It’s early in the 2013 NFL season, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten off to a good start so far and their matchup Sunday against the surprisingly competitive San Diego Chargers is going to be a solid road test to see where they stand.
Tony Romo has always carried the load for the Jason Garrett and the Dallas offense, but DeMarco Murray will get a significant amount of carries after a huge game (26 carries for 175 yards, 6.7 yards per carry and a touchdown) last weekend in their 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams. It was his first 100 yard game since the first game of the 2012 season and San Diego allows 130ypg, 28th in the NFL so the Chargers should expect to see Murray up close and personal early and often.
The Chargers secondary also allows 341 ypg through the air (last in the NFL) so Romo should be able to get some play action passes at the line and has reliable targets in Dez Bryant (17 catches, 14 of those for first downs, 67ypg, and 2 TD’s), Jason Witten (16 catches, 49.7ypg and 2 TD’s). Bryant needs to break off some longer receptions, he is averaging just 11.8ypc this season and the Cowboys could use some bigger plays out of him.
Murray has been a solid receiver out of the backfield(16 catches, 38.3ypg and 7 FD’s) for dump the ball off to when his WR’s are covered. Romo has been very efficient this season, completing 72.2% of his passes for 242.7ypg, 6.7ypa, 6 TD’s to just 1 INT and a 103.9 Passer Rating. Last week’s 17 completions in 24 passes were his fewest since 2011 so maybe the lightbulb went off in the coaching staff’s brain that they need to run the ball more. Something this writer has been saying they should for the last 2-3 years.
Dallas has a swarming defense that has totaled a 11 sacks (most in the NFC and tied for 7th in the NFL), led by Demarcus Ware’s team high 4. Jason Hatcher also has 3 and the Cowboys are allowing just 18.3 points per game, 8th in the League. The run defense is the strength of the unit, allowing just 66.3ypg, 2nd best in the League.
So, Philip Rivers is going to continue to have to carry San Diego and the Cowboys pass rush will most likely be blitzing to get as much pressure as they can on him. Rivers options at WR are pretty limited with deep threat Malcolm Floyd (6 catches, 149 yards, 24.8ypc) out with a neck injury. Eddie Royal (12 receptions, 148 yards, 12.3ypc and a team leading 5 TD’s) has re-emerged as a solid #2 WR, but he is no deep threat at all.
Tight end Antonio Gates (15 catches, 13 for FD’s, 228 yards, 15.2ypc, 76 ypg and a TD) will be Rivers’ safety valve and he has shown he can still make a big play after his ypc had declined the last couple seasons (12.2 in 2011 and 11ypc in 2012).
It would help Rivers immensely if Ryan Mathews could develop into the running back the Chargers thought they were getting when they selected him 12th overall in the 2010 draft. If he doesn’t run the ball effectively, it’ll be up to Rivers to carry the offensive burden on his shoulders.
San Diego’s defense needs to step up, particularly the amount of points they allow (27ppg is 24th in the League). If this game were to turn into a shootout, Dallas will win, but I doubt it does.
Prediction: Cowboys win, 21-17.
-With a win Dallas will have their best start to the season since 2008.
-Cowboys WR Miles Austin will not play due to a hamstring injury and backup WR Dwayne Harris (hip injury) is questionable, CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), LB Ernie Sims (groin) and Ware (neck) are all probable to play.
-The Chargers are a MASH unit with the amount of injuries they have sustained. ILB Manti Te’o (foot injury) is probable to make his SD debut as are ILB Donald Butler (groin) and C Nick Hardwick (shin). CB Shareece Wright (hamstring) and tackle King Dunlap (concussion) are questionable. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary (clavicle) is doubtful.
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