Falcons vs. Chargers: How San Diego Can Attack Atlanta's Defense

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent ISeptember 21, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers  warms up before the game against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium on September 16, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers' offense faces its toughest challenge yet in 2012: The Atlanta Falcons.

After moving the ball emphatically against the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans, the Bolts will need their best performance for a victory in Week 3.

Fortunately, there is also optimism regarding running back Ryan Mathews.

Per Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Norv Turner said he's confident Ryan Mathews, barring setback, will face the Falcons on Sunday.

— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) September 20, 2012

Mathews is just what the Chargers need as well. Not only because he's San Diego's best option in the backfield, but because the backfield is also where the offense was the most inconsistent through the first two games.

Additionally, shutting down the run has been an issue for the Falcons in 2012. To that end, let's take a look at how San Diego can attack the Dirty Birds and why controlling the tempo on the ground is so vital.


Note: All screen caps are courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.


McGahee Scores on 4th-and-Goal

Down 27-14, the Denver Broncos needed a score on fourth down inside the Falcons' five-yard line.

What the Broncos did was nothing more than spread Atlanta out and attack the inside. Interestingly enough, Denver only truly blocks four players and walls off the rest with a double-team.

As we'll see, the running lane for Willis McGahee is narrow but clean and carved out to a T.

After calling an audible, Peyton Manning keeps the Broncos spread out and the Falcons only show six guys in the box.

While McGahee receives the handoff, John Abraham comes unblocked outside because the Broncos utilized a lineman to pull inside as an extra blocker. The risk here is obviously leaving an edge player unblocked long enough that he never has a chance to make a play in the backfield.

And just before entering the lane, the cutback inside is available for McGahee as he follows the blocks. Here, only four defenders are blocked on the interior, but it pays off because the original alignment had the Falcons defense widened.

With San Diego's offense already spreading opponents out, there's no reason to try anything different against the Falcons. Philip Rivers has the reliable receiving targets to spread the field. Slamming between the tackles can also happen from shotgun.

Despite Atlanta being 2-0, the Dirty Birds allowed 152 rushing yards versus the Kansas City Chiefs and 118 to the Broncos. Also, the Falcons have given up an average of 4.5 yards per carry. The Bolts have to keep it on the ground to limit Matt Ryan's possessions.

That only helps win the time of possession battle and allows the defense more time for thorough in-game adjustments.

Given how successful the Chargers were at running versus Tennessee, this will need to hit another level in Week 3.


The Advantage of Jackie Battle

On an important third down where the Chargers needed to put the icing on the cake, Jackie Battle took one for 16 yards and basically sealed the win.

Now this isn't a formation where San Diego has Tennessee spread out, but it's a short-yard situation that gives the Bolts an advantage. The tandem of Mathews and Battle gives more for a defense to game plan and prepare for.

And provided that Mathews suits up on Sunday, the change of pace between him and Battle will cause Atlanta problems. Here, both teams come out heavy and Rivers goes with a quick count.

Everyone on the left side blocks back to their right and the fullback kicks out the edge. From the right, a lineman pulls around and leads through the hole.

Much like McGahee's, this running lane is somewhat narrow but blocked cleanly for Battle to dart downhill. 

This play call is eerily similar to the Broncos' above, except it's done from a tighter formation. San Diego has the luxury to attack the interior like this in heavy and spread formations, which is a distinct advantage when facing an improved defense.

In turn, the result gets San Diego more time of possession and ultimately restricts Atlanta's high-powered and efficient offense.


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