John Pagano’s first two weeks as Chargers Defensive Coordinator has undeniably been a success. The squad ranks first in the league against the run (41.5 yards per game), second in points allowed (12.0) and third in total defense (266.5 ypg).
That being said, the unit is set to face its stiffest test yet against the Falcons high-octane offense. Atlanta ranks second in points per game, racking up an average of 33.5 points over their first two games.
“Every week is a great test, and this is a very explosive offense,” said Pagano. “It’s a team with weapons wherever you look – from the running backs to the tight ends to the wide receivers. The quarterback is phenomenal. Each week in the National Football League is a test, and our players know this is a big challenge for us.”
Still, the defense is not cowering in the face of the Falcons’ explosive offense. Instead, the team is excited about the opportunity to shut down some of most talented players in the league, including Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones and, of course, the ageless Tony Gonzalez.
“He still looks the same,” Pagano said of the tight end. “Back when he was in Kansas City, and now being with Atlanta, it doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. The way he moves in and out of his route and catches the ball, his run after the catch is still explosive to where he can make people miss, and his ability to score in the red zone presents a challenge to our defense. “
Part of what makes the Falcons so dangerous is that they often run a no-huddle, hurry up offense. The Chargers have prepared for it in numerous ways, and Pagano is confident they will be able to adjust to a quicker pace than the defense is normally accustomed to.
“We simulate it,” said the coach. “We worked on it in OTA’s and worked on it in training camp. We talked to our guys and we’ll communicate. It’s about getting lined up and it’s about having a sense of urgency that our group has right now. And it’s about the guys really just getting lined up and getting the call and getting focused in on what they need to focus in on.”
For all their success early this season, the Falcons have struggled in one facet of their game. And that’s running the football. They rank 26th in the league with 75.5 ypg while the Bolts top the NFL in rushing yards given up. According to Pagano, the running game is an area that will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Chargers defense.
“First and foremost we’ve got to stop the run,” said Pagano, who believes Atlanta still has a dangerous rushing game. “I don’t see them struggling in the run game. Michael Turner has had his big runs here and there. And preseason wise to how far we’ve looked back to even last year, it gives them the ability to throw the ball downfield, and it opens up those run lanes. So it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
No matter how big of a challenge it may be, it’s clear Pagano and the rest of the defense is ready to face it head on.