IRVING, Texas – Here a few final thoughts before the Chargers game:
Old West Shootout
We have all heard the reports and seen the information about the state of the San Diego Chargers offensive line. Three starters not practicing for various injuries which seems to have sparked this thought that this Cowboys defense is going to manhandle them on Sunday.
As always, I have had a chance to study the Chargers for the last three games on offense and despite what everyone thinks or feels out there, as long as Philip Rivers is standing, this game has a chance for a shootout. The Chargers might not have Dez Bryant running routes for them but they do have some talented offensive players that should not be overlooked. Let's not forget what Eli Manning was able to do to this secondary three weeks ago. The Cowboys defensive front was able to get pressure in that Giants game as well against an offensive line that was struggling.
I expect the ball will be in the air the majority of the offensive snaps on both sides. Mike McCoy will find a way to protect Rivers in this game and it will be up to Monte Kiffin to find ways to break them down. Over the years, I have felt that Tony Romo and Philip Rivers were cut from the same cloth when it came to how they played the game. This matchup, will go back-and-forth between two quarterbacks that are playing at a very high level and whomever makes the first mistake, could cost his club the opportunity to win but expect a shootout.
All Hands on Deck
Look for the Cowboys to carry four running backs on their 46 man roster on Sunday. DeMarco Murry will start, Lance Dunbar will see some spot duty in special packages and on special teams, Phillip Tanner will be working on the special teams and for the first time this season, Joseph Randle will be active.
Randle saw his first extensive snaps with the offense, other than being on the scout team. It appears that, Dwayne Harris is healthy enough to return kickoffs in the game but Randle could help out there as well if Harris' hip because questionable during the game. By making the 46 this week, the coaches must feel comfortable in his ability to not only run and catch the ball but in his ability to successfully carry out his assignments in the blitz pick up area.
Hall of Fame Test
If Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have any advantage in this Chargers game, it is in practice and throughout training camp, every day, they get to work against a Hall of Fame tight end in Jason Witten. The assignment this week is trying to deal with a player in Antonio Gates that has a similar game to Witten. When you talk about tight ends in this league that line up all over the formation and run routes from all angles, there have not been two better in the league than Witten and Gates. Opponents have tried for years to find ways to cover these two.
Where Church and Wilcox have to be there best is when Gates uses his double moves. He will fake like he is going inside, get the defender to settle, then break to the outside quickly, to gain some separation. He is outstanding running crossing routes and Philip Rivers has a nice feel for how to get him the ball on the move. Church and Wilcox have to also be ready for how physical Gates will play in the red zone.
Again, like Witten, he knows how to use his body to position himself in a way to give Rivers the best opportunity to throw him the ball. I expect the ball for the Chargers to come out quickly because of the condition of their line. There is no doubt that Antonio Gates will make his share play but Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have to prevent him from making all of them. Working every day against Jason Witten should give them idea of how they need to play him.
Holding His Own
There were those around the country, that had a nice chuckle on behalf of Jerry Jones, when he spoke in glowing terms how excited he was that he was able to sign and undrafted offensive linemen out of Memphis named, Ronald Leary. What I remember most about Ronald Leary on tape, no matter what the score was, he was giving everything he had.
He played left tackle, but also made one or two starts at guard. The scouting staff for the Cowboys projected him as a guard, which was the correct evaluation. What held Leary back was not his skill level but his knee which caused plenty of teams to keep him off their board for medical reasons.
Leary's medical situation reminds me of a player we drafted in Philadelphia named Jermiah Trotter who was in a similar boat. I had a doctor tell me, "I don't know if he will play ten games or ten years". To show you how far Leary has come since his stint on the practice squad, running on the scout team to now, is incredible. As Brian Waters prepares to make his first start at right guard for the Cowboys, it's not Leary that will be put on the bench but veteran Mackenzy Bernadeau, who has played well in his own right. There are sometimes you take a chance with the information you have, then make the call. In this case, it appears early in his career that the Cowboys have made the right call with Leary and his play each week is showing that.