First string to see action against San Diego



In the two series he played, quarterback Matt Ryan completed 7 of 8 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown for a quarterback rating of 148.4. (The highest rating a quarterback can earn is 158.3, which has only been done 34 times.)

Running back Michael Turner posted a 9.3 yards-per-carry average with 65 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown.

As efficient as the offense has looked, it has yet to play against a top defense. That will change on Saturday when the Falcons host the San Diego Chargers at 8 p.m. at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons' first home game of the preseason and one in which Head Coach Mike Smith said the starters will get the most playing time before the regular season starts.

"Well, it's good," Ryan said of being tested by top defensive personnel. "Coach Smith has made mention of that. It's good for us to go play against one of the best football teams in the league. That's what you're going to get in San Diego. It's a team that's been to the playoffs a number of times.

"They've got some really, really good football players. It's a good-tune up for us and good chance to get out there and get a feel for what it's going to be like this year."

In the Chargers, the Falcons will face one of the league's top linebacking corps and a 3-4 scheme that a minority of teams employ but one that the Falcons will see a few times this season (notably, Miami in Game 1 and New England in Game 3).

Shawne Merriman, just the sixth player in NFL history to record 10 or more sacks in his first three seasons, is coming off knee surgery that caused him to miss the final 15 games of the 2008 season.

Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips led the Chargers in sacks in '08 with 7.5 and ranks 10th all-time in team history. Stephen Cooper had four interceptions from his middle linebacker position, despite being suspended for the season's first four games, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, one of the league's best who totaled 10 interceptions in 2007, will present a challenge to Ryan and the Falcons' receivers.

This week represents the first time this preseason that the Falcons have game-planned for an opponent.

"We're still trying to fine-tune some things and make sure we're rock-solid in our game plan, but we also want to take a look at what San Diego can do," Ryan said in his weekly appearance before the media on Wednesday. "Obviously, them being a 3-4 scheme, doing some things differently, we're going to have to put some extra time in and we'll do that for the rest of the week."

Those linebackers and Rivera's calls are sure to present a test to the Falcons' offensive line, which has allowed only two sacks this preseason – none by the first unit. Tight end Tony Gonzalez said he has been impressed by the offensive line, including a stunt they pulled earlier this week when they entered the practice field in military formation, chanting a song a la Bill Murray in "Stripes."

"It gets long, it gets boring and gets tedious," Gonzalez said of training camp, "so when you have guys out there like that they get you going even when you're feeling bad."

Ryan could expect to play into the second half, but after that Smith has remained mum on the quarterback rotation. Last week Chris Redman did not play, which makes him a likely candidate to get a good number of snaps.

Defensively, the Falcons' cornerbacks will be tested by the Chargers' Philip Rivers, whose 34 touchdown passes last season tied for first in the NFL and whose 4,009 yards passing ranked him fifth.

Chris Houston, who missed last week with an injury, will return to action at his right cornerback spot.

Smith said the game also is important for the coaching staff to "iron out" some things. He said he was unsure whether the starters would play one or two series or the entire third quarter.

In addition to the starters' most extended time, the Falcons have a number of other areas that they will evaluate.

Thus far only Chandler Williams and Eric Weems have auditioned in preseason games for the punt returner spot vacated by Harry Douglas who tore an ACL the first week of camp. Smith said other players who have not received a chance to play that role in a preseason game will get a look in the final two games. Possibilities are Brent Grimes and veteran Marty Booker.

Smith also said Jerious Norwood, who was the team's top kickoff returner the last two seasons, also could get a chance to return kickoffs on Saturday.

One player who will get his first preseason action is rookie safety William Moore, the team's second-round draft pick who injured his knee in the first week of camp and missed three weeks.

Smith said Moore would play in the first half on special teams and that in the second half Moore would play a few series. The coaching staff has been eager to evaluate Moore, who showed some physical play in his return to practice this week, with Smith saying that the rookie is "way behind in reps."

The only injured players who will not play, Smith said, are defensive linemen Jason Jefferson, who had a procedure on his groin muscle this week, and Willie Evans (back). That should mean reps for Thomas Brown, who is battling Jason Snelling for the No. 3 running back spot.

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