The Nemesis: Jason Hatcher
How these Cowboys defensive tackles play against the Chargers, might have the biggest bearing in the outcome of the game. When you study Philip Rivers and what he likes to do in the pocket gives you clues how you need to attack him. Rivers is not going to be a threat to run with the ball, and he never has been. It's rare to see Rivers look at the rush, he is one of those quarterbacks, that keeps his eyes consistently down the field and deals with the rush by feel. Rivers likes to slide forward in the pocket and teams historically have had the most success against him by rushing him from the middle of the pocket.
This is where Jason Hatcher will have an opportunity to do the majority of his damage. I like the matchup inside with Hatcher on Chad Rinehart or Rich Ohrnberger if he is in the game for Rinehart. Jeromey Clary on the opposite side, on tape, looks better than either Rinehart or Ohrnberger. Where the Chargers might try and help these guards is with Nick Hardwick but then Kiffin can counter with inside pressure from Sean Lee or Bruce Carter by walking them up inside and holding Hardwick in place. In what we have seen from Hatcher this season, I expect a productive day from him.
The Weapon: Tony Romo
The sample size for Tony Romo for games against the Chargers is very small, like one career game small. Where the Chargers have struggled is in the secondary, where they are last in the league in pass defense. This group just does not have a dynamic playmaker that could go out there and just shut a guy down. Romo has been outstanding in two areas through three games and that is with his accuracy and committing turnovers.
The Chargers in this current state, do not have the personnel in the secondary to keep him from attacking them with his receivers and tight ends. I do not expect Chargers defensive coordinator, John Pagano to allow Romo to pick him apart one throw after another. The Chargers on tape play a great deal of zone coverage to try and protect their secondary. What I feel like they might do, is bring pressure with five or six in hope that they can get home before Romo can get the ball off. It's a risky move because one of the strengths of this Cowboys offensive line has been it's pass protection. If the protection does hold up, Romo can get in one of those zones where every throw is right on the money and that will make a very long day for the Chargers.
Under The Radar: Caesar Rayford
With Anthony Spencer officially lost for the season with the knee injury, the focus now turns to those that will have to step up to take his place. George Selvie has done an outstanding job but who in this defense can be that next guy? With the addition of Drake Nevis and David Carter inside at defensive tackle, it allows the coaches to move Caesar Rayford back to his more natural position at end.
We all saw what Selvie was able to do in his preseason opportunities, but there was not a more productive player rushing the passer than Rayford in his time with the Colts. Rayford was active his first game last week against the Rams and did a solid job of playing tackle. He was active and when working in stunts, he didn't get knocked around or pushed out of position. What I saw with the Colts, was a player that thrived off the edge. When he was able to attack the outside shoulder of the tackle, he was difficult to block. I liked him much better as a space player, than one that had to deal with the tight confinds of the being a tackle. As this season progresses, George Selvie is going to need a break or two and it will be up to Caesar Rayford to be there when that happens. In my view, he has the talent to handle the assignment.
San Diego Chargers:
The Nemesis: Philip Rivers
When I was working in the league as a Pro Scout, I always had a great appreciation for the type of player that Philip Rivers was. His toughness and competitive spirit was always a pleasure to study. When Rivers is on, he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the game but when he is off, the problems tend to compound. Through three games of this 2013 season, he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and this is no accident.
He is leading his team in every sense of the word. He has fully embraced this offense that Mike McCoy has installed in San Diego. You see more accurate throws and less of him trying to force the ball. You don't see the mistakes that have troubled him in the past. He is taking full of advantage of the weapons around him. Guys like Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Eddie Royal and Danny Woodhead are making plays for him. Where Rivers can hurt this Cowboys defense the most, is with those throws that he is not afraid to make, down the middle of the field. When he can slide forward in the pocket, he can snap off some big time throws. I fully expect Philip Rivers to make several throws in the area to see what he can get from this defense.
The Weapon: Antonio Gates
The same year that Jason Witten was drafted by the Cowboys, Antonio Gates was signed by the Chargers as a college free agent. When you talk about mismatch players and their impact on the game from the tight end position, Witten and Gates are most likely the first two players mentioned. Throughout Gates' career he has had to deal with more injuries than Witten but this season he looks healthy and that same successful player that we have seen over the years.
Gates is running routes well and it [embedded_ad] doesn't matter if it's in the open field or down in the red zone. He continues to find ways to get open and Philip Rivers is getting him the ball to make plays. What will be interesting about this matchup with the Cowboys is how will Monte Kiffin and this defensive staff choose to play him. Under previous defensive coordinators, we have seen Brandon Carr handle a tight end that was more like a receiver. Kiffin might just use Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox to handle the job both did a nice job last week against Jared Cook of the Rams. Gates is so athletic but his size, like Witten, gives defenders so many problems down the field. There are a couple of different ways that Kiffin could go here but whatever he decides that will be an all day job for that player.
Under The Radar: Corey Liuget
This Chargers defensive front has struggled to get consistent pressure other than from Dwight Freeney, but a player to keep an eye on is defensive end, Corey Liuget. When you study their front, the one area you do notice is that Liuget is off the ball in a hurry. Usually with two gap players, it is read then go but Liuget is not that way. He is quick to attack and try to make himself a disruptive player. He can be a difficult player to handle one-on-one because of quickness but power as well. Plays with an impressive first step. Has some quick twitch.
On tape, he plays with a high motor and gives a nice effort to get to the ball. He does a nice job of using his hands and you can see him shedding in order to get in on the play. He is very athletic and you see it in his game. He can work down the line and keep himself free. Will slide up and down the line to play different positions. Lines up as an end but you will also see him play as the tackle in the nickel rush. These Cowboys guards have to be ready for his quickness and power because if they are not, he can cause some problems in the middle of this defensive line.