The Dallas Cowboys travel to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers for the first time since 2005, when Drew Bledsoe served as the team’s starting quarterback. The Cowboys hold a 6-3 edge in the series, but haven’t defeated the Chargers in San Diego since the 2005 season opener.
Todd Archer: Like everything in the NFL, it's week to week. When Murray sees the Rams, he's very good. He has 253 and 175 yards against St. Louis in two games. He's kind of pedestrian against everybody else. The biggest difference last week was the commitment to the run. The Cowboys started the game well running the ball and stood by it. Will they stand by it when it doesn't start out as well? When Murray rushes for more than 100 yards in a game the Cowboys are 10-0. Clearly that helps Romo, who had to throw it only 24 times versus St. Louis and had three touchdown passes. What the Cowboys do best is throw the ball with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, but if the running game can do anything, then they become much more dangerous.
Are we seeing a rejuvenated Philip Rivers after he became a turnover machine the past few seasons?
Eric D. Williams: It certainly appears that way. Head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s installation of an up-tempo offense emphasizing getting the ball out quickly has helped keep Rivers upright. San Diego’s offensive line also has done a nice job of protecting Rivers. He has been sacked only five times through three games. Rivers was sacked 49 times last season, second only to Aaron Rodgers (51). Through three games, Rives has completed 70 of 100 passes (70 percent) for 798 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. His QBR of 116.2 is second only to Peyton Manning (134.7), and Rivers has spread the wealth, completing passes to 10 different receivers. Right now, Rivers is part of the solution in San Diego, and not the problem.
The Cowboys are holding teams to just more than 66 rushing yards a contest, and giving up only 18.3 points a game. How has new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin helped stabilize that side of the ball?
Archer: What Kiffin has done best is keep things simple. Under Rob Ryan, the Cowboys tried a lot of looks and wanted to disguise things. Oftentimes they were just confused and it showed. The 4-3 scheme isn't about tricking people. It's pretty straight forward. The guy who deserves a lot of credit is defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. He has DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing well, and guys like George Selvie and Nick Hayden believing they are great players.
Speaking of coaching, how are things different for the Chargers with Mike McCoy after so many years under Norv Turner?
Williams: Accountability and attention to detail are key buzz words at Chargers Park. Under the direction of new general manager Tom Telesco and McCoy, the Chargers are in the process of revamping the roster, with 21 new players on this year’s team. Veteran holdovers such as Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and safety Eric Weddle help provide some consistency, giving San Diego a chance to win each week. But in order to build a roster that can be a championship contender long-term, Telesco and McCoy understand that a talent upgrade is needed on both sides of the ball.
At 2-1, the Cowboys sit atop the NFC East. Is this the year the Cowboys finally put it all together and make a deep playoff run?
Archer: I've been covering this team since 2003, and the one thing I've learned is just when you think they have it figured out they falter. So I can't say they have it all figured out. To me that's why this game is pivotal. The early part of the schedule is the easiest, so coming out with a 3-1 mark at the quarter mark is important. I will say this, though: The NFC East looks brutal, so the Cowboys should be in the race the whole year even if they don't win games early. But we know how this team has done in December over the years. If the Cowboys can, they want to have the business taken care of before they get to Week 17.
From the outside, the pass defense looks brutal in San Diego. What's the deal?
Williams: Youth and inexperience are the key culprits here. Besides Weddle and cornerback Derex Cox, the Chargers are young in the back end defensively. On the Titans’ go-ahead score last week, recent addition Crezdon Butler was forced into action because Shareece Wright and Johnny Patrick were out with hamstring injuries. Butler gave up a 34-yard touchdown to Justin Hunter at the end of the game. The San Diego secondary has zero interceptions on the year. But the defensive backfield also needs to get more help from the front seven. The Chargers have just six sacks in three games.