After a tough loss in Seattle this past week, the Atlanta Falcons get right back to work this week against the San Diego Chargers. In week 6, the Falcons defense, despite giving up 26 points, actually played pretty well throughout the game. This week their job will be just as tough, though, as they take on the third-highest-scoring offense in the league. Despite this, the individual matchups should benefit the Falcons a little more this week.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those matchups.
In the trenches
The Chargers have scored 28.8 points per game this season and a large part of that success is the performance of QB Philip Rivers despite some shaky play by his offensive line. San Diego’s offensive line has allowed Rivers to be sacked 13 times this season, forcing Rivers to pass out of some less-than-ideal pockets. Despite this, Rivers still has completed 67.2% of his passes and has only thrown three interceptions to 12 touchdowns. Matt Slauson, the San Diego center, has improved from last season but his fellow offensive linemen have struggled a bit this year—especially the guards, Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker.
One of the keys for the Falcons defensive line is getting pressure on Rivers in the passing game and then, when the Chargers run the ball, finishing plays when they have the chance. A number of times against Seattle, Atlanta had Russell Wilson or Christine Michael in the backfield, only to let them slip away. They’ll have to finish those plays. The Falcons defense has progressed each week and I expect that to continue this week against a much more conventional offense, and the defensive line will be the deciding factor in this. If the Falcons can generate a decent rush against the Chargers questionable offensive line, they should be successful against the Chargers.
I expect Grady Jarrett to have a good game and I think Dwight Freeney and Vic Beasley generate some decent pressure. Those matchups give the Falcons the edge.
This should be an easier matchup than the one the defense had last week, mostly because the Falcons won’t have to defend Jimmy Graham. Now, Antonio Gates is still a very tough task but he is not as big of a matchup nightmare as Graham is. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams have four touchdowns between them and both have seven receptions of 20 yards or more. Dontrelle Inman is a pretty good slot receiver, but is not someone teams will worry too much about throughout the game. Melvin Gordon has shown that he is a very capable back and he has spent a decent amount of time in the endzone with six touchdowns so far this season.
Across each of the man-to-man matchups, the Falcons would appear to have the edge everywhere except for Keanu Neal (or any outside linebacker, for that matter) against Gates—as we saw with Greg Olson, experience carries a lot of weight in those spots. As long as Robert Alford can avoid giving up big plays or committing ill-timed penalties, Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole should be able to win their individual matchups. When the Falcons go zone, though, it will fall on the young linebackers to make tackles in space. When it comes to Gordon, it will be up to Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell to hit their gaps and stay disciplined—Gordon has the ability to break tackles and is faster than he looks. He can be a little scary if you let him get going. There is no place where it looks like the Falcons will obviously struggle here unless they have a really bad game and allow big plays.
This game will really come down to Atlanta’s ability to stop the run and get pressure on Rivers. I don’t see anything in San Diego’s offense that really terrifies me like Jimmy Graham or Doug Baldwin did, but Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon make up one of the best QB-RB duos in the league at the moment. Luckily for Atlanta, San Diego’s offensive line has had some issues and the weapons that Rivers can go to aren’t top notch either. I don’t think either of the advantages I listed above are great ones, but I would still take the Atlanta defense in those matchups.