As a scout I always looked forward to pre season games against opponents that I thought would test our players and our scheme. I never wanted to go into a season feeling totally comfortable about our squad but more importantly I wanted to be confident that we could handle whatever offensive or defensive scheme we would face during the year. There are some teams in this league that are so talent poor from top to bottom that you really can't get a gauge of where your team is at physically and then you get a false since of really how good your team really is. Where front offices get in trouble the most is their inability to correctly evaluate their own squad but when you play a team like San Diego, it paints a real clear picture of where your team really is at.
The biggest challenge when you face the Chargers is that on offense, they are a physical team running the ball but they are explosive down the field throwing it as well. In the game last week against the Packers both Philip Rivers and Jarret Lee were able to take some shots down the field testing the Packers secondary. The Chargers have some size on the outside which will be good for Morris Claiborne to have to deal with. This will be Claiborne's first game with having to deal with routes other than what he has seen in practice but the good thing for him these are routes that he has seen before covering his teammates. The Garrett offensive system in part has several of the same scheme ideas as what Norv Turner runs in San Diego. In studying San Diego the last couple of days, you can see that. They like to run the In route, slant, and comebacks, all routes that he has seen before.
The most important thing for Claiborne is to get off to a good start against the Chargers by just playing his technique and trying not to do no more. It will be different for him in that in college you get away with more contact down the field, in the NFL, these referee's protect the receivers. Claiborne has been up and down in the opportunities that he has had when he has been able to practice but if he can have some success battling these Chargers receivers, his confidence level will surly rise.
The Chargers play a 3-4 defensive front so it's something that the offensive line works on every day protection wise but where we need to see something more from this line, is the ability to run the football. Jason Garrett and offensive line coach Bill Callahan could not have been pleased with the way the first line functioned in the running game against the Raiders last Monday night. There have been times in camp where the line has created holes for Murray to operate and this is just not against the down the line players in camp. The Chargers defensive front seven is a physical one.
There is size along the inside three with Vaughn Martin, Anotnio Garay and Corey Liuget but outside linebacker Shaun Phillips and Jaret Johnson do an outstanding job of setting the edge. Donald Butler is a tackling machine at Will linebacker and if you leave him unblocked, there will be a lot of runs for no gain. Where the Cowboys had their most trouble was at the point of attack where there wasn't good push nor was the combination blocks able to secure the down linemen giving the backs no opportunity to find space. Again, it's not that the line hasn't been working on their blocking scheme and technique during practice because I go down to their end of the field and watch them every day. Jason Garrett always talks about striving for balance with his offense, so if that is the case, the run blocking on this squad has to improve dramatically or Tony Romo is going to set a record for pass attempts in a season. I will be very interested to see if the line does get better push and the backs are able to make positive carries. This won't be an easy front to make that happen but if it does, then it would be something to surly build one.
With DeMarcus Ware out of the lineup Saturday night, the pass rush duties will fall on Victor Butler, Alex Albright, Adrian Hamilton and Baraka Atkins. The positive thing about this situation for the Cowboys is that all four of those linebackers played well against the Raiders. Rob Ryan is going to have to be creative in how he uses these linebackers scheme wise to get to Rivers and these Chargers' quarterbacks. The last thing you want is Philip Rivers with time to throw the ball to these receivers and Antonio Gates. The Chargers have been banged up a little at left tackle where rookie Michael Harris made the start last week against the Packers for Jared Gaither. Harris wasn't bad but look for some pressure from that right side.
Hamilton tweaked his knee this week, but was able to practice on Thursday so he should be ready to go. I think he is the one to put off that side just because he has a true feel for how to rush the passer but he is also more explosive than Albright and he can cause some problems for Harris. With the exception of Butler, who started last week, these linebackers will now get reps against 1s and 2s and if there are able to show some production like we did in Oakland, then you start to build depth on your defensive front seven.