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Falcons Will Be Challenged in SoCal

Things are different with the San Diego Chargers now than they were the last time the Falcons visited San Diego in 2008. Philip Rivers is still throwing to Antonio Gates, so a complete makeover hasn’t occurred, but Gates’ four receptions are hardly the reason San Diego, like Atlanta, has opened up 2-0.

The Chargers may have finally sorted out their defense. Good news for San Diego, bad news for the rest of the NFL.

The Chargers enter week three with the second best defensive points per game ranking in the NFL, an even 12, and first in the league in rush yards allowed per game, at just over 41.

A hefty chunk of that does deal directly with the Chargers’ opening opponents, Oakland and Tennessee, both still winless and both trying to figure out how to rejuvenate their high-profile running backs.

A bigger part has to do with the job Norv Turner and his staff has done with their defensive personnel. On the hot seat for the past 30 months or so, the somehow-still-employed Turner has done an excellent job of successfully incorporating rookie Melvin Ingram into the defense without over-exposing the young linebacker. Ingram already has half a sack and a forced fumble to his credit in his first two professional games.

Ingram has also been a nice addition to the Chargers recently-disastrous special teams unit. Ingram and second year linebacker Andrew Gachkar have both solidified a unit that opened last season with an injury to All-pro kicker Nate Kaeding, as well as a kick return touchdown to Percy Harvin.

Another linebacker of note is veteran Shaun Phillips, who in his ninth pro season (9th with San Diego) has kicked off the campaign with more sacks (2.5) than games played.

Matt Ryan has only been sacked twice in as many games so far this season, but for that trend to continue this weekend Tyson Clabo and company better be prepared for a worthy test.

Ryan also hasn’t been picked yet in 2012, something that has not only helped the Falcons start 2-0, but also allowed my Fantasy team to avoid starting 0-2. He’ll have Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby to contend with on Sunday however, a duo that ought to provide him, Julio Jones and Roddy White with a smaller margin for error than either Denver or Kansas City could.

There’s no way the Falcons don’t give San Diego a bigger challenge than the Chargers do Atlanta on Sunday. Not after Atlanta knocked off Denver on Monday while the Chargers rolled over Tennessee Sunday evening, and not after the Chargers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009.

But this should still be a pretty good indicator of just how good the Falcons are early on here in 2012, especially on offense. With the Falcons set to open up divisional play next week, their third straight against an AFC opponent may just escape Mike Smith’s brigade.

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