|Chargers QB Philip Rivers has only thrown one interception so far this season, but he'll face a tougher test this weekend against the Falcons. (Getty Images)|
Falcons at Chargers -- Week 3
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego (outdoors, grass)
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET (FOX)
Spread: Chargers by 3
Forecast: Clear skies with a light breeze; projected kickoff temperature: low-80s.
Records: Chargers (Overall: 2-0, AFC West: 1-0); Falcons (Overall: 2-0, NFC South: 0-0).
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 30, 2008: Falcons 22, Chargers 16; Oct. 17, 2004: Falcons 21, Chargers 20. The two clubs have played eight times, with the Falcons holding a 7-1 edge. Atlanta has won each of the last five meetings. The Falcons are also 5-0 in trips to San Diego and have outscored the Chargers 155-72 in those games.
Similarities: “They are athletic on defense,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said of the Falcons. “We are athletic on defense. They run the ball. We ran the ball better last week. They have an outstanding quarterback and a good passing game. We have an outstanding quarterback and a good passing game.”
What matters: Games between evenly matched teams are often decided by who wins the turnover battle, and Atlanta has a clear edge. The Falcons defense already has five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The Chargers defense has one INT and one fumble recovery. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has only thrown one INT, but Falcons QB Matt Ryan has yet to be picked. “He doesn't throw it to the other team,” Chargers FS Eric Weddle said of Ryan. “He is playing at a high level. He is extremely smart. It's going to be a nice challenge for us. We are excited about it. They are a high-powered offense and it gives a chance to go make some plays.”
Who matters: RB Ryan Mathews (clavicle) is listed as questionable but is likely closer to probable. Coach Norv Turner said he just wanted to see how Mathews reacted to a full week of work before making a decision on playing him. The Falcons defense has given up 270 yards on the ground, 25th worse in the league. If Mathews plays, the Chargers may have an opportunity to go on long drives that eat up the clock and keep the ball out of Ryan's hands.
Key matchups: Chargers LT Mike Harris (undrafted, UCLA) vs. Falcons DE John Abraham. Harris has performed relatively well in his first two games but faces another tough matchup in Abraham, who is second in Falcons franchise history with 59.5 career sacks. “It's a team challenge,” Turner said. “It starts with Mike. He has got to play at his best. I think he did a good job in the last two games. I thought he was better last week than he was the first week. I hope he improves again this week. It's a combination of coaching, scheme and getting the right players over there to help him. When [Harris] is out there by himself, he has just got to compete.”
Injuries of note: Chargers LT Jared Gaither (back spasms) and CB Shareece Wright (right ankle sprain) are out. RB Ryan Mathews (clavicle) is listed as questionable but is closer to probable. TE Antonio Gates (ribs) missed last week but is listed as probable. Gates said the difference between how he feels this week compared to a week ago is night and day.
Inside stuff: Last week, CB Greg Gatson was called up off the practice squad on Saturday to provide depth because the Chargers only have three healthy corners. Gatson was then waived on Monday and re-signed to the practice squad. Gatson said he will find out Saturday if he will be called up again. If not, the safeties are prepared to play nickelback in the case of an injury to a CB.
Connections: Chargers coach Norv Turner and Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan coached together in San Francisco in 2006 when Turner was the offensive coordinator and Nolan the 49ers head coach. Chargers RB coach Ollie Wilson had two stints as the running backs coach in Atlanta, serving from 1991-96 and 2002-07. Chargers ILB Demorrio Williams was a fourth-round pick of the Falcons in 2004. Falcons running back Michael Turner was a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2004.
Stat you should know: Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 5-0 in West Coast games and have outscored their opponents 155-72. Smith partially attributed his West Coast road success to good hydration. He instructs his players to drink 20 ounces of water for every hour they are in the air. Smith did not say how many restrooms are on the team's plane.
Record watch: TE Antonio Gates needs just three catches to become the fifth tight end and 59th player in NFL history with 600 career catches. With a Chargers win, coach Norv Turner will tie former Chargers coach Don Coryell for most career wins with 114.
Looking ahead: If the Chargers win it will mark their first 3-0 start under coach Norv Turner (2007-present). Next week, the Bolts travel to take on the struggling Chiefs (0-2). The Falcons return home and will also face a divisional foe in the Panthers (1-2).
Prediction: Chargers 24, Falcons 23