By Dave Thomas

As the San Diego Chargers prepare to host the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday afternoon, the Bolts have several objectives to tackle this week in practice.

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Among them:

1. Do a better job of protecting QB Philip Rivers 
The team’s field general was sacked four times in the win over Tennessee this past Sunday, and hurried on a number of other plays. As Rivers tries to avoid last season’s career-high 20 interceptions, he needs time to find his receivers instead of trying to force balls in while being rushed.

2. Be able to run the ball more effectively 
While the Bolts rushed 39 times last Sunday, they still did not have a runner hit 70 yards (Jackie Battle had 69 yards on 14 carries, 2 TDs), settling for 148 total yards on the ground. Yes, starting running back Ryan Mathews has yet to play a down in the regular season as he recovers from a broken clavicle, but San Diego needs to establish the run game on a consistent basis, both before and after Mathews returns to play. Ronnie Brown, who ranks in the top five all-time among the Miami Dolphins in rushing yardage, has yet to get his game in gear with the Chargers. Brown was held to eight yards rushing on four carries last weekend.

3. Prepare for the passing attack 
San Diego’s defensive backs will likely be kept busy this Sunday when Atlanta QB Matt Ryan takes the field. In Atlanta’s 27-21 win over Denver Monday evening, Ryan was 24-of-36 for 219 yards and a pair of TDs, finishing with a quarterback rating of 101.5. No, you wouldn’t quite put Ryan in the category of a Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers or Drew Brees, but he is definitely a step up from Jake Locker (Titans) and Carson Palmer (Raiders), San Diego’s last two opposing quarterbacks.

Turner: Falcons Will Test Us Heavily
With that being said, Chargers’ head coach Norv Turner told that there is, of course, still much work to do despite the team’s 2-0 start––a start that has left them on top of the AFC West Division.

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“We played well,” Turner said in reference to the 38-10 thrashing of Tennessee. “But we can get so much better up front on offense and defense because we have new guys playing together. A lot of guys are playing together for the first time, but I thought we got done the things we wanted to get done. Teams can improve a great deal in the first part of the season and it’s critical that our team has a mindset, and we do have a mindset, that we’re going to get better. We will be tested as heavily as you can be tested on Sunday, when we take on Atlanta.”

Yes, the Falcons, winners over Kansas City and Denver to start the season, will provide San Diego with a solid test come Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, there is nothing stopping this San Diego team from potentially running the table in September (at Kansas City on Sept. 30). 

Expectations for the 2012 Chargers were mixed coming into the season, with some prognosticators expecting the Bolts to be lucky to match last year’s 8-8 record.

While there is still a long way to go, early indications are that the Chargers will have a say in who is left standing at the top of the AFC West come the end of December.

For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Chargers news, see CBS Sports Los Angeles.

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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on