Game Preview: San Diego Chargers at Dallas Cowboys

The Chargers playoff scenarios are still in play for this week!  I didn't even bother to watch the Thursday night game because I thought rooting for the Browns would be hopeless.  Boy, was that a mistake on my part.  I'm really all for any situation where the Chargers don't have to play Pittsburgh in the post-season, where they're practically unbeatable.

Anyways, onto this week's game.  This starts a rough stretch of games for the Chargers where they're facing two division leaders (Cowboys, Bengals) and two losing teams that are playing really good football lately (Titans, Redskins).  This game is also the second-half of the Chargers' only back-to-back road games all season.

The Cowboys are a team that many of us have compared the Bolts to in the past.  They have a reserved coach that's constantly on the hot seat, a high octane offense and never seem to live up to expectations.  Also, much the same way the Chargers typically start the season slow, the Cowboys have a knack for ending the season with critical losses.  So let's dive in and compare these teams to see just how similar they are in this week's game preview.

When the Cowboys Have the Ball

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via mentalfloss.cachefly.net

Overall Offense

  • The Cowboys can certainly rack up yardage. They're 3rd in the league in offensive yards per game, 2nd in yards per play.
  • Being 10th in the league in points per game, with the amount of yards they get, can only point to one thing. Trouble converting red zone chances into touchdowns.
  • Typically, going hand in hand with trouble in the red zone you'll find trouble converting 3rd downs. So when you see that the Cowboys are 15th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage, it should come as no surprise.
  • In an evenly matched game, many times the winner is decided by mistakes.  As in, who wins the turnover and penalty battle.  Well, the Cowboys' offense has racked up the 5th most penalty yards this season and has a turnover margin of -2.  They're a team that will shoot themselves in the foot if you give them a chance.

Passing Offense

  • The Cowboys, who throw it a lot more than the Chargers (more on this in a second), are 7th in passing yards per game and 5th in yards per pass attempt.
  • Tony Romo has been about as careful with the ball this season as had Philip Rivers, throwing 20 TDs against just 7 interceptions.
  • The Cowboys rank 6th in pass plays of 20+ yards.
  • Romo, like Ben Roethlisberger, sometimes holds onto the ball too long as he tries to make a play that isn't there.  That, plus a couple of injuries on the Cowboys O-line, has led to 27 sacks allowed this season.  That puts them in the bottom half of the league in terms of protecting the QB.
Rushing Offense
  • The Cowboys three-headed rushing attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are averaging a little over 130 yards per game on the ground.  That's good for 8th best in the league.  Their 5.0 Yards Per Carry, however, makes them the 2nd most efficient running game in the league.
  • Being tied for 13th in the league for rushing TDs shows that the Cowboys either have no success running inside the red zone, or prefer to try to pass the ball in for six.
  • The Cowboys are tied for 4th in the league in running play of 20+ yards.  This wouldn't scare any Chargers fan if Eric Weddle was playing, but without him the Cowboys running game could certainly get some big plays.
Juniorseau-b-bh_medium

 

Overall Defense

  • The Chargers allow the 12th least yards per game, and rank 11th in lowest yards allowed per play.  They are ranked 15th in least points allowed per game.
  • The Bolts' problem on D continue to be 3rd downs, where they are still ranked 26th in the league.

Passing Defense

  • The Chargers rank 8th in terms of passing yards allowed per game, and are tied for 9th in yards allowed per pass attempt.
  • The Bolts' 11 interceptions ties them for 15th best in the league.  Their 30 sacks ties them for 8th.
  • This stat is huge when going up against the Cowboys.  The Chargers are tied for 2nd in the least amount of passing plays of 20+ yards allowed.  All season this has been a defense that does not give up big plays, and that continues even without Eric Weddle in the lineup.
Rushing Defense
  • In terms of rushing yards allowed per game, the Chargers are 21st in the league.  Their 4.4 Yards Per Carry allowed ties them with four other teams for 21st in the league for that stat as well.
  • The 8 rushing touchdowns allowed by the Bolts ties them with three other teams (including FO's favorite team, the Eagles) for 11th best in the league.
  • Going back to the idea that this D does not give up big plays, the Chargers are 6th best in the league at stopping/preventing running plays of 20+ yards.  They have allowed only 5 against them all season.  They still have not given up a run of 40+ yards.

 

When the Chargers Have the Ball

Legedu-2_medium

via i79.photobucket.com

Overall Offense

  • The Bolts are 12th in the league in offensive yards per game, but are incredibly efficient.  They are 5th in terms of yards per play and 3rd in terms of points per game.
  • The Chargers' offense has gotten better and better at converting 3rd downs ever since Chris Chambers was sent packing.  They've worked themselves up the ranks and are now the 9th best team in the league on 3rd down.
  • In an evenly matched game, many times the winner is decided by mistakes.  As in, who wins the turnover and penalty battle.  Well, the Cowboys' offense has racked up the 5th most penalty yards this season and has a turnover margin of -2.  They're a team that will shoot themselves in the foot if you give them a chance.
  • I left that in for comparison's sake.  The Chargers' offense has accumulated the least penalty yards of any NFL team this season.  The Bolts' turnover margin is +9.  This is a team that does not shoot themselves in the foot, and takes advantage of the mistakes of their opponents.  Reason for optimism.

Passing Offense

  • First, a shocking stat.  If somebody were to ask you if the Chargers throw the ball a lot, you'd answer "YES!" quickly and emphatically, wouldn't you?  Well, you'd be wrong.  In terms of pass attempts per game, the Chargers rank 25th in the league.  25th!  They throw it less per game than the Dolphins, Redskins, Steelers, 49ers and Giants!
  • It's kindof funny how similar Philip Rivers' and Tony Romo's stats are, both for this season and their careers.  Everyone looks at Romo as a gunslinger and Rivers as an efficient QB, but I suppose that's mostly perception.  Just about every stat is the same when you compare them.  It's no different this year, as Rivers has thrown one more TD (21) and one less interception (6) than Tony.
  • The Chargers rank 2nd in pass plays of 20+ yards, having two more than Dallas.
  • Since Week 1, the Chargers offensive line has changed somewhat dramatically (2 new starters, several new backups) and has seemingly gotten better at protecting Philip each week.  They've allowed only 21 sacks this season, and many of those game in the first 5 games.  It's still good for 7th best in the league.
Rushing Offense
  • The Chargers ground game, powered by LaDainian Tomlinson and whoever else wants to give it a try, is averaging just 88.7 yards per game.  That's good for 30th best in the league, or two slots better than the undefeated Colts.  Their 3.3 Yards Per Carry makes them the 32nd most efficient running game in the league (four slots below Indy).
  • Being ineffective over the course of a game does not mean the Chargers aren't able to punch it in when they need to.  Their "league worst" rushing attack is tied for 12th with 12 TDs.
  • The Chargers are tied for 23rd in the league in running play of 20+ yards, and it surprises me that they're that high.  This is Philip Rivers' offense, and the running game is just for show.
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via www.deion-sanders.com

Overall Defense

  • The Cowboys allow the 14th least yards per game, and rank 16th in lowest yards allowed per play.  They are ranked 5th in least points allowed per game.
  • The Cowboys aren't too shabby on 3rd down, where they have the 14th lowest 3rd down conversion percentage against them.

Passing Defense

  • "America's Team" ranks 20th in terms of passing yards allowed per game, and are tied for 16th in yards allowed per pass attempt.
  • The 'Boys 8 interceptions ties them for 21st best in the league.  Their 29 sacks ties them for 10th.  The pressure is roughly the same as San Diego's, but the turnovers just aren't there.
  • The Cowboys, although they don't allow many points, do allow big plays in the passing game.  They are ranked 13th for the least number of 20+ yard pass plays allowed.
Rushing Defense
  • In terms of rushing yards allowed per game, the Cowboys are 9th in the league.  Their 4.2 Yards Per Carry allowed ties them with three other teams for 14th in the league.  This is not the strongest run defense in the league, and the Yards per Carry is not much less than the Chargers D.
  • The 5 rushing touchdowns allowed by Dallas makes them 5th best in that category.
  • Much like their passing defense, the Cowboys do occasionally allow a big play to an opposing RB.  They've allowed 8 runs of 20+ yards this season, tying them for just 18th best in the league.

Conclusion

After going through these numbers I'm more optimistic about Sunday's game.  The running game has a chance to do something, and the offensive line should protect Rivers.  Any time you put those two things together, it usually equals big points for the Chargers.  Also, eliminating big plays from the Dallas offense will force them to avoid turnovers and penalties, which they haven't done a great job of so far this season.

Add in the Chargers record-breaking winning streak in December against the Cowboys' terrible record in the last couple of Decembers and there are a lot of things working in the Chargers' favor.  If you're asking for a prediction from me, as a Chargers fan, I'm saying that the Bolts score a lot of points early to take away the Cowboys running game and end up winning a close game.  Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

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