thus far this season, and should be able to keep up with Gates. If they can shut him down, so much the better.

Yes, I just spelled out in three steps how to effectively disable the Chargers' offense. No, I won't apologize for being obvious.

Falcons Ground Game vs. Chargers Front Seven

Let's face it: No matter how good your passing offense is, you can't get by forever if you have absolutely no ability to run. The Packers and Patriots have done it in the past, but even they had running games capable of having a couple of big games, just so defenses had to plan for them.

The Falcons need more from Michael Turner in particular and the entire ground game in general if they're going to continue to make a splash offensively. A lot of that is on the run blocking shoulders of the offensive line, but Turner needs to do more with the holes he's given. If the whole unit steps up, they'll take a little heat off Matt Ryan.

So those are my four. What are yours?