IRVING, Texas -- Some thoughts from the film room on the San Diego Chargers:
- I have been impressed with Philip Rivers through these first three games. When he is playing poorly, it is usually because of turnovers. Rivers has done an outstanding job of protecting the ball and not putting his defense in bad situations. He’s not the type of quarterback that is going to run away from you and, when attacking him, Monte Kiffin will need his defensive tackles to provide the pressure. Rivers likes to slide forward in the pocket when delivering the ball. Pressure inside will disrupt what he wants to do getting the ball down the field.
- Antonio Gates is a similar player to what the Cowboys have in
Jason Witten-- without the ability to block. Gates is usually flexed or you will see him play as the “H.” He is a mismatch player that causes problems because he can get up the field with ease. He is a weapon underneath and when the Chargers get near the red zone, he is Rivers’ favorite target. His hands are soft and extremely reliable.
- D.J. Fluker missed the previous game against the Titans after suffering a concussion during practice. He should be ready to see action against the Cowboys on Sunday. In his game against the Eagles, there was only one play where he was completely off balance and out of position. He is a big-bodied man who is extremely light on his feet. He makes it tough on rushers to get around him to the edge, and, just because of his mass when he comes off the ball, he can get movement in the running game. He plays similar to former Cowboys offensive tackle Flozell Adams.
- The Chargers have two smooth route runners in Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal. Both have the talent to consistently get open, and, when the ball comes to them, they can finish the play. Floyd can either work the sideline or take his route inside for the deep “in.” Royal works out of the slot and he plays with more quickness than Floyd. When Royal gets the ball on the move, Kiffin’s group will need to quickly rally to the ball and get him on the ground. In this Mike McCoy offense, there are plenty of picks and rubs which the receivers use. Both Floyd and Royal do a nice job of working off them.
- Ryan Matthews is finally playing healthy which is a condition he is not always in. The Chargers like to run the ball out of the shotgun formation, handing the ball to Matthews and letting him try to get outside. If they run the ball inside, they will pull a guard and try to trap or lead on the play. Matthews does run with some power and he is not afraid of contact. He is also a nice receiver out of the backfield and can be difficult to bring down one-on-one in space.
- Danny Woodhead came over from New England in the offseason and you see Mike McCoy do things with him that the Patriots did as well. Woodhead has been a go-to guy for Rivers on third down. The Chargers like to line him up all over the formation and work to get him the ball. He is especially dangerous on screens where he acts like he is going to block in the backfield, then works to the outside in space. Has been used wide as a receiver as well. I have seen Rivers read the coverage on the outside, then move him into position with a check to get him the ball for a first down. The Cowboys have to be aware of where he is on the field.
- The Chargers play a 3-4 front and from what I have been able to study on tape, Corey Liuget is the best of the down linemen. Liuget is usually the first guy off the ball and he likes to attack the blocker which is usual for 3-4 ends that are more about read than react. Liuget will line up over the offensive tackle but you will also see him slide down inside and take plays as a nickel tackle rushing the passer. He can be a hard guy to handle once he gets that jump off the ball. He can be disruptive to a blocking scheme. The Cowboys’ inside three cannot allow him to get that push inside that he is capable of. I have seen him play hot-cold in the past, but in three games, he has looked like this new coaching staff has reached him. Playing at a nice level.
- There were not many takers for Dwight Freeney’s services when the Colts parted ways with him after the 2012 season. Throughout his career, Freeney has always been a 4-3, rush defensive end but in a position switch, the Chargers are playing him as a weak side outside linebacker. From early indications, Freeney has done a nice job with the switch in trying to learn how to drop and play in space in coverage. He is not the smoothest at doing it but he is trying to get better. Where Freeney is still at his best is when he is rushing the passer. He will line up on either side and you see the hard up field rush and the occasional spin move that has given offensive tackles fits for years. The motor and the effort are still there to cause problems.
- This Chargers’ secondary has struggled the first three weeks of the season with their pass defense. They are 32nd in the league in yards allowed and 30th in yards per completion. From what I have seen from this secondary, there is not one shut down-type of player in that group. Their best player in the back end is Eric Weddle, and there have been times where he has not been as consistent as he needs to be. There is a softness to the way the Chargers play in dealing with routes and they are not the best tackling group I have seen. What Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan might decide to do is run as much “11” personnel as they can and make Shareece Wright, Derek Cox and Richard Marshall cover their receivers all over the field.