Cowboys vs Chargers: Breaking Down San Diego's 28-20 Win

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystAugust 21, 2012

December 11, 2011; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tackle Jared Gaither (78) prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Qualcomm Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The Chargers may have defeated the Cowboys, but it's the preseason and the score doesn't matter. Tony Romo only played one quarter, and the Cowboys were up 10-0 when Philip Rivers and the other starters were done playing. 

What's important are the little things like blocking, tackling and avoiding mental errors. After two preseason games, it is safe to say the Chargers desperately need Jared Gaither healthy, and they made a mistake not hedging their bet on the talented left tackle. 

Rivers simply didn't have the protection to throw a deep pass and had to check the ball down to Ronnie Brown frequently. Rivers was efficient and completed 13 of 15 passes, but the two incomplete passes were intercepted by Brandon Carr.

Perhaps more concerning was that Rivers had only one completed pass fly further than 10 yards in the air, and it came with 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

On defense, the Chargers did a good job limiting the ground game. There's work to do in stopping the passing game, but until all-22 video is available, it's really difficult to determine what went wrong in coverage and we'll have to save that breakdown for another day. 


Protection Issues

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB

Defensive Personnel: 3-4

This is the first interception Rivers threw. 

The linebackers do a very good job of covering Antonio Gates and the other short options. The Cowboys rush four, and the Chargers should have no problem giving Rivers time to throw.

Unfortunately, Jeromey Clary and Mike Harris don't hold for long, and Rivers gets hit soon after he releases this deep pass intended for Robert Meachem. 

Rivers made the correct decision, and it was not a matter of Rivers making a mistake. His other options were double covered, as you can see from this blurry still photo.

Probably because Rivers was under pressure and about to be hit, the pass was significantly under thrown. Meachem was open, as he had gotten behind the single coverage of Brandon Carr. The poor pass protection, coupled with a poor throw by Rivers, resulted in this interception.

Rivers is just a different quarterback under pressure, but not because he is making the wrong reads or even bad decisions.


Run Defense

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB

Defensive Personnel: 3-4

The key to this play for the Cowboys is the fullback getting a good block on the linebacker and the offensive line winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Corey Liuget blows past his blocker, creating a two-on-one play. Shaun Phillips reads the play as a run.

Liuget won his battle against the offensive lineman, and it forces Felix Jones to try and bounce the play outside, where he hopes his fullback can block Phillips. 

Phillips gets past the fullback quickly and stops Jones in the backfield for a four-yard loss. This is a great example of how the defensive line and linebacker can work together to stop the run. 


Mike Harris: Not Ready

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB

Defensive Personnel: 3-4

The Cowboys rush only four,  leaving the Chargers with plenty of offensive linemen to give Rivers protection for a deep throw. This play ends up being Victor Butler and his one career start against Chargers' undrafted rookie left tackle Harris.

Harris basically lets Butler collapse the pocket without making much contact and is three yards in front of Rivers. Rivers is supposed to be able to step up and throw here, but he'll probably have to move even if Harris stays engaged with Butler.

Notice that Butler has better pad level and has gotten into the chest of Harris. If Harris tries to sustain his block now, he will have to hold.

Butler quite easily pushes himself off of Harris while Rivers contemplates throwing to one of his deep receivers. With only four pass-rushers, everything deep is covered.

Rivers steps up in the pocket and takes a quick look at one of his check-down options. He doesn't even have enough time to look to his right and see Ronnie Brown wide open.

It's not Harris' fault that he's the starting left tackle, but he's not ready to start or even be a quality backup at this point. The Chargers need Gaither back in the worst way.


The Long Ball?

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB

Defensive Personnel: Dime

With ten seconds left in the half, Rivers completed his longest pass of the game.

Notice Harris again gets beat, this time by Sean Lissemore, who has never started an NFL game and has 2.5 sacks in his two-year career.

Rivers forced the throw into Malcom Floyd between three defenders. In this type of soft coverage situation, Rivers got away with this type of throw. In a situation where the defense is rushing more than four, Rviers will never have time to get the ball deep as long as Harris remains the starting at left tackle.

The Chargers spent the offseason adding weapons on offense, but it might have been wiser to spend the offseason protecting the guy that will get them the ball.