Chargers vs. Falcons matchups: Justin Herbert, offense look to rebound

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws against the New England Patriots on Dec. 6, 2020.
Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in last Sunday’s 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (3-9) and Atlanta Falcons (4-8) match up heading into Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium at 1:25 p.m. Pacific time.

When Chargers have the ball: The offense is coming off what can be accurately described as a disaster, a 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots in which the Chargers — forget the end zone — never reached the red zone. They advanced no deeper than the Patriots’ 25-yard line. The closest they came to scoring on 11 possessions were two field-goal attempts, the first of which sailed wide before the second was blocked and returned for a Patriots score. Famous for blowing leads early in the season, the Chargers have not led in any of their last three losses. Quarterback Justin Herbert is trying to come back from his two most mediocre games of an otherwise dazzling rookie season. His two worst single-game completion percentages and passer ratings have come in back-to-back weeks. The shutout loss to the Patriots also was the first game in which Herbert did not have a touchdown pass. He has a chance to set things right versus an Atlanta team that ranks 30th against the pass, giving up an average of 285.3 yards per game. The Falcons have yielded at least 300 yards passing seven times, but they’ve played better since Raheem Morris, whose background is on defense, replaced Dan Quinn as head coach in mid-October.

Chargers numbers.
(Los Angeles Times)

When Falcons have the ball: Running back Todd Gurley returns to Southern California after spending the last five seasons with the Rams. He might be delighted to see the opponents waiting for him. In his only career game against the Chargers, Gurley had 156 yards from scrimmage, including 105 on the ground. That happened at the Coliseum in September 2018, before Gurley’s health became a significant enough issue to end up landing in Atlanta. The Falcons have been inconsistent on offense but have reached 40 points twice, something the Chargers haven’t done once this season. “They can put up 40 like it’s nothing,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. That’s mostly because of quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers like Calvin Ridley (905 yards, seven touchdowns). Ryan is fourth in the NFL in yards passing, but only five quarterbacks have been sacked more often. The Chargers also have the fifth-stingiest defense against the pass.

When they kick: At least the Chargers’ Michael Badgley has been consistent in his inconsistency. He has failed on 10 kicks, four of them wide right and four wide left. He also has hit the right upright and had another blocked. Lynn decided to take over coaching special teams full-time last week after the Chargers’ struggles refused to abate. Former Charger Younghoe Koo is having a terrific season after struggling to establish himself in the NFL. The Falcon has made 32 of 33 field-goal tries and is 23 of 26 on extra points.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: Having watched the Chargers all season, picking them to beat anyone left on their schedule is an exercise in courage. Their only victories are against the three worst teams in the NFL, teams that are now a combined 3-32-1. The Falcons have four wins, which suggests they will be too much for the Chargers.