Based on record alone, it would be easy to be lulled into believing that the San Diego Chargers will be fully outmatched when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons this week. Despite the teams’ win-loss records, the trajectories of the Falcons and Chargers isn’t as different as you might think.
The Chargers are 2-4, but each of San Diego’s losses has come after the team has blown second-half leads. In three of the Chargers’ four losses, they were leading at the two-minute warning. Still, the offense is ranked just outside the top 10, at No. 11, for passing yards per game. San Diego is third in the NFL for points per game with 28.8. The potential is there, and things seem to be trending in the right direction for the Chargers.
Last week, they pulled off a big 21-13 win over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos. Just the week before, the Falcons did the same, and the Chargers used some of Atlanta’s game plan against the Broncos to keep the defense on its heels, particularly with short to intermediate passes to force linebackers into coverage.
The Falcons are a tough team to defend, and the offensive attack is difficult to replicate. In Atlanta’s most successful outings, Matt Ryan is hitting between eight to 10 receivers with passes over the course of a game. One of those receivers, of course, is Julio Jones, who has had a couple of dominant games this season, including a 300-yard day against the Carolina Panthers. He’s also had lackluster performances, like his one-catch day against the Saints that netted the team 16 yards.
But when defenses are successful in blanketing Jones, they typically do that with at least a cornerback and a safety, and sometimes they’re forced to cheat a linebacker in his direction, also. That means one of Atlanta’s other receiving threats will be open.
San Diego’s defense is ranked in the bottom third of the league for passing yards allowed per game, and the Chargers have their work cut out for them with the Falcons. They’ll do their best to contain Jones, but that leaves wide receivers Mohamed Sanu, Aldrick Robinson and Justin Hardy, a running back duo that’s as effective on the ground as through the air in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and then some legitimate receiving threats at tight end in Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper.
The best shot the Chargers have against the Falcons is to bring pressure on Ryan, and it’s something the Seahawks did successfully in their win over Atlanta last week. Seattle sacked Ryan four times in Week 6, and the pressure disrupted the Falcons’ ability to get in an offensive rhythm throughout the first half.
San Diego finally has third overall pick Joey Bosa on the field after his dramatic contract situation has been finally resolved, and he has exceeded expectations so far. In his first NFL start in Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders, Bosa had two sacks and five combined tackles. Last week in the Chargers’ win over Denver, Bosa had just one tackle, but it was a big stop for a loss on third down that got the ball back into Philip Rivers’ hands.
This game may come down to which defense can make just enough plays to slow down the opponent’s offense, and despite both teams’ records, it may be much more competitive than you might expect.
How to Watch Chargers vs. Falcons on Sunday
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Announcers: Sam Rosen, Daryl Johnston
Online Streaming: Sunday Ticket, FOX Sports GO