In a battle to stay unbeaten, the Atlanta Falcons traveled to the west coast and gave the San Diego Chargers a beating that was much more one-sided than anticipated. Aided by an early red zone fumble by Ryan Matthews and an untimely Philip Rivers interception, the Falcons went into halftime up 20-0 and never looked back, to coast through the second half to an eventual 27-3 victory.
Atlanta moved the ball easily through the air and, once they gained the lead, re-established offensive balance and were able to force the Chargers to abandon the run, which played into their strengths on defense. They now have a commanding lead in the NFC South.
The Chargers were outclassed on both sides of the ball and looked more like last year’s team than the promising group from the first two games, though they are still in the thick of things in the AFC West.
Let’s take a look at how the game went down.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
If the final score isn’t indicative enough of how one-sided this game was, the performance of San Diego’s quarterback paints the picture pretty clearly. As he struggled to find any rhythm against a strong Falcon pass rush, Rivers was poor for most of the game and abysmal when the rush got to him. Pressured on 20 of 40 drop-backs, he completed just 38.9% of his passes on those plays with two interceptions. When not facing pressure, he wasn’t great either, throwing for just 5.1 yards per attempt.
Rivers particularly struggled to stretch the defense, and completed just 3 of 12 on balls over 10 yards in air, though his receivers didn’t offer much help. The gifted trio of Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem, and Antonio Gates each had a dropped pass and combined for only 10 catches on 22 targets. Only Ryan Matthews was reliable out of the back field, with five receptions on seven targets, but these only gained 32 yards.
For all of his inconsistency, the good thing for Chargers fans is that when Rivers is on, he’s capable of making plays such as the perfect back-shoulder throw to Floyd at 12:31 of the second quarter that went for 28 yards. He’s also being pressured at a significantly higher rate this season: through three games, he’s been pressured on 45% of drop-backs, up from 29.1% in 2011. Getting Jared Gaither back from injury should help bring that number back down to its 2011 level.
Beaten in the Trenches
The offensive line deserves some of the blame for River’s poor showing. The left side, anchored by tackle Michael Harris (-4.7) and guard Tyronne Green, was particularly leaky. After being dominated by Kamerion Wimbley in Week 2, Harris had another rough game against John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, and allowed a sack, two hits, and three hurries. Two plays chiefly captured his poor outing. Late in the second quarter, he offered no resistance as Abraham easily beat him around the edge for a sack. And at 11:19 in the third quarter, Abraham was again too quick around the edge for Harris, and got a hit on Rivers. Perhaps most concerning was that in both cases the Chargers’ blockers outnumbered the Falcon rushers–the sack came on a four-man rush with six in protection, while the hit occurred on a three-man rush.
Manning the guard spot, Green (-3.9) struggled against Johnathan Babineaux in both pass protection and run blocking, to allow three hurries. The Chargers are in for a rough time the rest of the season if they can’t improve on a left side that allowed a combined nine quarterback disruptions.
Struggling Front Seven
The Chargers’ front seven offered little resistance in slowing down the high-powered Falcon offense. On the line, the end rotation of Corey Liuget, Vaughn Martin, and Kendall Reyes offered little pass rush, and combined for two quarterback disruptions, both of which came from Martin. Cam Thomas, playing primarily at nose tackle, gained two pressures in only 16 rushes, but struggled against the run. Only Aubrayo Franklin (+1.8 and three stops against the run) gained a positive grade, but he played just 26 snaps and, as expected, offered little pass rush.
There were some bright spots on the edge. Antwan Barnes (+1.6) had a pressure and sack in only nine rushes, and primarily worked with his hand on the ground from the right side. Melvin Ingram, who added three pressures on 17 pass rushes, looked impressive as he makes a case for more playing time. On one play, lining up at defensive end, he beat Tony Gonzalez off the snap and accelerated down the line to drop Michael Turner for no gain. The rookie also showed good awareness late in the second quarter to get his hands up to knock down one of Matt Ryan’s quick throws.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
In a matchup of two high-profile quarterbacks, Matt Ryan (+5.1) was the clear victor. While not outstanding–his most impressive throw of the day was a 19-yard strike to Roddy White from a clean pocket–Ryan methodically moved the Falcon offense and kept drives alive. He kept his mistakes to a minimum, and one of them was a fourth-quarter interception after the game was already out of reach. Most of his work was done on short and intermediate throws over the middle–of 38 aimed passes, only two traveled over 20 yards in the air and 21 were thrown between the numbers. Gonzalez was the favored target on the day, and caught nine passes on 11 targets. And, although his longest catch went for just 15 yards, Gonzalez was adept at getting open and moving the chains.
Ryan also neutralized the San Diego pass rush for most of the game. He faced heat on roughly 33% of drop-backs, but was cool under pressure and completed 7 of 11 passes. He only managed a meager 4.1 yards per attempt on those throws, but was exceptional at getting rid of the ball and avoiding negative plays, something that can’t be said about Rivers. On one such play in the second quarter, Ryan recognized Marcus Gilchrist was blitzing from the slot and immediately threw to Harry Douglas in the vacated spot for a 10-yard gain. It was a simple read and throw, but one that a veteran quarterback should consistently make, which Ryan did against the Chargers.
On a defense full of playmakers, both in the front seven and the secondary, safety Thomas DeCoud (+4.2) really stood out. A mainstay in the secondary in recent years, DeCoud didn’t allow a single reception in four attempts in primary coverage. He came away with two interceptions (bringing his season total to three) while in man coverage on Gates and a fumble recovery, but his best play may have been a diving pass defense early in the third quarter that likely saved a touchdown. He looked much more active than we’re used to seeing, which may be a product of new DC Mike Nolan, who seems to be allowing DeCoud to move around a lot and take advantage of his ball skills. Those skills were on display on both interceptions. On the first, he made an acrobatic catch at the sideline in the second quarter, and placed the Falcons in position to assume full control of the game. On the second, he demonstrated good awareness on an underthrown ball by Rivers, who had once again floundered under pressure in the pocket.
Strong Up Front
Atlanta’s offensive line had a solid game, allowed just one sack and kept their quarterback relatively clean. They easily handled the San Diego front, and only left guard Justin Blalock gained a negative overall grade. Blalock had trouble against a variety of Charger defenders, although the rest of the line was able to compensate. RT Tyson Clabo (+5.0) and C Todd McClure (+3.7) paved the way, and excelled in both the pass game and run game. They allowed Turner to gain 5.7 yards per carry on 14 carries, seven of which were through the A-gaps.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons’ defensive line got consistent pressure on Rivers and ended with 22 QB disruptions. Ray Edwards (-1.8 pass rush) is still struggling, but the rest of the group had a solid outing, and excelled in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments.
— Through three games, Matt Ryan leads the league with an 83.2% Accuracy Percentage, nearly 10% higher than his total for last season.
— Ryan has attempted just five deep balls (20+ yards in the air) this season. Only two starting quarterbacks have attempted fewer.
— Corey Liuget failed to register any defensive statistic in 43 snaps.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Ryan, who was cool and efficient in leading the Falcons to one of the league’s three 3-0 starts.