5 Reasons Why Dallas Cowboys Should Beat San Diego Chargers
I fall short of saying that Dallas will win the game, given that head coach Jason Garrett has yet to show that he can often string together victories that position the Cowboys to end a regular season with a record better than 8-8—at least not during any full season he's been in that position.
Long gone are the days of superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass-rusher Shawne Merriman. Both of these players are now retired, and both represent the star power that was present when the Chargers were last annual contenders in the AFC West.
Further, gone is the army of secondary players that, not that long ago, helped anchor a defense that really only had to deal with the likes of the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots for AFC supremacy. Do the names Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie and Drayton Florence ring a bell?
No, this is a brand-new Chargers outfit that is in full rebuilding mode, take away the presence of franchise quarterback Philip Rivers, who is still performing at a very high level when he has an offensive line that makes that possible. New head coach Mike McCoy is close to making that happen, but not quite yet.
Rivers doesn't have the same goods surrounding him that he had upon taking over for departed quarterback Drew Brees following the 2005 regular season. In fact, things are quite different heading into Sunday's contest.
This game is no “gimme” for Dallas. The Chargers, some would argue, are just a couple of bad fourth quarters away from being 3-0—but they are 1-2 and in desperate need of a win in their second home game of the regular season.
The Cowboys are just two points away, against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City from being 3-0 themselves—but they are 2-1 and also need a victory in a serious way.
Depending on how the NFC East fares this weekend, the Cowboys could stake themselves to a two-game lead over the rival Philadelphia Eagles and possibly a three-game advantage over the winless New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
With five games still remaining against each of those division opponents as well as others against quarterbacks like Brees, now in New Orleans, Peyton Manning of Denver, Matthew Stafford of Detroit and Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, wins are at a premium for Dallas, despite the fact we're still in September.
Here's five reasons, and a bonus, why the Cowboys should fly home from southern California with their third “W” of the young season. I stress that I'm not predicting a victory for Dallas, but rather illustrating why it is perfectly capable of winning on Sunday.
Once the Cowboys show that they can win at least three straight games I'll give more thought to predictions—like the Chargers, Dallas has its share of new faces in the organization as well.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com
Play of Quarterback Tony Romo
Heading into his fourth regular-season game following his massive contract extension signed last March, Tony Romo is playing at a level that certainly lives up to his $25 million signing bonus.
It's not so much Romo's passing yards or touchdown passes that make him worth the deal. In this particular discussion, it's vital to point out that Romo has thrown just a single interception this season, one that was much more a rookie mistake on the part of wide receiver Terrance Williams than it was Romo's.
Only four quarterbacks enter Week 4 with a higher rating than Romo's 103.9. The big thing here is that Romo is both protecting the football and playing a more relaxed brand of football than what we have seen in the past.
A Dallas offensive line that was a big question mark during training camp seems to be settling in as a stronger unit than expected—this includes both run and pass-blocking, as the Cowboys running game is looking up, and Romo has only been sacked six times this season. There's room for improvement, as far as those sacks, but it's not bad either.
Romo's total passing yards, attempts and yards per attempt are down if we consider his career numbers. Then again, passing for a ton of yards hasn't exactly resulted in points and wins for the Cowboys in recent seasons.
Romo needs to be efficient, patient and smart. If this continues on Sunday, I like his skill set better than his counterpart, Rivers, in this game.
Todd Archer of ESPN reports that wide receiver Miles Austin has been ruled out of Sunday's game—I'm still not sure that this changes things too much.
Chargers Defense Not Playing Well
As I just pointed out, most of Romo's numbers are lower this season than we've seen historically, but the San Diego defense might just help spike those stats by early Sunday evening.
The Chargers rank near the bottom of the league in both run and pass defense, and this is a rather ominous sign given their next opponent.
It's true that San Diego has yet to allow an individual 100-yard rusher. However, the Chargers defense has allowed many more rushing yards than it may seem. The truth is, San Diego's defense has yet to hold any opponent under 100 total yards on the ground in any game this season.
The Tennessee Titans lit up the Chargers with 170 yards during last week's last-second win at LP Field. All told, San Diego is giving up an average of 130.0 yards on the ground per game.
The Charger's pass defense is even worse in ranking dead last in the NFL. Giving up 340.7 passing yards per game, only Tennessee's Jake Locker failed to surpass the 300-yard barrier against the Chargers defense—he threw for 282 after a couple of sacks were factored in. Without those sacks, Locker threw for 299 yards.
In Week 2, Vick torched San Diego's secondary for 428 total yards in the air.
Can Romo live up to those numbers, or at least get close?
Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd Will Not Play
Following the free-agent departure of Vincent Jackson following the 2011 regular season, 10th-year veteran Malcom Floyd became even more vital to Rivers. An ACL injury to promising wide receiver Danario Alexander during the preseason further magnified the importance of Floyd.
At 6'5'' and 225 pounds, Floyd is a classic possession receiverwho's an easy target to find under any circumstances.
Problem: Floyd suffered a concussion following a vicious hit over the middle by Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryan in Week 2. He also sustained a scary knee injury during the preseason that had some briefly doubting whether or not he would play at all this season.
Floyd will likely return to action at some point, but that won't be this week. Floyd has been ruled out against Dallas and its defense, which I'll discuss in a moment.
To the main point, Rivers is really without any height at wide receiver coming into this game. There is certainly speed and big-play ability in sixth-year veteran Eddie Royal, a burner who already has five touchdowns this season.
Either way, Floyd's absence will only put that much more pressure on veteran tight end Antonio Gates and Royal to carry the load.
Dallas seemed to handle last week's combination of St. Louis tight end Jared Cook and speedster Tavon Austin pretty well. I would expect this week to be not too much different.
Dallas Run Defense Is Best in the League
Statistically speaking, the Denver Broncos lead the NFL in run defense, giving up just 43.3 yards per game. For better perspective, Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for more yards (175) than Denver has given up all year (130). The main difference is that the Broncos offense fits the philosophy that suggests that sometimes the best defense is a great offense.
Well, the best run defense in the league, pound for pound, is definitely Dallas—things will catch up with Denver eventually.
Where San Diego is concerned, a matchup problem exists where starting running back Ryan Mathews is concerned. A former 12th overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft, I felt then that the Chargers reached little in trying to replace Tomlinson as their franchise running back for the future.
Mathews has a single 1,000-yard rushing season, barely clearing the mark during his sophomore season, and has yet to play a 16-game schedule. He has 164 yards on the ground this season and has yet to cross the goal line.
If the Cowboys don't overplay their hand in trying to stop Rivers and the Chargers' respectable passing attack, Mathews is probably not looking at a very good afternoon at Qualcomm.
So long as middle linebacker Sean Lee is healthy and playing the way he has, I don't see a whole lot of rushing yards given up to any team, let alone a San Diego offense whose front line is in the shape it's in right now.
Chargers Offensive Line Highly Questionable
About that San Diego offensive line: This is both a new and banged up group that will have its hands more than full with a Dallas defensive front that features three players who have combined for more sacks (9.0) than the Chargers entire defense has all season (6.0).
The Cowboys still have four more sacks scattered throughout the defense for a total of 13.0, good for second in the NFL heading into Week 4.
Four San Diego blockers are listed on the injury report as having missed practice time this week due to injuries. The only one who hasn't been limited in preparations for Dallas is rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker, who's recovering from a concussion sustained last week against the Titans.
Perhaps, the biggest issue here is the fact that San Diego's starters simply haven't played together very long.
The offensive tackles are both brand new to the Chargers—left tackle King Dunlap having played in Philadelphia last season and Fluker having just arrived from University of Alabama. Offensive guard Chad Rinehart played the last few seasons with the Buffalo Bills following a few more with the Washington Redskins.
The familiar faces include San Diego draft picks Jeromey Clary (2006) at right guard and Nick Hardwick (2004) at center.
Injuries and time seem to be conspiring to keep this wall of big, strong blockers from developing very much continuity, likely a reason the Chargers running game is rather pedestrian to this point. With Clary and Rinehart both listed as doubtful, I wouldn't expect a big day on offense from the Chargers.
This gang is not one to play around with, but the Cowboys are probably catching this group at the right time to force some mistakes in pass protection that will possibly leave the statuesque Rivers in deep trouble.
Bonus Reasons for Dallas Victory
For starters, Sunday is my birthday, and I'll leave it up to you to decide what that means here, but I'd like to point out how the Cowboys play on September 29, at least following the shift to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
After a 14-6 loss to the New York Giants in 1974, a game I have no recollection of, Dallas has been perfect on this day.
In 1985, the Cowboys beat the then-Houston Oilers, 17-10, and then followed up with a 31-7 Monday night victory the following year against the then-St. Louis Cardinals.
More recently, an upstart Dallas team in 1991 knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in a game I often look back on as a major turning point for the franchise—the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII the following season.
Most recently, there was former head coach Dave Campo's surprising upset of the St. Louis Rams in 2002. This came just months after the “Greatest Show on Turf” had lost what might have been the first-ever “Spygate Bowl” never discovered in Super Bowl XXXVI.
I'll grant that St. Louis dropped from 14-2 in 2001 to 7-9 in '02, but the Cowboys were on their way to a third consecutive 5-11 campaign in what would be Campo's final season as head coach.
No, my birthday probably has nothing to do with anything, but it's just food for thought.
The Cowboys will sport their navy blue road jerseys at Qualcomm Stadium for the first time this season. Ignore the superstition surrounding Dallas' performance in these digs because it really has nothing to do with color at all.
The whole thing started when the Cowboys lost their first Super Bowl appearance in early 1971, a miserable 16-13 loss to the then-Baltimore Colts. I would think that this loss had more to do with the fact that this was the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf than the blue-jersey thing, but that's just me.
Regular-season losses in blue jerseys deal mainly with the fact that the Cowboys only wear this scheme for road games, and even that is rare since most football teams choose to wear their colors at home.
Having attended the last regular-season meeting between the Cowboys and Chargers at Qualcomm, I'll simply say that the weather is great, and so is the tremendous number of Dallas fans that will, undoubtedly, show up—the Cowboys won that game, 28-24, on a late interception by Aaron Glenn in the closing seconds.