Cowboys vs. Chargers: Takeaways from Dallas' 30-21 Loss to San Diego
It's a bad day at the office when Danny Woodhead is one of the main reasons your football team lost on Sunday. Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has to have a sour taste in his mouth after his team lost to San Diego, 31-20, in Week 4.
Dallas is now 2-2 heading into its toughest bout of the season against the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys had an 11-point lead that they effectively blew against San Diego, a team known so far this year for their own collapses.
Let's take a look at some of the high and low points from Dallas' visit to Qualcomm Stadium in Week 4.
All stats were obtained from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Defense Struggled to Handle Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead started his Sunday morning with zero touchdowns as a member of the Chargers. He ended the day with two trips to the end zone and more than 100 yards combined on the ground and through the air. Woodhead only touched the ball 10 times over the course of the game.
Even when the Cowboys had their defense playing well, Woodhead was still finding a way to gash his opponent. On his first touchdown, Woodhead torched Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. San Diego's running back had at least two yards on Carter when he caught the touchdown pass.
ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon was surprised by Carter's inefficiency, tweeting:
Danny Woodhead made Bruce Carter look bad. How does a dude that fast get torched that bad?— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) September 29, 2013
It wasn't like the Chargers dominated by pounding the rock with Woodhead all day, but he did enough to impact the contest. Dallas had no answer for him all game long.
Dez Bryant Impresses Yet Confuses
In Arrowhead Stadium a few weeks back, Dallas' No. 1 wide receiver recorded nine catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. Against San Diego, Bryant tallied two trips to the end zone with 81 receiving yards. Both are solid outings statistically, but in both he made crucial third-down drops.
In two of the past three weeks, quarterback Tony Romo looked to Bryant to come up in a clutch situation. Both times, Bryant has failed No. 9 and his team in the process. The Cowboys need Bryant to live up to the number he wears on his jersey, and he hasn't in crucial moments twice this season.
It's great to see No. 88 throwing up the X in the end zone a few times a game, but he hasn't shown Romo he's a reliable target when the game is on the line this season.
Tony Romo Did All He Could
Tony Romo was sacked three times and hurried on more than a few occasions in his team's latest loss. Despite having little time in the pocket on most of his 37 passing attempts, Romo completed 27 of them for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
It seems like every time the Cowboys lose, there is a group of fans that want to blame No. 9 and just as many saying it wasn't his fault. In this contest against San Diego, it wasn't his fault.
Receivers like Terrance Williams, Dez Bryant and even Jason Witten dropped or fumbled crucial passes. Like the rest of the offense, it took Romo a while to get into gear early in the game. Unlike the rest of the offense, he made up for the late start later on.
The Cowboys' offense is most efficient when Romo doesn't feel he has the weight of the entire game on his back, and that's exactly what he had in Week 4. A quarterback can do a lot to help his team get a W, but he can't do everything.
Philip Rivers Looked Like Peyton Manning Against Dallas D
Early in the game, it didn't look like Philip Rivers would be setting any personal or NFL milestones. By the end of the game against Dallas, he had thrown for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns. Rivers' third TD throw was the 200th of his career.
The Chargers' No. 17 also broke an NFL record on his way to the team's second victory of the season, as tweeted out by ESPN Stats & Information:
Philip Rivers set NFL record for highest completion pct in 400-yd game, 83.3%. Previous: Jeff Garcia, 81.8%, 2000 (via @eliassports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 30, 2013
Rivers' performance is concerning for Dallas on multiple levels. Through the Cowboys' first three games, defense looked like their strong suit. Rivers torched Monte Kiffin's defense in the second half and simply made DeMarcus Ware and company look silly.
With Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos coming to AT&T Stadium in Week 5, Kiffin will need to whip his defense back into shape quickly. Manning already has 16 touchdown passes this season and will be looking to add to that total in Big D.
Morris Claiborne Had a Rough Day at Work
Morris Claiborne would be wise to stay away from Twitter and television this week. Philip Rivers' success against the Dallas D is on the whole unit but especially the second-year cornerback.
Rivers picked on Claiborne through much of the San Diego comeback, and it was hard not to notice. Each and every time the Chargers QB dared the former first-round pick to make a stop, Claiborne couldn't.
Monte Kiffin is going to give Claiborne the biggest earful out of any members of his defense this week, and that needs to happen. If No. 24 comes out flat and slow against the Broncos, Manning is going to do exactly what Rivers did this week, if not worse.
Dallas Fails to Take Command of NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants both suffered losses again in Week 4. Washington was the only NFC East team to take home a W and is still just 1-3. Even with the loss against the Chargers, the Cowboys control their division but not in a commanding fashion.
Heading into a showdown with Denver at 3-1 would have been a picture-perfect scenario for Jason Garrett's squad considering the rest of the division's struggles. Now the Redskins are right behind the Cowboys for the top spot and could be tied after Week 5.
Dallas has been trying to break its rut of winning a game then following up the victory with a loss. So far this season, the team has been unable to do anything to change that rut on the field. In a game where a few opportunities were squandered, not separating from the NFC East pack was easily the biggest loss.
Mistakes Kill Once Again
Like in their first loss of the season, the Cowboys could have easily won in San Diego. If not for costly drops by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, perhaps Dallas would have pulled out the victory. If not for the Terrance Williams fumble, maybe the 'Boys would've had time to rally back late in the fourth quarter.
If maybe a handful of plays turned out differently, the Cowboys could be undefeated and well on their way to an NFC East title. Instead, this team is at .500 at the season's quarter mark.
Dallas has proven so far this year that it's a good team, not a great team. Great teams make the crucial catches and don't turn the ball over at the worst possible time.
Executing during the potential turning points of a contest isn't something Jason Garrett can work on during practice, it's something the players have to do on their own.
Dallas Hasn't Seen the Best the AFC West Has to Offer Yet
The Cowboys have had a rough go against the AFC West so far, losing to the Chiefs and now the Chargers. Things are not about to get any easier for the team with Denver coming to Jerry World in Week 5.
Peyton Manning has been the best quarterback in the NFL up to this point in the 2013 season. He now gets to tee off on a defense that Philip Rivers exposed in the second half of his game against the 'Boys.
Monte Kiffin's defense has been impressive in three of Dallas' four games, but Manning is in a whole different class than Rivers. He now has a whole week to dissect what worked for the Chargers' QB at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Broncos also have Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno to work into their offense. Manning and company have had some help from the Denver defense as well, who ranked No. 1 in rushing defense heading into Week 4.
The Cowboys need to get over their AFC West woes, and fast, because the Broncos aren't going to come out anything but firing next week.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.