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Gamebreakers: Cowboys who shined vs. Chargers


(Editor's note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — What a back-alley brawl it turned out to be between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Chargers. The headline matchup between Dan Quinn's defense, one that desperately needed to bounce back after allowing 42 points to the San Francisco 49ers one week ago, and a Chargers' offense led by former Cowboys' offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

There was also the question of if Dak Prescott and his offense could finally put explosive plays on film. It wasn't the prettiest of outings, but the explosive plays did arrive in spurts, and it helped the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter lead that was only undermined by a punt return fiasco that gave the Chargers the field position they needed to tie the game.

In the end, the following Cowboys got the job done, thanks in large part to these stars shining:

CeeDee Lamb, WR: Talk about being a man on a mission. Lamb was visibly frustrated following the embarrassing loss to the 49ers and promised "I'm fine", and that he was ready to play against the Chargers. He kept his word, in a major way, targeted five times in the first half alone, delivering five catches for 84 yards in the process. He would not be denied in LA, and Lamb was the biggest driver for the offense being able to move the ball down the field.

Dak Prescott, QB: Credit to Prescott for making sure Lamb got involved early and often, and throughout the game, but just as important was the quarterback's willingness to use his legs against the Chargers. An 18-yard touchdown run, off of an option play, no less, got the Cowboys on the board in the first quarter. He'd then take off and run for an 11-yard gain on the Cowboys' third drive of the game to move the chains. It added an element of offense the Chargers weren't prepared for.

Tony Pollard, RB: And the longest play thus far in the 2023 season for the Cowboys goes to … Tony Pollard. With the Cowboys' offense desperately needing a spark in the early fourth quarter, Prescott found himself under duress on a broken play. He rolled to his right and bought just enough time for Pollard to find open grass in the middle of the field. The pass was delivered and caught, and Pollard rumbled forward, breaking tackles before bursting onward for a 60-yard gain and, eventually, a touchdown toss to Brandin Cooks.

Brandin Cooks, WR: Waiting for Cooks to have his time to shine? It happened in his home state, and while it wasn't against the 49ers last week, he'll take it against the Chargers in Los Angeles. The veteran wideout landed the second touchdown of the contest for the Cowboys when he streaked across the middle of the end zone to give Prescott a clean target — as the defensive back inhaled the exhaust fumes. One throw later, the Cowboys took a 16-10 lead that was stretched to seven points when Brandon Aubrey tacked on the extra point. Tack on a 14-yard rush and, yes, Cooks has arrived in this Cowboys' offense.

Stephon Gilmore, CB: So, how are those two major acquisitions working out for the Cowboys? Cooks was on fire in the second half and it was Gilmore who struck the death blow to the Chargers. Herbert had a chance to mount a game-winning drive but after being sacked by Micah Parsons, he felt the pressure on the very next throw and it was Gilmore scooping it like some ice cream for an interception that saved the day and ended the ballgame. It's his second of the season, and he's picked both of them right off of the tops of the turf blades.

Markquese Bell, S: The emphasis on a bounceback game in defending the run was mandatory for the Cowboys, but the loss of Leighton Vander Esch loomed large in that regard. Enter Bell, who has taken on the role of linebacker and made his presence felt on more than one occasion. If there's anyone Austin Ekeler will have some bad dreams about this week, it's Bell, who met him at the line of scrimmage on more than one occasion — including a serious hit in the flat to jar loose a pass.

DeMarcus Lawrence, DE: The former Pro Bowl pass rusher continues to show his chops against the run when he took the field at SoFi Stadium — chasing down Ekeler from behind on one play in particular that held him to just a three-yard gain. Bell's aforementioned gap-stop then occurred and ultimately the Chargers punted. Lawrence's stat line may not jump off of the page, but his play keeps jumping off of the film, and his two pass break ups at the line of scrimmage show how versatile he is.

DaRon Bland, CB: When the defense needed him most, Bland answered the call with a key pass break up in the end zone to negate a fourth-down conversion by Herbert, and it had a chance to be an interception, to boot. It's yet another week wherein Bland has proven he's one of the elite corners in the NFL, regardless of whose radar he continues to fly beneath. He was a ballhawk in the nickel and, after losing Trevon Diggs to a season-ending injury, is also one on the outside, and you can bet he reels in those two INTs next time.

Damone Clark, LB: Another player tasked with stepping up in the absence of LVE will be Clark, and he looked really good against the Chargers. Clark was key in helping to shut down Ekeler on the ground, and his coverage saw him playing sideline to sideline with every bit of the speed that made him an All-American for LSU. All he has to do is continue to build on what he's doing thus far in Year 2, and the Cowboys will see just how dangerous he can be at the professional level.

Osa Odighizuwa, DL: I continually feel as if people aren't truly recognizing what is happening with Odighizuwa. He continues to level up year over year but, even more impressive, is his ability to disrupt the opposing backfield from the interior of the defensive line. He helped make Justin Herbert very uncomfortable on Monday night, but also helped create a wall that Ekeler had the damndest time trying to penetrate after taking the handoff from Herbert, later taking him down in the fourth. He continues to eat hearty.

Brandon Aubrey, K: Quietly becoming a serious weapon for the Cowboys is Aubrey, whose streak of made field goals continues to stack as the weeks roll along, having long set the record over former Cowboys' legend Dan Bailey. He'd help Dallas get points on the board in the first half (just before halftime) and made each extra point attempt tasked to him; and his stellar rookie season remains nearly perfect and a major bright spot going forward.

Jayron Kearse, S: It was a strong outing by Kearse, who was clearly agitated all week after what happened in Santa Clara on Sunday. The veteran safety made it clear he believes the Cowboys' defense is still elite, and he made sure he did his part to prove that true against the Kellen Moore-led Chargers' offense. Kearse racked up tackle after tackle, and they were both timely and impactful to the state of the game.

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