Chargers take on Falcons in battle of surging unbeatens
(Sports Network) - Thanks to Michael Turner, the Atlanta Falcons have been among the NFL�s most prolific ground-gaining teams since he first landed in Georgia from San Diego back in 2008.
But this Sunday afternoon, when the Falcons will travel back to the West Coast to meet Turner's old Chargers team at Qualcomm Stadium, it's not clear whether he'll be any help at all.
The 30-year-old, a nine-year veteran who was selected by San Diego in round five of the 2004 draft, made headlines early Tuesday morning with an arrest for drunken driving and speeding just hours after Atlanta jumped to 2-0 with a 27-21 Monday-night defeat of the Denver Broncos.
Turner spent two hours in custody in Gwinnett County, Ga. and was released after posting $2,179 bond.
"It was a bad decision on my part," he said.
Though Turner is expected to escape any league discipline for the incident, Falcons head coach Mike Smith was noncommittal about whether the running back would play.
"This is a legal matter, and it's very well-defined how we have to proceed with it through the league, and we'll let this process run its course," Smith said.
With the 5-foot-10, 237-pounder or without him, this game is still one of two Week 3 matchups of remaining unbeaten teams.
Turner has been less a factor through the first two weeks of this campaign compared to his previous four seasons with the Falcons, who've been more of an air-first outfit with first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in 2012.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is the league's top-rated passer with a figure of 117.6, and he's completed 70.1 percent of his throws for 518 yards and five touchdowns. The Falcons and New Orleans also are the only teams with three players with at least 122 receiving yards over the initial two games. Wide receiver Roddy White has 189, tight end Tony Gonzalez has 123 and second-year wideout Julio Jones has 122.
On the ground, the Falcons are 28th in the league with an average of 3.0 yards per carry. Atlanta ran for 67 yards on 28 attempts in the victory over Denver, with Turner contributing 42 yards and a touchdown that stretched his team record to 51.
In one previous game against the Chargers, Turner ran for 120 yards and Ryan threw for 207 with two touchdowns during a 22-16 win in San Diego in 2008. Atlanta has never lost in San Diego and is 7-1 in the all-time series.
The Falcons have not begun a season with three consecutive wins since 2004.
The Chargers are already over their usual early-season norm, having recorded their first 2-0 start with sixth-year head coach Norv Turner at the helm. After beginning the year with a 22-14 win at Oakland, San Diego opened its 2012 home schedule with a 38-10 rout of Tennessee.
"The thing that is unique to me is how close they are," Turner said of players. "The number of new guys we brought in (are) the right types of guys -- (tight end) Dante (Rosario), (linebacker) Jarret (Johnson), (running back) Le'Ron (McClain). They feel the chemistry that's already there."
Starting for the injured Antonio Gates, Rosario caught three touchdown passes in last week's defeat of Tennessee. Subbing for ailing running back Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle -- another new addition -- rushed for 69 yards and scored twice.
"It is a super unselfish team all the way through, it's just win," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I just want to win and that's how every guy thinks: 'I just want to win. How can I help us win?'"
Rivers is second in the league with a 73.8 percent completion percentage, and the offense expected to have Mathews back for Sunday's test after missing the first two games after fracturing his collarbone in preseason. Gates, who's battling a rib injury, is considered questionable but is close to returning as well.
San Diego has scored 60 points while allowing just 24 through two games. The defense, now under first-year coordinator John Pagano, is allowing 41.5 rushing yards per game.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has allowed 270 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground thus far and faces a Chargers team that put up 148 rushing yards without Mathews in Week 2.
"At some point in time this year, even though this is a passing league, you're gonna have to stop the run," Smith said.
Falcons lead 7-1
Streak: Falcons have won last five meetings Last Meeting: Falcons 22, Chargers 16 (Nov. 30, 2008 at San Diego)
Falcons HC Mike Smith vs. Chargers: 1-0 Chargers HC Norv Turner vs. Falcons: 0-3 overall, 0-1 with San Diego Smith vs. Turner Head-to-Head: Smith leads, 1-0
Notes: Falcons are 5-0 all-time at Qualcomm Stadium, with the Chargers' only win in the series a 10-7 decision in Atlanta on Sept. 15, 1991. San Diego has scored more than 16 points only twice in its eight lifetime matchups with Atlanta. Turner has lost to the Falcons as the head coach of three different teams: Washington (1994), Oakland (2004) and San Diego (2008).
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Atlanta: 21st overall (325.5 ypg), 26th rushing (75.5 ypg), 12th passing (250.0 ypg), 2nd scoring (33.5 ppg)
San Diego: 19th overall (337.0 ypg), 22nd rushing (90.0 ypg), 14th passing (247.0 ypg), 5th scoring (30.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Atlanta: 17th overall (364.5 ypg), 25th rushing (135.0 ypg), 15th passing (229.5 ypg), 15th scoring (22.5 ppg)
San Diego: 3rd overall (266.5 ypg), 1st rushing (41.5 ypg), 12th passing (225.0 ypg), 2nd scoring (12.0 ppg)
Atlanta: +7 (7 takeaways, 0 giveaways) San Diego: +1 (2 takeaways, 1 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Atlanta: 63.6 percent (11 possessions, 7 TD, 4 FG) -- 12th overall San Diego: 54.5 percent (11 possessions, 6 TD, 5 FG) -- 19th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Atlanta: 100.0 percent (5 possessions, 5 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 30th overall San Diego: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 11th overall
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
Ryan has thrived in limited exposure against AFC foes, winning 14-of-18 such games for his career. He posted a 130.2 passer rating in his only previous start at San Diego and leads the NFL through two games with a 117.6 mark. For his career, the Falcons are 25-0 when Ryan posts a rating of over 100. Though he's had a difficult off-field week, Turner - a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2004 - is third in the NFL since 2008 with 5,355 rushing yards and second with 51 rushing touchdowns. In Atlanta's last meeting with San Diego, with whom he spent four seasons, the veteran back ran 31 times for 120 yards, and his team are 27-2 when he carries at least 21 times. Among Ryan's targets, White has 88 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last 11 games against AFC foes, and had six catches for 112 yards the last time he faced the Chargers. Since the start of 2007, White leads the NFC with 485 receptions as well. His partner Jones has five touchdown grabs and an 18.5 yards-per-catch average in five career games against the AFC, while Gonzalez has five career 100-yard games against San Diego. In his last three meetings with San Diego alone, the trusty tight end has averaged 105 receiving yards per game, caught 26 balls and scored three times. Three more scoring catches will give Gonzalez 100 for his career.
For San Diego, linebacker Shaun Phillips is third all-time in Chargers' history with 62 sacks, trailing only Leslie O'Neal (105 1/2) and Lee Williams (65 1/2) since the stat became official in 1982. In the backfield, ball- hawking safety Eric Weddle is tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions since the start of 2011.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
Though he's not won the hardware of his colleagues from the 2004 draft, Rivers is beginning to compile outstanding career numbers. He's just 200 passing yards short of joining Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and John Hadl as the lone Chargers to reach 25,000. Rivers has been especially good at home, where he's compiled a 98.3 passer rating while winning 38 of 49 lifetime starts. Against the NFC, he's 14-10 with 45 touchdown throws, 20 interceptions and a 95.1 rating in 24 starts, and the Chargers are 39-8 when he gets over 100 in the rating department. In the backfield, the relatively anonymous Battle scored a career-high two rushing touchdowns last week. Among Rivers' targets, Gates is three catches shy of becoming the fifth at tight end to reach 600 for his career and owns 76 career touchdown catches, trailing only Hall of Famer Lance Alworth (81) for tops in franchise history. Reserve tight end Rosario had three touchdown catches last week, while wide receiver Malcom Floyd exceeded 100 yards for the eighth time in his career during the Tennessee win. In his last three meetings with Atlanta - all while with New Orleans - wideout and offseason acquisition Robert Meachem compiled 15 catches for 245 yards and two scores.
For the Falcons, defensive end John Abraham leads all active players with 113 sacks and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had a team-best 10 tackles on Monday. Safety William Moore added a sack and an interception of Peyton Manning in the defeat of Denver, the first time in his career he's had both in one game.
Call it the first in the annual cavalcade of "possible Super Bowl previews" for 2012, matching two of the last six unbeaten teams in the league through two weeks. Ryan and his mates have been super-prolific over the first two games, but they encounter a stubborn foe in the Chargers - who have an offense of their own and a defense that's been strong in its own right. While the Falcons may be flying a bit higher, the home-field advantage calls for a razor-thin win for San Diego.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 28, Falcons 27
09/21 17:42:19 ET