The Cowboys answered many of their criticisms in a Week 3 beatdown of the Rams. The next question will undoubtedly be “Can they maintain it?” Dallas has not been good at sustaining momentum in the recent past, as back-to-back 8-8 seasons can attest. If the Cowboys grab a win on the road against San Diego, it would be the first time they were two games above .500 in the first month of the season since 2008, when they started 3-0.
Winning on the road is rarely easy in the NFL, but several key stats work in the Cowboys’ favor. Firstly, the Chargers struggle to stop the running game. They’re giving up an average of 130 yards on the ground per game during their 1-2 start, which is something the Cowboys will be happy to hear given their emphasis on running the ball well. If that weren’t enough, San Diego can’t stop the pass either, with the most passing yards allowed in the league thus far at 1,022. The only Chargers defender with an interception this season is Cam Thomas – a defensive tackle.
Those two facts open up the possibility for a big day from the Dallas offense, provided the offensive line can perform. The last time the Cowboys went on the road, they surrendered three sacks and could not run the ball in what wound up being a close loss. Apart from the Chargers’ porous run defense, they’ve managed just six sacks this year – tied for 24th in the league.
San Diego might have had the most heartbreaking season so far among NFL clubs. If not for a stunning fourth quarter rally by Houston and an improbable last-minute drive by Jake Locker and the Titans, the Chargers could be sitting at 3-0 rather than 1-2.
The aforementioned Chargers defense is a large part of that. Locker blew up for 299 yards Sunday against San Diego, after he was held to 148 and 125 by the Texans and Steelers, respectively. The Chargers have allowed yardage totals of 449, 511 and 452 so far this year. San Diego’s lone win of the season came against Philadelphia, which is ranked 30th in total defense.
Luckily, the San Diego offense has recovered some of its old potency under first-year coach Mike McCoy. Phillip Rivers is once again playing at a high level – for the time being – after disastrous efforts in 2011 and 2012. Rivers combined to throw 53 touchdowns in the past two seasons, but he also threw an absurd 35 interceptions. This year he’s already thrown eight touchdowns while averaging 266 yards per game. More importantly, he’s taking care of the ball with just one interception and no fumbles so far.
The Cowboys were able to nullify Jared Cook in the win against the Rams, but that may prove tougher with Antonio Gates returning to his old form. Gates is roughly half way to his 2012 yardage total with 228 yards and a touchdown so far this season.
That passing attack, combined with a decent running game, should provide a solid test for a Cowboys defense that is riding high after dominating St. Louis. Dallas ranks 13th in the league in total defense, while the Chargers sit at 11th in total offense.