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Intriguing players to watch in Falcons vs. Chargers

Who to keeps your eyes on as the Falcons try to roll on.

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If you count up all the Atlanta Falcons players I’ve considered intriguing thus far this season, it’s been nearly half of the team’s roster at 26 players. Given that we’re now roughly halfway through the regular season, I’d consider that a pretty good pace.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that every member of the Falcons roster will register as intriguing at some point this year (sorry, Liam McCullough). Yet, this entire process has taught me that naming all of the Falcons players is possible, but must only be done five at a time. That’s certainly still true this week.

Kyle Pitts

Pitts should get another chance to put up production this week against a Chargers defense that has been gashed for big plays by tight ends this year. They have given up seven catches this year for 20 or more yards to tight ends, which means Pitts should have a couple of opportunities to break loose this weekend for some big gains.

Kaleb McGary

Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary faces a tough matchup against Chargers outside linebacker Khalil Mack this week. Expect the Falcons to try to use tight ends, including Pitts and Parker Hesse, to chip whenever Mack lines up on his side. But while the Falcons try to mask McGary’s deficiencies in pass protection, they may lean into his run-blocking prowess.

The Chargers have given up a number of big gains when teams run outside toward the right side. Expect a couple of toss plays and/or sweeps that attack that exact area of the field, which we’ve seen from this offense before.

Matt Hennessy

Elsewhere on the offensive line, the Falcons will be looking to shore up the left guard spot this week with starter Elijah Wilkinson out with a knee injury. The Falcons have been asking former starting center Matt Hennessy to fill in during this week’s practices, despite reserve guard Colby Gossett filling in for an absent Wilkinson earlier this season and seemingly doing a solid job against the Seahawks.

Hennessy hasn’t seen extensive reps at left guard since his rookie season in 2020, when he struggled. He should look better now, considering how much other linemen have improved this year under the tutelage of offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford.

Arnold Ebiketie

The Chargers have gotten pretty solid play from their current starting tackles in rookie Jamaree Salyer and Trey Pipkins. Yet, this game offers another opportunity for Ebiketie to showcase his growth.

His play in recent weeks has taken a step up, tallying 10 pressures and four quarterback hits over the past three games. That has yet to translate into a sack, but this week should be a good week for that to change against Pipkins, who has given up a sack in each of the past two games according to Pro Football Focus.

Troy Andersen

Rookie linebacker Troy Andersen may be the player best positioned to contain Chargers running back Austin Ekeler this week. The Chargers feed Ekeler the ball a lot, as he currently ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions with 53. The next highest running back is Leonard Fournette with 37 catches, who racked up a career-high 10 catches against the Falcons a few weeks ago. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Ekeler similarly garners a high volume of targets on Sunday.

Andersen is best equipped athletically amongst the Falcons’ linebackers to cover the elusive Ekeler. Andersen will also have to be more disciplined with his tackling and angles in the open field to prevent Ekeler from turning simple checkdowns into gashing gains.

Are there other Falcons you can name that are intriguing in this Chargers matchup?