The Chargers and Falcons come into this game with their seasons pretty much over. Both franchises have had seasons from hell, with both teams blowing multiple fourth quarter leads over the season, leading some people to call the Chargers the “AFC Falcons.” Let’s take a look at how the Atlanta defense matches up against the Los Angeles offense.
In the trenches
The most frustrating aspect of the Falcons defense is in the trenches. What once looked promising is back to being “Grady Jarrett and just a bunch of guys.” Dante Fowler has been wildly disappointing. Steven Means and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner have been good in recent weeks and rookie DT Marlon Davidson is coming along, albeit slowly. As a nickel interior pass rusher, John Cominsky has also been good and he should have opportunities to make an impact on Sunday.
The Chargers have some issues on this offensive line. The interior, in particular, is not particularly good at protecting their QB. Justin Herbert has been sacked 25 times in 12 games. Right guard Trai Turner has been a very good player but has struggled with a groin injury for most of the year. Center Dan Feeney and LG Forrest Lamp are both struggling to keep the pocket clean. The tackle situation is somewhat better with veteran Bryan Bulaga on the right. Left tackle has been a mixed bag, though rookie Storm Norton appeared to play decently this past Sunday.
Under normal circumstances, the Falcons defense would not be a unit to ever favor in the trenches. However, the weaknesses for the Chargers on the inside are ripe for Grady Jarrett to take advantage of. Given how productive Atlanta has been in recent weeks, I like this matchup.
The skill positions
As a rookie QB, Justin Herbert is playing pretty well. He has over 3200 yards passing with 23 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. He has some good weapons as well. Austin Ekeler is a threat as a runner and a receiver. WR Mike Williams is good, if not necessarily dominant. Veteran Keenan Allen is a very good receiver who is continuing to deliver big in his 8th season. Hunter Henry continues to be an enigma - full of talent and never quite breaking through into the top tier of receiving tight ends, but coming close.
Right now, the Falcons linebackers are playing some of their best football, including rookie Mykal Walker, who is the highest ranked of the three per PFF. Safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal have also improved a good bit, with Neal playing some of his best football in recent weeks. Cornerback is a mixed bag, though. A.J. Terrell is the best of the bunch as a rookie and Isaiah Oliver is playing well in a reduced role. Darqueze Dennard was good to start the year but has struggled recently.
With as much as this unit has improved recently, the Chargers have a lot of intriguing weapons along with a young and promising QB. Look for Allen or Williams to have a good game as they take advantage of the Falcons depth issues at corner.
This game is going to come down to protecting the QB. The Chargers interior OL needs to hold up against Jarrett for them to be successful. Los Angeles has a lot of good weapons which will stretch the back half of the Atlanta offense. Atlanta has a chance in this game, but the Chargers may have one weapons too many to deal with.