We’ll look at one matchup from both sides of the ball:
Dallas Cowboys OGs Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier vs. San Diego Chargers ILB Kevin Burnett: If the Cowboys thought Burnett was a solid run-stopper, they would have re-signed him and made him a starter.
The Cowboys can’t just get in a shootout with San Diego’s explosive offense. Dallas’ chances to win increase the more they control time of possession. That means they need to be able to run the ball against San Diego’s defense, which allows 4.4 yards per carry.
Dallas ought to be able to establish the run right up the middle. Force Burnett, whose best asset is his coverage ability, to play smash-mouth football.
The Chargers don’t have NT Jamal Williams plugging the middle. With Williams on injured reserve, Kosier and Davis ought to be able to get off combination blocks quickly. That means Burnett should have to beat a block of a much bigger man to make tackles. That’s a matchup that favors the Cowboys.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Cowboys LB Bobby Carpenter and SS Gerald Sensabaugh: The Cowboys have done a much better job covering tight ends this season than the recent past. That will be tested today by the league’s most dynamic tight end.
Gates produces like a wide receiver. He has 67 catches for 994 yards (14.8 per reception) and four touchdowns. He has 16 receptions of at least 20 yards, which is tied for the league lead with a group of receivers that includes Miles Austin.
The Cowboys have had success with Carpenter jamming tight ends at the line of scrimmage. That worked especially well against Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez. But it’s tough to do with Gates, who often lines up like a wideout.
Sensabaugh is good in man coverage, but it’s probably asking too much to leave him alone against Gates, a 6-4, 260-pound former college basketball star who excels at going up and fighting for the ball.