After starting out against Kansas City and Denver, the Falcons continue their tour of the AFC West when they roll into San Diego to play the Chargers. Fortunately for the Falcons the Chargers have lost several big pieces since the end of the 2011 season. The most notable players are WR Vincent Jackson who went out to Tampa Bay and LG Kris Dielmann who retired due to concussion issues.
Perhaps the biggest advantage for Atlanta is the fact that Norv Turner is the head coach of the Chargers. Turner is a great offensive mind, but he's an awful HC. At times last year it looked like the Chargers had given up on him. It was surprising when both he and GM A.J. Smith were retained. The Chargers have never played to their full potential under Norv Turner and they really seemed to take a hit on both sides after losing Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski to the Carolina Panthers.
When the Dolphins defense under Mike Nolan played the Chargers in 2011, the Chargers walked away victors in a 26-16 fashion. Rivers threw for 306 Yards and a TD while Ryan Matthews was held to 81 yards. The Chargers offense got the best of Mike Nolan's D, but the Dolphins still held them under 30 points.
When the Jags under Dirk Koetter played the Chargers in 2011 they were beaten 38-14 and Koetter's O was stifled. However, at that point all the Jags had going for them was Maurice Jones Drew. Norv Turner is more than likely in his last season as the HC of the Chargers. I'm not sure that the players will be willing to give their all for him for another season and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Chargers have a Tampa Bay-esque meltdown.
On offense the Chargers tried to make up for the loss of Vincent Jackson by signing Robert Meachem, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. Meachem has never lived up to his draft status as a first round pick, and that was with one of the best passing offenses in recent history. I don't see that changing much in San Diego. Aside from that the Chargers are relying on Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown to carry the load at WR. At RB Ryan Matthews is a very talented back, but he's been plagued with injury issues through his career. Atlanta had one of the better Run Ds in the league and they should be able to contain Matthews.
The Chargers' OLine is probably their biggest weakness. Jared Gaither is an excellent left tackle when healthy, but the problem for him is staying healthy. He's had some serious back issues during his time in the NFL and they could pop up at anytime. At left guard, the Chargers look to Tyronne Green to fill the void left by Dielmann. At center, the Chargers have a very solid player in Nick Hardwick who has been the focal point of their OL since Norv Turner took over. At right guard, Louis Vasquez is a good player who can hold his own against DTs. At right tackle, the Chargers have one of the worst in the NFL in Jeromey Clary. Mike Nolan should be able to take advantage of the holes at left guard and right tackle and the Falcons should be able to get pressure on Phillip Rivers.
On defense the Chargers feature a good, but aging unit. Corey Liuget was drafted in hopes of being the solution at 5-tech for the Chargers, but he didn't perform well during 2011 and some are starting to call him a bust. At nose tackle, Atonio Garay was one of the best in the league, but he's 32 now and his play could drop off at any moment. Vaughn Martin rushed the passer the most out of the Chargers defensive linemen in 2011, but only recorded one sack and had abysmal pressure numbers. At outside linebacker they're hoping new draftee Melvin Ingram can come in and bring pressure. Their best pass rusher Luis Castillo is also aging and could drop off. In the secondary the Chargers have one of the best free safties in the league in Eric Weddle. Matt Ryan must be aware of where he is at all times. Cornerback Quintin Jammer is old and his play is starting to decline. Overall Atlanta should be able to take advantage of the Chargers defense.
I see Atlanta pulling out the win in this one. The loss of Vincent Jackson and Kris Dielmann will have a huge impact on the Chargers offense, and even though they added Melvin Ingram they still don't have a consistent pass rushing threat. Atlanta should be able to take advantage of the Chargers holes on both offense and defense.
Previously on "Breaking Down the Schedule":
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