The Atlanta Falcons traveled to San Diego Sunday to play the Chargers and dominated them en route to a 27-3 victory. Below we’ll grade the Falcons’ performance in each phase of the game: Offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
Offense (Grade A-): The offense was on point for most of the day. Quarterback Matt Ryan continued to impress as he completed 30 of his 40 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Ryan and the offense methodically picked apart the San Diego defense repeatedly Sunday as they racked up 20 of their 27 points before halftime.
Ryan did a great job of spreading the ball around as he completed passes to eight different receivers, with four receivers finishing the game averaging more than 10 yards per catch. Sunday marked the 13th time Ryan passed for three or more touchdowns and the Falcons are now 13-0 when he does so.
Running back Michael Turner finally showed up, albeit late in the game, turning in his best performance of the season in his return to San Diego. Turner rushed the ball 14 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, finishing the game averaging 5.7 yards a carry. Jacquizz Rodgers added 32 rushing yards and a receiving touchdown of his own, putting the Falcons over the 100 rushing mark for the first time in 2012.
Although the Falcons’ offensive attack looked great and moved the ball with relative ease, they did have a few costly penalties early in the game that stopped drives. It also seemed that the offense lost a little bit of its rhythm when Julio Jones left the game early with a hand injury. They bounced back well once Jones returned, but if there is something the offense could get better at—and there doesn’t seem to be much—it would be keeping their cool when conflict arises.
Defense (Grade A+): Through three games, this defense has been nothing short of great. It has three or more takeaways in each of the first three games and is now 20-1 under head coach Mike Smith when they do so. Safety Thomas DeCoud was all over the field Sunday, accounting for three tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The defense held San Diego’s explosive offense to three points, shutting them out in the first half. It was the first time since 2002 that the Chargers were held to just three points in a game.
The defense repeatedly gave the ball back to the offense, demoralizing San Diego in the process. It not only defended against the pass successfully but did so against the run as well. With Ryan Mathews returning for his first game of the season, the Chargers had an added weapon to their offense. The Falcons’ defense held Mathews to just 44 yards, putting even more pressure on Philip Rivers and San Diego’s passing game.
Furthermore, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan consistantly dialed up pressure at the right times, forcing Rivers into bad throws which led to his multi-interception game. The Falcons flushed Rivers out of the pocket time and time again, never letting him get his feet set to throw the ball down the field. Nolan brought the pressure from every direction and it clearly had an affect on San Diego’s offensive plans.
Special Teams (Grade B+): Atlanta’s special teams didn’t have to do much work Sunday, but when they were called into action, they did decently well. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 44.6 yards a punt, pinning San Diego inside their own 20 on two of his five punts. Matt Bryant made all three of his attempted extra points (there was one failed point-after attempt, but it was a bobbled snap, not a missed kick) and Dominique Franks averaged 17 yards on his two punt returns. Other than a botched snap on the first extra point, the Falcons’ special teams unit did its job well on Sunday.
Coaching (Grade A+): The coaching staff was impressive from top to bottom this week. Not only was it coming off of a short week after playing on Monday night, but the team was playing on the opposite side of the country. They were battling short rest, a three-hour time difference and 100 degree heat. None of it mattered as Atlanta looked like the home team in San Diego. Smith and company had their team ready to play from the very start of the game.
Nolan and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter both did a great job of calling plays that were tailored towards the strengths of their players. They exposed the weaknesses of the Chargers all day long. There’s not enough that can be said about the difference in the coaching staff from last season to this. The coaching staff has something special going with this team and it was clear to see in the fourth quarter. With the game well out of hand, the Chargers were on the verge of scoring a meaningless touchdown before the defense forced a fumble.
Although the Falcons were up by 24, and the original call on the field was the runner was down, with roughly two minutes in the game, Smith still challenged the call. The call was reversed and Atlanta received the ball. What stood out the most was the team’s celebration after the call was reversed. The demeanor of the team following the overturned call spoke volumes about the bond between this coaching staff and this team.