FRISCO, Texas –This was always going to be a tough stretch for the Cowboys, with three games in 12 days. But it's even tougher when you're losing games – and in convincing fashion, at that.
Rather than having the traditional long weekend after Thanksgiving, the Cowboys are right back to work, with the Redskins coming to town in just six days. There's not a lot of time to dwell on another bad loss, but you do have to look at it and try to diagnose the problem spots.
I spent the night with the tape on Thursday night, and I came away with my usual notes – good, bad and ugly. So here are my main impressions from having re-watched this 28-6 loss to the Chargers.
- I don't know how you give up a 42-yard touchdown on an "out" route, especially with two safeties playing in the middle of the field and one down low. It was just a really poor job of playing with leverage by the defense. Big misses on Keenan Allen from the inside by Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods and Byron Jones coupled with a miss from Anthony Brown were all a part of the problem. What was unfortunate as well on the play, is that the officials missed a takedown of DeMarcus Lawrence by Russell Okung on a well-executed spin move that was no different than the call that Tyron Smith received earlier in the game.
- Give credit to Philip Rivers for beating Orlando Scandrick to the football when Spencer Pulley snapped it on the ground between Rivers' feet. The Cowboys had Scandrick on a blitz from the slot, but with the trips formation, he was inside on number two which made his run a little longer. It appeared that Scandrick was trying to scoop the ball away from Rivers before he made a full extension for the recovery. It might have been close if Scandrick had dove, as well, but he got caught in between thoughts trying to make the play.
- I didn't quite get the call of running the "jet sweep" with Ryan Switzer to the side of Melvin Ingram? To me it made more sense to run it at Joey Bosa, who generally plays with his hand on the ground. Ingram likes to play in a two-point stance. By not having his hand on the ground, he was in perfect position to see the play coming at him all the way. All Ingram had to do was trust his eyes to make the stop, and he put the Cowboys behind the chains early in the drive.
- I thought Jaylon Smith had several reactionary plays that we had not seen from him before. My favorite one was the cut back run by Austin Ekeler where Smith flowed to his left as Ekeler tried to cut the ball back the opposite direction. Smith exploded off his left foot and wrapped him up before he had a chance to get up the field. This was a play that, in earlier games, we had seen Smith have problems with -- especially coming off that left foot and filling in the hole.
- I'm not normally a fan of taking the ball away from the line of scrimmage on third or fourth down and short. But I have to hand it to Scott Linehan for the nifty design to get the ball to Terrance Williams on the reverse. The previous two games we've seen Cole Beasley in the backfield along with Rod Smith. We've seen Prescott keep the ball, Smith take a handoff and now the Williams reverse to secure a first down. By the way, Smith made a nice block to get Williams to the edge and around the corner. More creative ways to pick up first downs without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup.
- Offensively, the Chargers tried some unbalanced line in this game – but they really couldn't get any traction with it. Maliek Collins did a really nice job of holding up the strong side, which didn't allow blockers to get to Anthony Hitchens -- who punished Melvin Gordon for a small gain. After that initial try, the Chargers backed off from that adjustment after the defense was not compromised or fooled by the look.
- We're learning that it's never easy to play with your All-Pro players, so when Zack Martin went out of the game, there was some major concern. But give Joe Looney some credit for the way he filled in. Looney got some snaps early in the game as an extra blocker coming off the goal line and performed well. When Looney stepped in for Martin, he did exactly what he needed to do assignment-wise and was not a liability. The only real issue he had was on a twist stunt where he and La'el Collins didn't sort things out well and it resulted in Prescott scrambling to unload the ball.
- Ryan Switzer is getting close to bringing one of these kickoffs back all the way. Switzer needed one more block on Desmond King to have a chance, but King was able to fold down inside from his safety position to make the tackle. Just from the way the return was set up, it appeared that King belonged to Rod Smith, but he was used up when he had to take on Nick Dzubnar in the middle of the wedge. It would have been a serious foot race for Switzer if King had been secured.
- Right before the half, I wonder if going into the sun had an effect on Dak Prescott when he chose to check the ball down short to Jason Witten. Dez Bryant came open in the middle of the field on a deep "in" cut, which would have been a tight window throw. There is a chance that Prescott didn't see him going from sunlight to shadows and back to sunlight. It would have been a gutsy throw but one we've seen Prescott attempt before.
- I am not sure that Byron Jones could have covered Hunter Henry any better than he did on his touchdown reception. The only thing I could have seen different on the play for Jones, is that he could have received better help on the other side from Xavier Woods. Rivers did a nice job of moving Woods out of the middle of the field, so when he came back to Henry, there was just enough space for him to fit the ball inside. Woods could have just paid complete attention in helping Jones with the coverage considering how well the other defensive backs were locked up with their men.
- Really smart by Travis Frederick to snap the ball when Corey Liuget jumped offsides to give Prescott a free play. Terrance Williams did the right thing by running his route hard down the field, which put Trevor Williams in a poor position coverage-wise where he had to climb the back of Williams. Instead of just ending up with five free yards, Trevor Williams' mistake resulted in a 36-yard play which finally put the offense in scoring position.
- I am sure that Dak Prescott was sick when he went to the sideline and saw the video of Jason Witten standing all alone in the end zone. Prescott was loading up like he was going to fire the ball in his direction but for some reason came off it and decided to flip the ball out to Cole Beasley in the flat. Desmond King had Beasley well covered and when the ball didn't have much on it and was late, there was no question that it was going to be intercepted and likely returned for a touchdown -- which it was.