If the San Diego Chargers were looking for a test after a pair of relatively easy games to open the season, they should have their hands full this Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons bring a high-powered offense to town to face a San Diego (2-0) squad that posted 60 points of its own in during wins over Oakland and Tennessee, respectively.
The Falcons (2-0), in the meantime, hung 40 on Kansas City in the opener, then posted 27 points against Peyton Manning and the Broncos this past Monday night. This coming from the same team that dropped three of their four preseason games, once again showing essentially how meaningless the exhibition season is.
When the two teams kick it off on Sunday, Atlanta will look to prove the oddsmakers wrong, as most betting lines have placed the Chargers as three-point favorites. That is in spite of the fact that the Falcons have won the last five straight meetings in the series.
In their win over Denver Monday evening, the Falcons were led by Matt Ryan, who entered play this weekend as the NFL’s top-rated QB with a passer rating of 117.6. To date, the Boston College product has thrown for just over 500 yards and five touchdowns this season.
As for Ryan’s targets, the go-to-guy to date has been wide receiver Roddy White with 189 yards receiving, while veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez checks in with 123 yards. Second-year wide receiver Julio Jones has also been a target, sitting at 122 yards receiving after two games.
The biggest challenge for Atlanta has been running the ball, as the Falcons enter this game ranked 28th in the NFL with a mere 3.0 yards per carry. Top back Michael Turner, who rushed for 42 yards and a TD in the win over Denver, apparently did a little too much celebrating immediately after the game. The former Charger was pulled over in the early morning hours by police, charged with DUI and speeding. Turner is listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
In comments to The Associated Press, Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith noted, “First and foremost, any time a player sheds negatively on our football team and on our organization, we are very disappointed. This is a legal matter, and it’s very well-defined how we have to proceed with it through the league, and we’ll let this process run its course.”
Speaking of running, Atlanta will likely need to move the ball on the ground and not rely entirely on Ryan to get scores through the air.
San Diego’s Run Defense Up To The Test So Far
That may be easier said than done, as San Diego’s defense is yielding a league-low 41.5 yards on the ground per game, including holding Tennessee star running back Chris Johnson under 20 yards last weekend.
Playing its third straight game against an AFC West opponent, the Falcons will finish their slate with the division on Oct. 14 when they host the Raiders.
Meantime, the Chargers are playing the first of four games against the NFC South this weekend.
San Diego will travel to New Orleans and Tampa Bay, while hosting Carolina in mid-December.
Lastly, if you live in the San Diego area or other portions of Southern California, do not look for Sunday’s game on FOX. According to the league, Sunday’s contest will be blacked out in Southern California.
The Chargers noted that some 9,200 general tickets remained available for the game as of Thursday, once again leading some critics of Chargers’ fans to wonder whether or not San Diego can really support a team.
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.