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One reason to feel confident, one reason to worry about Falcons vs. Chargers

The absence of Julio Jones gives us plenty of reason to worry.

San Diego Chargers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Dirk Koetter without Julio Jones is bad news for the Falcons. A resurgent Falcons defense against a suddenly shaky Chargers offense is much better news. That’s essentially where we’re at with this week’s breakdown of why you should feel confident and why you should worry about Falcons vs. Chargers in Week 14.

Let’s talk details.

Feel confident about the defense rattling Justin Herbert

Atlanta’s defense had some hiccups against the Saints, but as we’ve discussed, they’re no longer slouches. It seems someone new steps up each week, and even with Ricardo Allen out, this figures to be a good enough defense to cause some problems for the Chargers. That would be true even if Los Angeles was firing on all cylinders—they’re still far from great but the improvement has been that significant—but fortunately for Atlanta that’s not the case at all.

Justin Herbert has had a fine rookie season and has a bright future ahead of him, but he has quietly not played particularly well over the past four weeks. His lone standout game against the Jets, when he chucked 3 touchdowns, passed for 366 yards on 49 attempts, and completed 75% of his passes against a woeful team. That’s a great performance against anybody, but sandwiched around that are three games (against the Dolphins, Bills, and Patriots) where he’s thrown 3 touchdowns against 3 interceptions, 722 yards, and completed around 55% of his passes on a lot of attempts. The Chargers have lost all three of those games and have scored a combined 38 points in them, or just shy of 13 points per game.

This is all to say that being aggressive and pressuring Herbert, combined with solid coverage, can make him look like the rookie he is. The Falcons have a history of being burnt to a crisp by quarterbacks who were previously struggling, so I know the potential for this one to backfire, but I think ultimately they’ll do enough to keep Herbert and company from running away with this one.

Worry about the absence of Julio Jones

We’ve written about Julio’s importance to the offense in the recent past. In years past, saying Matt Ryan was nothing without Julio was easy to disprove, but under Koetter that has not been true. The passing game grinds to a halt when it’s incumbent on Koetter to scheme options open without Julio serving as a coverage vortex, and Atlanta doesn’t have anyone outside of Calvin Ridley and maybe Russell Gage who consistently win difficult matchups.

That’s why this disparity is so stark, and why you should be worried that Julio is out.

The Chargers have a very competent pass defense, one that doesn’t necessarily wow you but gets the job done through effective scheming, strong coverage, and a capable pass rush. The Falcons will need to do something they have consistently failed to do in 2020 without Julio (and hell, sometimes with him) and win their matchups, buy time for Matt Ryan to make plays, and execute effectively to put up yards and god willing points against Los Angeles. I’m not expecting a complete defensive shutdown from the Falcons D, so another complete dud without Julio may well doom this team to their ninth loss of the season.