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Cowboys-Chargers Preview

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Cowboys-Chargers Preview

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Call it an inadvertent bulletin board comment, a Pacific Ocean-sized dose of confidence, or the marinade for a potential “crow” feast.  When speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier in the week, Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget flat-out called-out Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

“We know that once he’s rattled and what not, it’s easy to take him out of the game,” said the defensive end who, by the way, has a total of five combined tackles this season.

It may not be the time or person one would expect to make such a bold claim, but the statements by Liuget reveal what the Chargers’ top defensive priority will be heading into Sunday’s game in San Diego: 1) hit the quarterback, 2) hit the quarterback, and 3) hit the quarterback.

We know what Romo is capable of when he is protected well (exhibit A: a passer rating of 137.2 with three touchdown passes last Sunday against St. Louis, when he was sacked only once).  But, Liuget – who, by the way, by running his mouth is probably not doing himself any favors with a new regime in San Diego – is not completely wrong in those aggressive comments.

According to Pro Football Focus, in 2012, Tony Romo did complete 63.9% of his passes when facing pressure from a blitzing defense. That percentage ranked sixth in the NFL, and higher than Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, among others.

But the number that stands out for Romo against the blitz is this: he threw eight interceptions, compared to just seven touchdowns when facing a heavy pass rush.  Each of the other quarterbacks ranked in the top-10 in the category had more touchdown passes than interceptions. 

And for most of them, it wasn’t close. For example, Tom Brady had 18 touchdown passes when facing heavy blitz pressure. Guess how many INTs for Brady in those tough situations?
Zero. Zilch. Nada. You get the point.

The Chargers “3-4” defense is less-talented, but schematically comparable to the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense that gave the Cowboys trouble in week two, and pressured Romo all afternoon.  In that game, the Chiefs’ defensive line sacked Romo -- and his sore ribs -- four times.  His passer rating was 38-points less in that game than last Sunday’s against the Rams.

The Chargers hope it’s the scheme and not the personnel playing the scheme that gave the Cowboys trouble in that game, or else Mr. Liuget will be eating “crow tacos” in San Diego after the game.

Keys to the Game

1. Was the St. Louis game the new and improved Cowboys running attack?   DeMarco Murray was fantastic against the Rams. Then again, it seems everyone is looking great running the ball against St. Louis. So, was the 175 yards for Murray last weekend just a façade? Or, will the Cowboys be able to run it well again against a Chargers run defense that ranks 28th in the NFL?  The answer to that question could determine your winner Sunday.

2. Can Dallas fill the void of Miles Austin? When Miles Austin went down with his 75th hamstring injury of his career, most of the Dallas media focused on Austin’s injury history. What I wanted to know: how will they replace him? With the attention being paid to Dez Bryant by opposing defenses, the Cowboys’ other wide receivers will be given opportunities to make big plays. Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams will be given the chance to fill the void, and could be asked to make a play in a big moment.

3. Is it really possible the Chargers could blow another game?  The Chargers have had a lead in the fourth quarter in each of their first three games of the 2013 season.  They’ve blown that lead all three times, and only once managed to come back and actually get a win (week 2 vs. Philadelphia).  In fact, San Diego has been outscored by opponents in the second half of games 54-34 this season.  The Cowboys have beaten their opponents in the second half 43-38.  With a game predicted to come down to the wire, the Chargers’ inability to finish could be huge.

Game knowledge that will impress your friends

The Cowboys have not lost to the Chargers in San Diego in thirty years (November 1983)… According to ESPN NFL research, NFL teams that start 3-1 have a 65% chance of making the playoffs… Teams that start 2-2 see that number drop to 36%... Tony Romo’s 137.2 quarterback rating last week was the highest among starting quarterbacks in week 3 in the NFL… Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will be making his 116th consecutive start on Sunday, the second-longest streak among active QBs (Eli Manning will be at 131 this weekend)… The Chargers have forced just one turnover all season… The Cowboys 13 sacks in 2013 ranks second in the NFL, behind only the Chiefs…

Prediction

This feels like a trap game for the Cowboys to me.  Since 2000, Dallas is just 4-6 on the road against teams in the Pacific time zone (not counting Arizona, whose reluctance to accept daylight savings time made its inclusion in this stat essentially impossible).  When you combine the long trip out west for Dallas, and that the Chargers are a combined 15 seconds of game time from being undefeated this season (Houston kicked a game-winning FG as time expired; Tennessee completed its winning touchdown pass with :15 left on the clock), it could make for an upset.  I’ll take the Chargers 24-23 over the Cowboys.

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