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Chargers vs. Falcons Game Preview: Stopping ‘diverse’ run game could be key to winning in Week 9

The Falcons get back their workhorse on the ground ahead of Sunday.

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

We got Kevin Knight from The Falcoholic to help us preview this week’s Chargers-Falcons matchup.

Atlanta is 4-4 and atop the NFC South. The Chargers are 4-3 and must win this game to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West.

Both defenses are flawed while both offenses lean heavily into the run or pass without much balance.

Who’s going to end up winning this game of imbalanced clubs? Let’s go ahead and dive in to see what our guest predicts.

1.) Cordarrelle Patterson looks to be coming back this week. Should the Chargers expect a healthy dose of the dual-threat back? How much has Patterson meant to the team’s success this season?

Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d expect Patterson to play on Sunday. Patterson was the engine of the offense over the first four weeks, and was having the most productive month of his career. Since his injury, the Falcons have been forced to diversify the run game a bit, and are now the first team in NFL history to have four players with 250+ rush yards in the first eight weeks of a season. Former UDFA Caleb Huntely has been an exceptional runner, particularly at avoiding negative plays, and rookie Tyler Allgeier has been strong on third down. Patterson brings a dynamic presence to this run game that could vault them back into contention for the most dangerous rushing offense in the NFL. I’m excited to see what his return creates for this offense.

2.) How would you describe Marcus Mariota’s performance so far this season? How close have the Falcons gotten to replacing him with rookie Desmond Ridder? Is it only a matter of time before Ridder starts in 2022 or are the Falcons happy to ride Mariota until the wheels fall off?

Marcus Mariota’s performance has been inconsistent through eight games. He’s had plenty of splash plays and his ability as a runner has made him a valuable piece in the offense, but the down-to-down passing consistency has been an issue. That has caused fans to clamor for Desmond Ridder on more than one occasion. At this point, as long as Mariota continues to improve and the team stays atop the NFC South (or at least in the playoff hunt), I have a hard time seeing him getting benched. Despite his issues, he’s led an offense that is currently 6th in scoring through eight games. That’s pretty incredible.

3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you personally go about scheming against this Falcons defense? Which matchups would you attempt to exploit the most?

The Falcons are solid at stopping the run, but absolutely abysmal at defending the pass. Atlanta was below-average before losing AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward, and now they’re a lot worse. My recommendation would be to abandon the run entirely and just chuck the ball downfield as much as possible. Atlanta can’t defend it reliably, even with lackluster receiving options on the field for the Chargers. Just don’t expect the Falcons to stop running the ball if Los Angeles gets out to a lead—they’ve shown a complete and total commitment to rushing as the best way to score (and keep their opponent off the field).

4.) Same questions but flip sides of the ball. If you were Brandon Staley, how would you attempt to stop this Atlanta offense? Which players should you watch out for the most? Are there any under-the-radar players you feel could make an impact on Sunday?

This Falcons offense is hard to defend in general, but they’re impossible to stop if the run game gets going. I think the best course of action is to sell out to stop the run and force Mariota to throw the ball 25+ times. The Falcons do have dangerous receiving weapons and can move the ball that way, but Mariota’s accuracy has been inconsistent and the pass protection is not good. I’d expect 10-15 carries from Cordarrelle Patterson, along with plenty of work for Caleb Huntley and Tyler Allgeier. In the passing game, everyone knows Kyle Pitts—who is coming off his best game this season—and Drake London, but two other receivers have really stepped up: Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd. Zaccheaus is a playmaker who finds ways to get open, while Byrd is a speedster who has caught several deep touchdowns over the past few weeks.

5.) The Chargers are currently three-point favorites on the road against the Falcons with the over/under currently set at 49.5, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Tell us how you see this game shaking out, including whether you’d take the over or under, and top it all off with a final score prediction.

I like the Falcons as underdogs in this game, particularly with the mounting injuries for the Chargers, the road trip, and the way these two teams match up. Atlanta is the worst possible team to play if you have run defense issues, as Arthur Smith is perfectly content to run the ball 40+ times. However, Atlanta’s defense has been disastrous since the losses of AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward, so I think this one winds up as a high-scoring shootout. I’m taking the over and think this one, as most Falcons (and Chargers) games seem to, comes down to a final drive. Falcons pull out the 31-27 win at home.