SAN DIEGO– The staff writers of DallasCowboys.com shared their initial feelings of the Cowboys' 30-21 loss here at Qualcomm Stadium.
My gut feeling from a game like that is confusion. What happened? The Cowboys ran the ball well, but the offense couldn't find any sort of rhythm. The defense played well enough to win in the first half, and then the wheels came off after the break. It seemed like Phillip Rivers and the Chargers knew exactly how they wanted to attack the Cowboys, while the Cowboys were still trying to figure it out late into the game. When Antonio Gates scored to give San Diego a 30-21 lead, Dallas had run just 15 second half plays.
Going into this matchup, I did not feel like Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano would allow Tony Romo much time in the pocket. I was expecting more blitzing to try and protect his secondary that was playing short handed today. If that was going to be the case then there were going to be some one-on-one chances with the Cowboys tight ends in the middle of the field. When Romo, took those shots at Witten, Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist were right there for the coverage. Where these Chargers safeties had their troubles in their previous three games, there were none today. Weddle and Gilchrist played Witten as tight and as well as any safety combination that I had seen in not allow him to make those big plays.
It turns out it's harder to get out of that .500 play than I had imagined. It had the makings of a shootout going in, but the Chargers' offensive simply was better. I thought this would be a week Dez Bryant would get going, and it certainly was. Bryant made a ridiculous snag over the cornerback on his 5-yard fade touchdown and just ran away from everyone on his next touchdown reception after an in route in the middle of the field. The safety coverage on Jason Witten seemed to take him out of his element more than I thought it would. After driving with ease early in the game, the Chargers' defense buckled down in a way I didn't think they would. They also exploited the holes in the Cowboys' zone coverage, content to move the ball down the field by dinking and dunking. That worked out well for them, putting the Cowboys in a tough spot with Denver coming to town next week. [embedded_ad]
I wasn't surprised with how things started or how the Cowboys kicked it in high gear in the second quarter. But after Sean Lee's score, who could've thought the Chargers would rack up over 300 yards and the Cowboys wouldn't score again? I know I didn't and how could you? The offensive line of the Chargers was banged up and flowered but they patched it together enough when it counted. I think there are lots of reasons the Cowboys lost this game, but to me it starts on defense. They did score once but didn't get off the field enough to give the offense a chance.
Here we're the gut feelings for staff writers Nick Eatman, Bryan Broaddus, David Helman and Rowan Kavner, posted Saturday afternoon.
Take one look at the Chargers' injury report, and you feel like the Cowboys should win this game comfortably. San Diego won't have receiver Malcolm Floyd, and starting guards Jeromey Clary and Chad Rhinehart are listed as doubtful. Rookie tackle D.J. Fluker is probable, but he's attempting to bounce back from a concussion. The Cowboys won't have Miles Austin, but the rest of their key players are ready to go. All of that said, Phillip Rivers is playing incredibly well these days. I think he'll carry the Chargers long enough to give the Cowboys a scare, but Dallas wins a close one in the end.
A lot's been made of the Chargers sitting in last in passing defense, and rightfully so. The Cowboys have managed to get a different offensive player as the focal point every week, with Jason Witten getting two touchdowns in the opener, Dez Bryant going off a week later and DeMarco Murray the next. I expect it to be Bryant this week. There's not a corner on the Chargers that can match him single-handedly, and the minute they bring the safety over to help the short game with Witten will get going. Phillip Rivers has been fantastic this season, particularly with ball control, but I think that changes this week with the Cowboys' pressure. It will be a bit of a shootout, and one the Cowboys need to and will take as they ditch the .500 funk.
The Cowboys could dominate this game in similar fashion as last week – but they won't. Yes, San Diego is beat up on the line and you look at their offensive weapons around Philip Rivers and no one really scares you. You can look at their 31st ranked defense and think the Cowboys will exploit that all day. But something tells me it won't be that easy – or easy at all. I see the Chargers grabbing an early 10-point lead in the first half, probably some long touchdown by someone we've barely heard of. But I do think the Cowboys will rise up and rally. It'll be a close finish but Romo and the guys pull through in the clutch.
As much as I want to believe that these Cowboys receivers are due for a big day against this Chargers secondary, I feel it the tight ends that will cause the majority of the damage. I have said this all week, that John Pagano is not going to allow Tony Romo sit in the pocket and put his secondary under attack. They have struggled for the first three games of the season giving up yards and Pagano knows he has to bring pressure in order to help his coverage. This is where Jason Witten, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar step up to handle the one-on-one match ups that keep the chains moving when the Chargers bring the blitz. When the final whistle sounds, it will be the Cowboys tight ends that will be talked about in their victory on the road.