After six games, it’s safe to say that the Falcons offense is the real deal. Going against two of the leagues best defenses, the high-flying offense was still able to make noise and were it not for some unfortunate turn-overs and a non-PI call, they may have walked out of Seattle with their 5th win. As it stands, the Falcons offense is firing on all cylinders and defensive coordinators around the league will lose sleep trying to figure out how to stop this team from scoring. Next up: the San Diego Chargers.
In the Trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been one of the truly pleasant surprises of the 2016 season. Free agent signing Alex Mack has been everything we could have hoped for, and his impressive play in the middle has helped elevate the play of everyone around him. Andy Levitre has bounced back from a rough 2015 and is having a very strong season on the inside. Chris Chester is clearly the weakest link on this line, but he has shown to be good enough when needed. Tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are both playing well, even if they were abused by the Seahawks pass rush this past Sunday. In total, this is an impressive unit that is run-blocking very well and giving Ryan enough time to have his best season ever.
The Chargers have some talent in the trenches. Brandon Mebane has been a quality player for a while, and is still playing at a high level. Defensive Ends Corey Liuget and Tenny Palepoi are below average players, with only Liuget being on the field much in nickel sets. The Chargers, however, have two good outside linebackers in Melvin Ingram and the excellent rookie Joey Bosa. These are guys that can impact the game and have the ability to generate pressure.
Outside of Mebane, Ingram and Bosa, this Chargers defensive front is lacking in talent. They compare very poorly with the Seahawks and Broncos, whom the Falcons just had to take on in back to back weeks. As long as the Falcons offensive line doesn’t take them for granted, there’s no reason to believe that the Falcons don’t win in the trenches easily.
The skill positions
The Falcons offense is being directed by an early MVP candidate in QB Matt Ryan. He’s having a phenomenal season so far, and is on track to set personal record highs in every category. He has one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones and has a competent WR2 (if not particularly fast) in Mohamed Sanu. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are arguably the best RB duo in the league and both are contributors as runners and as pass catchers. Tight End Jacob Tamme is having a great season, while rookie TE Austin Hooper has been a surprising contributor early on. Ryan is also hitting receivers like Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson and Justin Hardy, showing that this offensive unit is incredibly deep this year. By far, this may be one of the deepest and most talented offensive units in football.
The Chargers secondary, however, has issues. Jones will likely match up with either Craig Mager or Steve D. Williams. Neither is capable of stopping a receiver like Jones by themselves. Free safety Dwight Lowery is competent and will likely give help to whoever has the misfortune of being matched up on Julio. Strong safety Adrian Phillips is big liability in coverage, and only basically competent in the run game. Linebacker Denzel Perryman has struggled in run defense, but has been mostly competent in coverage - though matching up with Coleman could expose him. Perryman’s partner in the middle - Jatavis Brown - is in the same boat: ok in coverage but relatively poor in run defense. On the plus side, slot corner Casey Hayward is a quality player in an otherwise poor (and heavily injured) secondary.
Football games are ultimately played on the field, and there’s no accounting for a team out-performing their projections. On paper, though, the Chargers secondary matches up poorly with the Falcons versatile and deep offensive talent.
The Chargers are going to be desperate for another win on Sunday, so don’t discount the idea that they’ll play “above their heads.” Even still, this is a poor match-up for their defense, which doesn’t consistently generate a ton of pressure on the QB and that also struggles against the run. Their secondary has been hit by big injuries and the guys on the bench inspire little confidence. This is a match-up the Falcons can and should win.