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Week 14 Preview: Falcons vs. Chargers

The Falcons head west to take a young Chargers team with offensive firepower.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last week might have been the knockout blow. In a game where the Atlanta Falcons were down by just five points late and driving to take the lead, they wound up exiting the field against the New Orleans Saints with another defeat on the season. Another defeat where the sense of victory was within their grasp.

Now the Falcons enter a very complex stretch of their schedule. The fourth quarter of their 2020 season kicks off with a west coast trip to Los Angeles to tango with a Chargers team that is young and talented, yet still in need of finding ways to win in the NFL. ‘

The all-time record against the Chargers shows an 8-2 record in favor of the Falcons. The last meeting out west between the two organizations resulted in a 27-3 win for the Falcons in 2012, a contest in which quarterback Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns and the defense held then-Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to 173 passing yards along with two interceptions. The Falcons will need that same type of outing this time around.

Let’s analyze the matchup.

About their opponent

The overall talent level of the Chargers outweigh their overall record. It’s easy to see their record of 3-9 and think this team is in major need of reconstruction. Seven of their nine losses have come by eight points or less. Three of those seven losses had a deficit of three points or less, so the team has been on the cusp of a number of victories this season.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert is a star in the making and is fourth in the NFL in passing yards per game. The future is very promising for the Chargers with Herbert under center, and he’s capable of great efforts in the here and now.

Key matchups

Falcons secondary vs. Chargers WRs Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton - While the Chargers have struggled to win games this season, they have been one of the most explosive teams in the entire NFL thanks to Herbert and this collection of receivers. Allen leads the team in receptions and reception touchdowns, while Guyton leads the team in yards per catch with 18.5. Williams has been injury prone during his NFL career but he has established a reputation of being a freak athlete that is able to stretch defenses vertically and make a number of contested catches.

The Falcons are 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed but to their credit, they have allowed 210, 203, and 217 passing yards in each of their last three games. If the Falcons are to hang in this contest, the passing element for the Chargers cannot be allowed to get rolling.

Denver Broncos v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Falcons run offense vs. Chargers run defense - To put it bluntly, the run game for the Falcons this season has been stale. In seven of the 12 games played by the Falcons, the team has been held to 99 rushing yards or less. The record for the Falcons in those seven games is 2-5. The signing of running back Todd Gurley was met with mainly optimistic reaction from many in the Falcons fan base however, the former Georgia Bulldog standout has been a shell of his former self. He is on the verge of averaging his second lowest yards per carry average of his career. As well as his second lowest run yards per game average.

All of the blame does not fall on Gurley, as the offensive line has been inconsistent in run blocking and run calls have been predictable and has not fit the strength of the team. The Falcons have before themselves a Chargers run defense that is 23rd in the league overall. With no Julio Jones, Kaleb McGary, or James Carpenter, the Falcons have to lean on Gurley and the run game to prevail.

Analytical outlook

The analytical aspect this week is going to have a slightly different look. As I mentioned how talented the Chargers are, they have been a mixed bag in a lot of statistics on the offensive side of the ball. While they are seventh overall on offense, they are 22nd in points per game. As they are 10th in the NFL in drives ending in turnovers, they are 18th in overall offensive DVOA. To me, that states the Chargers offense can run hot and cold. On occasion, they can be as dangerous as some of the better offenses in the NFL. On the other hand, they can also very well leave a lot of plays and points on the field, something the Falcons will hope is happening today.

Conclusion

I shouldn’t have to state how poor of a season this has been overall for a team like the Falcons. Currently, it speaks for itself. Games such as this are mainly for pride and a possible roster spot in 2021 for many. The Chargers are 3-9 and appear to be heading for a state of affairs that involve some attrition on the coaching staff this offseason. However, they are very well capable of making this one unbearable to watch.

It will be interesting to see the type of attitude the Falcons hit the team with, as it will say a lot about their chances today and over the final three games of the season.