Chargers at Falcons Gameday Primer

Finally the day has come. No matter what the records are, this game would have been a perfect primetime affair. Alas, the game will be played at 10 AM PST on Sunday when the LaDainian Tomlinson led San Diego Chargers will face off against the Michael Vick led Atlanta Falcons.

On Offense:

The Chargers are facing the number one run defense in the league on Sunday. The Falcons have adopted the philosophy of stopping the run at all costs to see if the pass can beat them. So far, the plan has worked. The Falcons are 4-1, thanks largely to a defense that has allowed a meager 70.4 rushing yards a game.

The Bolts recognize that but will still attack between the tackles. The Falcons believe they will screen often to open up the middle of the field, but don't buy into it. The Chargers O-line has had trouble getting in front of the play on screens. Most of the work has been done by one lineman and Tomlinson on such plays.

The running game will again be dominated by misdirection and formation changes. The Bolts will use a variety of different looks to get players on the other side of the ball moving. Cam Cameron will have to be on his toes in this game and exploit anything he sees tendency-wise from the Falcons.

"We have a good game plan going in and obviously we're really executing our game plan," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We're coming together as an offense."

Drew Brees needs to begin hitting his receivers. He says that when teams start taking away his primary targets that it will be a long day for the opposition. That has not been proven and when he has tried hitting other receivers the ball has sailed, a player has dropped it or the wrong route was detected.

When will someone other than the Caldwell catch a pass from the group? Kassim Osgood had a chance to start last week and didn't respond, although only two balls went his way. He is, however, the best blocking wide receiver on the team and may get another chance.

Why is it there are so few plays for former Falcon Tim Dwight?

"He's been our second receiver, our third receiver and of course he's involved in our return game and he's a very tough, competitive guy," Schottenheimer said.

What number wide receiver matters little to the head coach, Dwight has been thrown to less than five times all year. Someone needs to break the habit.

Brees has stepped up in his third year as starter but teams will continue to put the ball in his hands, if at all possible.

"The thing that is most impressive to me about Drew Brees is the way he's accepted the challenge that organization put in front of him in terms of bringing in a rookie quarterback, a first-round draft pick," Falcons' coach Jim Mora said. "And he's responded. I think that says a lot about his character and toughness."

The pass rush will also be a factor. Sixteen of the 19 Atlanta sacks have come from their defensive linemen. A tall task for the Chargers offensive line.

"The thing I see with the pass rush is the selflessness of these guys," said Falcons defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "These guys rush the passer as a team and they understand the importance of everybody's job of pinning the quarterback. A lot of times people can get off-track and want to do it for themselves but they understand how they all work together and get things done."

On Defense:

Ironically, the Chargers are also amongst the top three rushing defenses. Since committing to stopping the run, they have won two of the past three. They are allowing 84.2 rush yards per game.

But they have never faced Michael Vick. Just when they think they have him pinned, Vick has the ability to burst through the holes. The one thing the Chargers will focus on is ripping the ball loose if Vick sees a seam. He is susceptible to fumbling as he has a tendency to carry the ball out wide. He worked on that this week, asking his teammates to take swipes at the ball every chance they got so he could make the conscious effort to hold it closer.

Come game time, he may not be as prepared for the swipes at the ball.

Scheming will be a big part of the defense. They will look to confuse Vick with multiple looks. Although Atlanta has not played a team running the 3-4 yet this year, they are familiar with Wade Phillips from his time with the Falcons just last year.

"Wade is a good coach," said Vick. "And he'll probably come up with a great scheme and it's up to us to counter with an even better scheme and try to go out and out-execute them and do some things on offense to put some points on the board early and try to jump out on top. It's going to be tough because they have a great defense, but we also know we have a good offense."

It is going to be tough for the Chargers to counter the playmaking of Vick. They have notoriously struggled against quarterbacks that can scramble, but that was one of the reasons for the switch to the 3-4.

"Guys really need to be focused and concentrate," linebacker Steve Foley said of the test this week. "They can't get too down on themselves when they make a mistake, whatever happens."

On Special Teams:

Schottenheimer continually calls Mike Scifres a weapon. Those who expected a turn for the worse in the punting game have been eating crow since game one.

Nate Kaeding has nailed all of his field goal attempts and despite kickoffs that have been short, the coverage team has been stellar. Kaeding's goal is still to get a touchback every time out there but different calls hurt those chances. He is still getting used to kicking off with the NFL ball.

Atlanta ranks No. 1 in punt coverage and No. 2 in kickoff coverage. The Falcons stopped the number one returner last week in Eddie Drummond and will be looking to curtail a former Falcon this week. One big can swing momentum and in the Georgia dome a big return could help the Chargers to victory.

"We're an attacking, fast group," Falcons' coverage specialist Artie Ulmer said this week. "It's kind of like, 'If you want to get the tackle, you better get down there and get on the guy,' because in this group, it'll get gobbled up in a hurry."


Atlanta 24
Chargers 23

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