FLOWERY BRANCH – San Diego running back Ryan Mathews, who suffered a broken clavicle on Aug. 9 on his first preseason carry, could return to face the Falcons at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
He was cleared for contact last week, but didn’t play in the 38-10 rout of Tennessee.
Mathews, who played for Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill at Fresno State, has averaged 4.7 yards a carry in two seasons in the NFL. He rushed for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games last season.
The Chargers averaged just 1.6 yards per carry in their season-opening win over Oakland. With backup Jackie Battle carrying the load, they had 18 carries for 82 yards — a 4.6 average — with two touchdowns against the Titans.
The Falcons have not stopped the run against Kansas City or Denver.
Denver running back Willis McGahee rushed 22 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons, who played 66 of 67 snaps against the Broncos in their nickel defense.
Overall, the Broncos rushed 27 times for 118 yards. The Chiefs rushed for 152 yards on 33 carries against the Falcons in Week 1.
The Falcons are giving up 135 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL.
“We’re giving up too many rushing yards right now for our liking,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve got to be able to line up and stop the run when people are going to try to run the football. I think they were effective running the football. That was their answer to our disguise and the looks that we were showing them.”
The defensive line should be able to help more if they can take their normal rotation against San Diego.
Defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Vance Walker had a sack each against Denver. Defensive end Kroy Biermann led the linemen with five tackles.
“There were only certain times that we could rotate in a no-huddle drive,” Smith said. “Basically if we put a guy out there, he was going to be out there for that drive. We didn’t have the capability to be running guys in and out like we normally do when the team is huddling.”
The Falcons’ defense held the Broncos to 4-of-12 (33 percent) on third-down efficiency.
Linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon combined for 18 tackles to lead the defense against the Broncos.
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