The Dallas Cowboys have a chance to be 3-1 and take early control of the NFC East. Granted, it is early and history has shown us that anything is possible in the NFL, but when was the last time this team was 3-1 after four weeks? (Answer: the '07 team was 4-0.)
This week's opponent, the San Diego Chargers, sit at 1-2 in the AFC West but could very easily be among the unbeaten teams in the NFL. Defense appears to be their weakness at this point in the season, but Philip Rivers has thrived under new head coach Mike McCoy.
The Cowboys are coming off of an impressive and thorough victory over the Rams last week that was highlighted by DeMarco Murray's 175-yard rushing performance. The Chargers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up a late touchdown to the Tennessee Titans.
So will this be the game that gives the Cowboys separation, or will it be the game the Chargers redeem themselves? Both teams will need their most consistent and obvious weekly contributors such as Rivers, Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant and Antonio Gates, but this week you need to look at some deeper matchups.
It's not always about the most obvious matchups that determine victory, but sometimes the ones you overlook are the difference between winning and losing.
Let's take a closer look.
DeMarco Murray vs. the Chargers Blitz
The Chargers are going to have to settle on which poison to pick even with Miles Austin ruled out. With a banged-up defense already not playing too well and the likelihood of Shareece Wright not being able to go, the hot button topic is just how much Bryant will shred Johnny Patrick, right?
But what about the time Romo will need in being able to deliver the ball? The Chargers have been victimized from a lack of pressure, so expect heavy blitzing out of their base and nickel packages. This will determine a lot in this game, and Murray's recognition of blitz pickup will be even bigger.
Murray is solid in this department, but he will be working extra hard on Sunday in buying Romo time to exploit the weakness in the Chargers secondary. Romo's mobility along with Murray's ability to read blitzes will force the Chargers to back off and allow the running game to key this offense like last week.
Pay attention to this detail, as it will be pivotal.
Terrance Williams vs. CBs Derek Cox and Richard Marshall
The Chargers defensively have a lot of decisions to make. Do they load the box to take away Murray? Do they double Bryant with Eric Weddle shading to his side as the Giants did? Or do they throw a combination at Bryant and force Terrance Williams to make plays?
The question for Williams is whether or not the wide receiver is ready for his first real start. Because ready or not, his influence on this game could be the difference. Dallas will absolutely try and establish Murray in this contest, but Romo and the passing game will need to get this win along with a stout defense.
This is where Williams can loosen things up with quick slants, bubble screens, solid blocking and being a consistent and reliable threat. He doesn't have to do what Bryant does, he just has to be instrumental as a possession receiver in moving the chains while not making critical mental mistakes.
Williams could give Cowboy fans a glimpse into his future.
Danny Woodhead vs. Dallas Defense
Woodhead has 15 receptions over the last two games, and the Cowboys need to be aware of that and how dangerous he could be in the San Diego attack. He will be used in the flat and in the intermediate passing game when Gates is forced to be used for extra protection. The Chargers will also be without receiver Malcom Floyd so they will probably look to Woodhead some more.
Woodhead has deceptive speed. Depending on how the Chargers use him, that will determine how best to defend him. Will it be Bruce Carter or a safety? Either way the Cowboys have to limit Woodhead's effectiveness as a possession receiver out of the backfield and in the slot.
Cowboys' Front Four vs. Chargers' Banged Up Offensive Line
San Diego's official injury report does not look great for its offensive line. King Dunlap, Jeromey Clary and Chad Rinehart are anywhere from questionable to doubtful, and this could be the ultimate map to victory for the Cowboys. Ware, Nick Hayden, George Selvie and Jason Hatcher are all considered as a key matchup, so it was hard to isolate just one of these players.
Rivers is enjoying early success and he is very effective against the blitz, but he also likes to step up in the front of the pocket, and that is when this group needs to collapse. Expect Rivers to throw the ball a lot in this game, and expect Rod Marinelli to be under that same assumption.
It's up to this group to be the difference-makers, and that it will be.
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