NFC South Preview: Atlanta Falcons Big Test At San Diego Chargers
By Erik Sabol
Cold, Hard Football Facts NFC South Analyst
Last week, the Falcons continued to scale the ladder of NFC elites, the Buccaneers suffered a harsh education via the arm of Eli Manning, and for the first time in years, the Saints are peering up from the musty cellar of the division.
Here are five things to expect in Week 2:
1. The Falcons face their first early-season test in the San Diego Chargers.
After two stellar weeks from Matt Ryan and his offensive conglomerate, the Atlanta Falcons sit atop several offensive Quality Stats. The Falcons are tops in Real Quarterback Rating, Offensive Passer Rating, and -- thanks to an impressive defensive showing against Peyton Manning -- Passer Rating Differential.
But efficiency is where they've made their mark. Atlanta is a stern number one in the Scoreability Index; they're 9.72 yards per point are almost a full yard better than the second place Jets. A Week 3 match up with San Diego will challenge that early-season dominion.
The San Diego defense has completely obliterated both Oakland and Tennessee, and rank second in Bendability despite only nabbing two turnovers in the first two contests. Koetter has his work cut out for him.
2. Scoreability belies the Buccaneers.
Greg Schiano's Buccaneers rank fifth in the Scoreability Index, but might be the worst second-half offense in the league. They've outscored opponents 37-13 in the first two quarters, but have been utterly outmatched, 38-13, after halftime.
This has created an odd mark in Scoreability; the Buccaneers pile up the points in the first half, but they don't score -- or move the ball -- in quarters two and three. It's an odd leverage that traps their offensive ranking in a permanent, misleading stasis, awarding them an elite ranking in one of their greatest weaknesses. It's like Greg Schiano has swapped his halftime speech for a bedtime story. The Buccaneers don't scare anybody out of the locker room, regardless of Scoreability... especially not DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas defense.
3. A game against Kansas City looks to supercharge Brees and the Saints.
New Orleans has stumbled into awfully unfamiliar territory. They're 0-2, chasing the rest of the division, and they excel in almost nothing. They're mediocre in Scoreability, Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Real Quarterback Rating, and downright bad in just about everything else.
Lucky for the Saints, Kansas City hasn't settled for mediocrity. The Chiefs rank twenty-eighth or worse in nine of twelve Quality Stats, and they're breaking new ground by allowing a 130.02 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
If Drew Brees can't right the ship at home against a reeling, and altogether uncompetitive Kansas City squad, then it's time to get comfortable in the basement. It rarely gets easier than this.
4. The Buccaneers aren't seeing a return of investment on those expensive Offensive Hogs.
The Buccaneers signed two of free agency's prized ponies: receiver Vincent Jackson, and roughshod road-grader Carl Nicks. Jackson broke out in Week 2, nabbing five receptions for 128 yards and a long touchdown. Nicks hasn't shone negatively in pass protection or run blocking, but considering the unit's combined accolades, the line play has been sub-standard.
Tampa Bay is tied with Cincinnati for the league's worst offensive line. They lost Davin Joseph late in the preseason, and since his departure, they've averaged a miserable 3.60 yards per rush. Josh Freeman's been under siege, suffering a negative pass play on 10.71-percent of his dropbacks. Joseph's out, and center Jeremy Zuttah is a relative newcomer at the position, but with Pro Bowlers Donald Penn and Nicks anchoring the left side, the Buccaneers shouldn't be the least effective unit in the NFL.
5. The Falcons have a fatal flaw.
For four seasons, Michael Turner has carried the Atlanta offense. His 5281 yards from 2008 to 2011 are third most in the league -- narrowly trailing Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson -- and his 50 rushing touchdowns are second-most over that period. He's been the linchpin that has kept defenses honest. He's been the cog that parts the waters for Ryan and company. He's been the focal point of defensive game plans.
But in 2012, he's been slow and forgettable. His 2.64 yards per carry are second-worst (sorry Curtis Brinkley) of any runner with at least 28 carries, but his weighty, lumbering ineptitude is being shadowed by Atlanta's ridiculous passing attack.
Late in this season, the Falcons are going to need some semblance of a running game to close out a victory over a Quality Opponent. Whether or not Turner can carry the load might be the difference between championship contention and another early playoff loss.
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