FRISCO, Texas – Let's focus on some of the key players that will be involved in Sunday's game on both sides of the ball.
Since the Super Bowl is always the goal for every team, we decided to rank the Top 10 X-factors for the Cowboys and Chargers, using roman numerals, since 10 = X.
Here we go, these 10 guys will likely be big difference-makers one way or another.
X – Justin Herbert – We all know Kellen Moore is going to bring his best for this game as the Chargers' offensive coordinator. In doing so, that means Herbert will probably take some shots down the field. Through four games, he ranks third in the NFL in passer rating at 106.3, mainly because he's thrown just one interception.
IX – Austin Ekeler – The Chargers are hopeful to get their versatile running back on the field again after missing three straight games from a Week 1 injury. When he's in the lineup, Ekeler changes what the Chargers can do because he runs between the tackles, can catch screens and swing passes out of the backfield and occasionally lines out wide. Matching up with the Chargers' weapons is going to be tough, and having Ekeler in the mix only makes it tougher.
VIII – Khalil Mack – On one hand, Mack has only had one game this year with a sack and held without one for three. On the other, he did get SIX sacks in that game against the Raiders, becoming just the sixth player in NFL history to have six in a game. What makes it worse for the Cowboys, Mack should be getting pass-rushing bookend Joey Bosa on the other side returning from injury.
VII – Rashawn Slater – The Cowboys nearly passed on Micah Parsons to draft Slater, who has also been as-advertised for the Chargers. Slater is tough to beat for any pass-rusher. Most of Parsons' success back in 2021 against the Chargers that day was on the opposite side. But either way, the Chargers like to throw the ball down the field and to do that against the Cowboys, they have to make sure the edges are protected.
VI – Asante Samuel Jr. – The Chargers are the worst in the NFL right now in pass defense, allowing nearly 300 yards per game through the air. Definitely, that's been a topic for the Chargers as they entered the bye week. Samuel is the only Chargers cornerback on the roster with an interception this year and they have just three as a team. He'll be tested, along with Michael Davis and Ja'Sir Taylor as the Cowboys look to get their passing game on track again.
V - CeeDee Lamb - The Chargers are giving up nearly 300 passing yards per game to opponents, the most in the NFL, which gives the Dallas passing game an opportunity to fully blossom for the first time this season. CeeDee Lamb was noticeably frustrated about not having chances to create big plays against San Francisco, but those opportunities will be prevalent on Monday night. If Dallas takes advantage of Los Angeles' poor secondary, it will depend on Lamb having a big day.
IV - Terence Steele - Keeping a firm hold on the Chargers' pass rush will be the Dallas offense's biggest challenge on Monday night, and Terence Steele will see both Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage during the game. Steele has a strong history of keeping Bosa in check, but can he keep it consistent when the Chargers mix up defensive looks?
III - Micah Parsons – It's one thing to be beaten, but it's another thing to be demoralized and humiliated both during the contest and thereafter, considering Parsons didn't like George Kittle's t-shirt message following the game. And considering the Cowboys' defense can't take it out on the 49ers in Week 6, that leaves the Chargers, a team led by a familiar face in Kellen Moore. I get the feeling Parsons is going to be a man possessed in LA, but it'll have to carry a different look in the absence of LVE, because Parsons will now have to play a mix of LB/DE as he did when he was a rookie. However he impacts the game, the fact is he'll have to help slow down Justin Herbert and Co., or else.
II - Damone Clark — No LVE means more reps for Clark, who just narrowly edges out LVE for most tackles on the team through the first five weeks. Clark has flashed this season, particularly in the demolition of the Patriots, but has mostly flown under the radar on a defense with so many headliners, but with one down for the next several weeks, the second-year linebacker will be tasked with doing more and making a big impact, especially in run defense. Having already played in 58 percent of the defensive reps this season, you can bet that number is about to go quite a bit higher in LA and going forward. And if Austin Ekeler returns to battle the Cowboys, the better Clark plays, the easier things will be for the pass rush and secondary.
I - Dak Prescott — The two-time Pro Bowler has now heard all week about how things went for him and the offense in San Francisco, and for weeks about the lack of explosiveness in the unit as a whole as McCarthy works to get things firing on all cylinders. Prescott had three INTs as he tried to throw the Cowboys back into the game on Sunday, and it's starting to feel as if this version of Prescott is a bit muted when compared to the numbers he put up with similar personnel in the Amari Cooper days. The ability for Prescott to take over a game is living inside of him, and maybe this is the week the cage door flies open and the world gets reminded that he's one of the best QBs in the league; because if the defense struggles again, it'll be on him to save the day as he used to do in the pre-Dan Quinn era (when he carried the team).