Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan fondly remembers his last trip to San Diego.
As a rookie, he led the Falcons to a 22-16 victory over the Chargers on Nov. 30, 2008, at Qualcomm Stadium.
He tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Harry Douglas to put the Falcons up 22-13 with 14:56 left to play in the fourth quarter. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating of 130.2.
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: What concerns you about San Diego’s defense?
A: Their front seven is very good. They’ve got two defensive ends in their 3-4 scheme. Jarret Johnson and Shaun Phillips are really good players. They have some talented guys on the back end like [Eric] Weedle. I think he led the league in interceptions last year. They have two corners that can play in [Antoine] Cason and [Quentin] Jammer. They are a talented bunch.
Q: How is Takeo Spikes playing in the middle of their defense?
A: He’s a veteran guy. He’s physical and is very good at coming down and snuffing out the run. He’s really smart, and it looks like he gets all of those guys on the same page on film. He’s one of those salty veteran guys that is just very good at what he does.
Q: What will be the key to run the ball on that stingy defense?
A: I think, first and foremost, identifying what they do up front correctly. They give you a lot of different looks. They bring a lot of different guys in their fire-zone packages. Identifying what they are doing and getting into the right plays will be important.
One of the trademarks of San Diego coach Norv Turner’s offenses — dating to his days in Dallas with Jay Novacek in the early 1990s — is that the tight end is heavily involved.
Last week in a 38-10 rout of Tennessee, tight end Dante Rosario caught three touchdowns passes for the Chargers, who carry four tight ends on their roster. In addition to Rosario, they have Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael and rookie Ladarius Green.
While wide receiver Malcolm Floyd is quarterback Philip Rivers’ top target, the tight end remains key, and that makes Falcons safety William Moore the X-factor for this game.
“In that offense, they use their tight ends a lot,” Moore said. “Then at the same time, they’ve got gifted tight ends. They are fast, and they are strong. They run great routes. Gates, I never played him before, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about his game.”
Rosario has mainly been a backup with Carolina (2007-10), Miami (2011) and Denver (2011). Before last week, he had five career touchdown catches.
“He’s running great routes,” Moore said. “He doing a great job. He’s matured from his days with Carolina. He’s looking like a great tight end.”
Gates, when healthy, is a great tight end. He returned to practice from a rib injury and could be available Sunday.
“He’s a go-to guy,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said of Gates. “When you see defenses go against him, they put two guys on him like he’s a gunner on the punt-coverage team because that’s how good he is. That’s what he demands. If you give him one-on-one coverage, or if you think you cannot account for him, he’s going to kill you.”
Falcons wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie has told receiver Julio Jones that he must think that when
the football is in the air that it’s like $1 million, and he has to come down with it.
Jones, the second-year sensation, had a chance to help put the Falcons up by two touchdowns early against the Broncos on Monday night, but he let the $1 million hit the turf.
“I still have to step up and make those plays when they present themselves because everybody is counting on me,” said Jones, who’s on the hot seat to stop his dropped passes. “I just have to step up in that situation and make that play.”
Jones has 10 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He has three drops, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
After catching six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs in the season opener, Jones saw double coverage from Denver.
“They stayed with a [two-man] shell,” Jones said. “It’s kind of hard to have a big game against [two-man] shell and everything. Roddy [White] stepped up and did a great job for us, and Tony [Gonzalez] did as well.”
While Denver locked up Jones, White and Gonzalez combined for 15 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones doesn’t know what to expect from the Chargers.
“When we play people, we have to go out there and adjust,” Jones said. “A lot of people don’t have three receivers, including Tony, that they have to match up against. We have to go out there and continue to keep playing.”
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Chargers coach Norv Turner have been coaching BFFs.
They worked together in 2006, with Turner serving as Nolan’s offensive coordinator when he was San Francisco’s head coach.
Nolan served as Turner’s defensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins from 1997-99 when Turner was the head coach.
“Mike’s been in the league a long time, as well as coach Turner, so they’ve probably had a number of battles where they’ve been against each other and they’ve been on the same side and sat in staff rooms,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “There’s going to be some familiarity in terms of what Mike knows and what coach Turner knows.”
Other connections include:
San Diego’s run defense is stout.
Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin sets the tone by demanding double-team blocks. In the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme, Franklin then frees up inside linebackers Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler to run to the ball carriers.
They held Oakland’s Darren McFadden to 32 yards on 15 carries and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to 17 yards on eight carries.
The Falcons have struggled to run this season and don’t appear to have a good matchup against San Diego’s defense, which has allowed only 41 rushing yards per game, best in the NFL. The Falcons have rushed for 75.5 yards per game, 26th in the league.
“We’re going to keep handing it off,” right tackle Tyson Clabo said. “We are going to keep running the ball. I think that we have the personnel to have a good running game.”
The Falcons spent a great deal of time working on their passing attack this offseason. Some contend they forget about their vaunted rushing attack, which has had a 1,300-yard rusher [Michael Turner] in three of the past four years.
“We didn’t have a lack of focus on it at all,” Clabo said. “I can’t put my finger on anything specific, but I think we can run the football, and we’re going to continue to try.”
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