Looking to continue to answer the doubters, the Falcons follow up their win on Monday night with a long west coast trip to San Diego in a matchup of two 2-0 teams. Falcons head coach Mike Smith is 5-0 on trips to the opposite coast, and through all that experience he's tailored a routine for his team, allowing them to stay rested and on schedule. With what could be their second road win of the early season, the Falcons would put the league on notice that once again the Falcons are contenders.
Stop The Run
So far this season the Chargers have featured a very balanced attack, beating teams both through the air and on the ground. They've done the ground work without their star running back Ryan Matthews for the first two weeks of the year, but against the Falcons they expect to have him return. Matthews is a true dual-threat back and he showed this last season in his breakout year with over 1,500 all-purpose yards. The Falcons haven't found a lot of success stopping the run so far this season and San Diego will look to establish the run early. Even with the talent they have in the secondary against the pass and the masterful scheming of coordinator Mike Nolan, if they can't limit the Chargers' running game, the pass from Philip Rivers won't be necessary.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Eric Weddle
The Chargers have a good secondary and will have two corners that can at the very least matchup with Roddy White and Julio Jones at receiver. Both players will make their plays, but San Diego has some talent to contain them. The matchup of tight end Tony Gonzalez with San Diego's safety Eric Weddle could be key. Weddle is coming off a 2011 season that saw him catch seven interceptions and earn All-Pro honors for the second straight season. The winner of the Gonzalez-Weddle battle could give one side an advantage.
John Abraham vs. Michael Harris
Not many know who Michael Harris is. He's the undrafted rookie free agent starting at left tackle for the Chargers in place of the injured Jared Gaither. Harris has already had an up-and-down season and didn't play well in protecting Rivers in Week 2. Atlanta's defensive end John Abraham is still one of the league's premier pass rushers and he's always exploited matchups with inexperienced left tackles in his career. Abraham getting to Rivers will be a big boost to everything the Falcons try to do in covering up the passing game.
Matchup With the Tight End
The Chargers have a talented tight end of their own. In fact, they have two. Antonio Gates came into the league after Gonzalez, but is in much the same mold. A former basketball player, Gates combines speed, athleticism and physical play, making him one of the premier tight ends in the league. Gates didn't play last week, but is expected to return and the Falcons could employ a variety of players to contain Gates, from both linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas to safety William Moore. In Gates' absence last week, backup Dante Rosario had four catches, three for touchdowns. With both tight ends on the field, the Falcons will need to make sure both are covered, along with the other Chargers playmakers, especially in the redzone.