San Diego Chargers (2-4) vs Atlanta Falcons (4-2)
Sunday October 23, 1:05 PM on FOX
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Fresh off an amazing victory against their division rival Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers head east to Atlanta, to take on a formidable Falcons team.
The Chargers and Falcons hardly ever play each other as this is the 10th time the two squads have ever played in the regular season. The Chargers are 1-8 all-time against the Falcons, with their only win being way back in 1988. Most recently, the Falcons beat the Bolts 27-3 at Qualcomm Stadium in September of 2012. Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers then and totaled 275 yards passing yards.
This will be another huge test for the Chargers, as the Falcons are 4-2 on the year and in first place in their division. The team once again has a high-powered offense led by quarter back Matt Ryan. They also have arguably the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones.
The star wideout will be tough to contain for a Chargers defensive backfield that has been decimated by injuries. Brandon Flowers is practicing this week to some extent. If he can play, that will certainly help the Chargers, as they will need all the help they can get to contain Jones. That remains to be seen though at this point, as concussions are a tricky injury. Flowers will only be cleared if he is 100 percent healthy.
Coach Mike McCoy will be under another microscope as every action, or lack of action, will be analyzed and scrutinized beyond belief. And rightfully so, as this team has given away games this year at an astonishing pace. The coaching staff must be held responsible despite all the injuries the team has suffered.
The Chargers will be poised to win the game as Philip Rivers has once again found chemistry with a new cast of characters. Antonio Gates has been banged up early this season, but the emergence of Hunter Henry has been refreshing for Bolts fans. He looks to be a legit pass catcher and is also very underestimated in his blocking abilities. The rookie tight end has a solid future in the NFL.
So what will it take for the Bolts to get out of the dirty, dirty south with a victory? Let’s delve into it.
Chargers on offense
Allowing Philip Rivers time to scan the field and find the open receiver will be key to the offense. The Falcons have not been very effective rushing the passer this year, so there should be a certain amount of time for Rivers to make the proper adjustments. Crowd noise could be a factor, if the Falcons get off to a hot start. The Chargers quarterback enjoys audibles and making those last second adjustments with his weapons. In a loud frenzy, which the Georgia Dome is capable of being, that could be a problem. Rivers is a professional in every sense of the word and the offensive line is a veteran group. Crowd noise shouldn’t prevent the team from succeeding. Melvin Gordon will be fed the ball a lot as the Chargers prefer to go against the Falcons with a balanced attack. Derek Watt will be huge opening holes for the running back, so keep a close eye on him. Another rookie that has turned out to be golden for the Chargers is Hunter Henry, who is looking like the legit heir apparent to the great Antonio Gates. Expect Rivers to find Henry running down the seam for big yardage.
Chargers on defense
Matt Ryan to Julio Jones could be a lethal combination on Sunday. That is no secret. The big receiver from the University of Alabama will get his yardage, but the Bolts defensive backfield must keep him contained to a certain degree if the Chargers want a chance on winning the game. That will be no easy task, and the safeties will be needed. Dexter McCoil doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Jones, but look for him to try to be physical with the big receiver. Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown are a solid linebacking duo that Chargers fans will enjoy for quite some time. Since Manti Te’o went down with injury, Brown has taken over in the middle and has gained national attention, as he has had an impressive few weeks for the Bolts. These two must wreak havoc on the defense if the Chargers are going to slow down the Falcons’ offense. Joey Bosa will be out there as well on Sunday and the quick lineman should find his way to Matt Ryan a few times during the game. Watch Bosa gain more experience out there this week and also look for him to be a force as he is finally 100 percent healthy. He could be really special.
Players to watch
Julio Jones- It can’t be stressed enough how difficult it is to keep him in check. The man will get open from time to time and there is nothing you can do about it. Hayward, Craig Mager, or whomever has to shadow him will be busy. Jones runs pristine routs and the timing he has with Ryan is impressive. Containing the man and not allowing him to make a play during crunch time will be the recipe for success for the Chargers. Easier said than done. Jones will eclipse 100 yards, but can the Chargers keep him out of the end zone?
Melvin Gordon- He looks to keep his 2016 season rolling in Atlanta. This Falcons defense is a group he should be able to get yards against. Gordon has turned into a well-rounded back as he catches the ball effectively out of the backfield and can also pass protect when need be. The second-year back is doing it all at this point, and the Chargers might want to tone down his workload a bit. He is coming off knee surgery and there is no need to run him into the ground. He isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, but the season is only in its first half. Dexter McCluster should get more work with the offense, especially on third down. Expect Gordon to exceed 80 total yards and will be almost a lock for a touchdown as well.
Hunter Henry- This rookie is making plays and doing it in big moments this year. The heir apparent to Antonio Gates has been found. Well, at least that is the way it looks at the moment. Henry runs great routes, is a beast blocking, and is reportedly a sponge when it comes to learning the offense. He is also able to gain information from one of the best all-time tight ends in the history of the game (Gates). The Falcons will try to press Henry and keep him from getting a head of steam down the seam. He has too many moves to be contained if the Chargers wish to get him the ball. He could be huge on Sunday, and the Bolts could also use him as a decoy. We will see.
Matchup to watch
Julio Jones on Casey Hayward
This is going to be the big one. Hayward has been very impressive in his first year with the Bolts. The former Packer has experience guarding Jones and will surely be responsible for him for most of the game. Brandon Flowers practiced this week in a limited capacity and does not seem capable of returning this week from the concussion-like symptoms that have troubled him all year. Whomever is guarding the all-pro Jones will be key in this game. Matt Ryan can force-feed the ball to Julio Jones from time to time, especially if the Falcons are behind. If the Chargers can get the Birds in a position like that, they could benefit. Watch Hayward covering Jones, and pray for the best.
This will be a tough game for the Bolts. The Falcons offense will put up points and the Chargers team constantly falters when the game is on the line. The Chargers will manage to get out to a lead in the second half and, once again, the defense will need to hold for the win. Joey Bosa and Jatavis Brown will come up big in the fourth quarter and the Chargers will escape Georgia with a 31-28 victory. Mike McCoy’s job is secure at the moment as the Chargers head to Denver for a tough rematch against the angry Broncos. This game is going to be intense. Go Chargers!