I consider Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. I saw his first, perfect touchdown pass, so I know he's good. However, in recent years, a great passing attack has not been enough to deal with the San Diego Chargers' defense.
The Chargers' biggest problem has been any quarterback who has a power running game to distract the secondary. We've seen accomplished players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning fall flat on their faces against the Bolts, because they had no support from the running game.
On the flip side, we've seen the Minnesota legend, Brooks Bollinger, lead the Vikings to a win over San Diego in 2007 with just a little support (and 295 yards) from Adrian Peterson against possibly the greatest pass defense the Chargers have ever produced.
The Falcons are not going to come out and win this game against the Chargers if they stumble in the running game. They need Michael Turner to rumble for big yardage and force the secondary to pay as much attention to him as they do the Falcons' receivers.
The problem with Turner is that he's now 30 years old and seems to be a step slower than he's been in the past. He could just be getting warmed up, but the Chargers have seen it with LaDainian Tomlinson and now Ronnie Brown: 30-year-old running backs tend to lose their explosion rather rapidly.
To compound the problem, the Falcons' offensive line is also supposedly one of the worst in the league at run blocking according to the Football Outsiders. After watching Ronnie Brown's early-season performance put the Chargers' line in the same boat, I'll give the Falcons' line a pass on that stat.
Then again, the stat that really jumps out is the Falcons' lack of success running the ball with two yards or less to go for a first down. They've only been successful on 20 percent of their tries, while the Chargers have an 80 percent success rate.
Simply put, the Falcons cannot run the ball.
Falcons Key Offensive Players (from atlantafalcons.com):
- Matt Ryan, QB - 47/67 passing, 518 Yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 2 sacks
- Michael Turner, RB - 17 attempts, 42 yards, 1 touchdown
- Julio Jones, WR - 10 catches, 122 yards, and 2 touchdowns
- Roddy White, WR - 8 catches, 102 yards, and 1 touchdown
- Tony Gonzalez, TE - 12 catches, 123 yards, and 2 touchdowns
- Harry Douglas, WR - 6 catches, 59 yards, 0 touchdowns
It's not all good news for San Diego.
The Falcons boast one of the top pass-protecting units in the league.
Atlanta has played the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs, two teams designed to beat the Chargers. That means terrible run defense, but an outstanding pass rush. When those teams got pressure on Ryan, he used his mobility to escape.
Ryan dashed in for a touchdown, and also made big plays passing while on the run. That's a clear difference between Ryan and the statuesque Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
If Ryan has to generate the needed running game with his own two feet, he's proven that he's not afraid to do it. The Tennessee Titans' Jake Locker bought time with his quick feet last week against the Chargers and overthrew a wide open tight end on a sure touchdown pass. He made numerous other plays with his legs as well.
Prior to last season's debacle, when San Diego's players were not on the same page as the defensive coordinator, the Chargers defense has dominated one-dimensional offenses. However, this time they are dealing with one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Ryan will make plays with his feet and avoid being sacked more than a couple of times, but I still expect the Chargers to keep their attention on the Falcons' receivers.
The Bolts will limit the Falcons' big-play opportunities and win the game as long as they don't turn the ball over and bail Atlanta out like the Broncos and Chiefs did in the first two weeks of the season.