Last week the Dallas Cowboys did what all good teams do and destroyed a weaker opponent in their building. From the start, Dallas dominated the St. Louis Rams on their way to a 31-7 victory. For all the talk of the running game being questioned, DeMarco Murray put those thoughts to bed, at least for one week, and ran roughshod over the Rams defense for 175 yards and a touchdown. The defense once again held up well limiting St. Louis to just 232 total yards and sacking Sam Bradford six times. It was the type of overall team performance that makes you think the team can really be special. This week sends the Cowboys back on the road to face a much more explosive opponent in the San Diego Chargers.
At first glance, the Chargers may not seem all that impressive, given that they are 1-2 and have one of the worst defenses in the league right now. With that being said, each of their three games have been decided in the last thirty seconds of play. The San Diego offense, led by Philip Rivers, still has enough firepower even without some of the names of the past surrounding their star quarterback and can be very dangerous. Here is this week’s edition of the Four Quarters which will outline the major keys to the game that hopefully will lead to a Cowboys victory.
Pick your Poison
Whichever way the Cowboys choose to attack San Diego offensively, there should be positive results that come from it. The Chargers are last in the league defending the pass and in the bottom five in defending the run. With Miles Austin out and Dwayne Harris limited due to their respective injuries, the Cowboys passing attack should still be fine with the presence of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. As for the run game, the installation of recently signed Brian Waters into the line and the hot hand of Murray should pave the way for the Cowboys to be versatile in the way they want to punish a very questionable San Diego defense. Look for Dallas to lean towards establishing the run early if Austin and Harris are both unable to go as they will likely try to double Dez.
To Protect and Serve
In the only loss on the young season, two things occurred that did not happen in either win that Dallas has had so far. Tony Romo was sacked four times (he’s only been sacked six times all year) and the Cowboys lost the turnover battle. In order to avoid allowing the Chargers to hang around and use their home field to an advantage, Dallas must protect both its quarterback and the ball. If Romo is given the same kind of time he was afforded against New York and St. Louis, the Chargers defense will have no chance to keep up the Cowboys’ play makers. Their only chance to survive Sunday afternoon will come from the Cowboys being careless with the ball or failing to keep Romo upright.
Closing the Gates
For all of the changes that the San Diego offense has gone through in the last couple years, one thing stays the same, the reliability of Antonio Gates. Even though Gates is not as dynamic as he once was, he is still plenty effective. Gates is leading the Chargers in receiving yards and is second in receptions to RB Danny Woodhead. As good as Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can be shutting down the edges, this game will likely be determined by how Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and the Dallas safeties handle their duties against Gates in the middle of the field. If they can limit his touches, Rivers may either be forced into some bad decisions against the Cowboys secondary or to dump the ball short which may prohibit the Chargers from keeping up Dallas on the scoreboard.
Coming off a six sack performance and posting 13 already on the season, the Cowboys defensive line should have a field day with the San Diego line. All five Chargers starters are listed on the injury report. The left side of their offensive line will miss the game entirely while the center and right side are all listed as questionable. The key to stopping Philip Rivers is to build his frustration and what better way to do so than to get his jersey dirty early. If the Cowboys can take advantage of this and get to Rivers early and often, this opportunistic defense should be able to get at least one interception or fumble recovery and make a few big plays like they did versus the Giants.
The prediction: Cowboys 31, Chargers 20
Last week was the third straight week I put together a week at or above .500 for the year, going 9-7 against the spread. A couple of oddities occurred last week as two separate three-score favorites (Seattle and Denver) both covered the spread, while all four road favorites did the same. Previously, road favorites had been 3-6 on the year so for them to pitch a shut out was hard to see coming. Favorites in general are doing much better than last year. So far, the under dog is just 22-26 comparative to last year when they won 52% of the time. Will this week be the week that the under dogs get their revenge? As always the home team is in caps.
LAST WEEK: 9-7 (.563)
SEASON RECORD: 26-22 (.542)
WEEK FOUR: 1-0 (1.000)
+2.5 MINNESOTA over Pittsburgh
+3.5 BUFFALO over Baltimore
-4 Cincinnati over CLEVELAND
-8.5 Indianapolis over JACKSONVILLE
+3 HOUSTON over Seattle
+2.5 Arizona over TAMPA BAY
+3 Chicago over DETROIT
+4.5 N.Y. Giants over KANSAS CITY
-3.5 TENNESSEE over N.Y. Jets
-2.5 Dallas over SAN DIEGO
-3 Washington over OAKLAND
+10.5 Philadelphia over DENVER
-2 ATLANTA over New England
-6.5 NEW ORLEANS over Miami
This week’s “Fab Four” picks are the 49ers -3.5 over the Rams, Chicago +3, Dallas -2.5 and Washington -3.