What should the Chargers expect from the Cowboys offense?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers have struggled to defend the pass this season, which could be a problem against the high-powered Dallas Cowboys offense that comes to town on Sunday.

The San Diego Chargers lost to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, and the reasons were pretty obvious. The team doesn't have much in the way of talent or depth at cornerback, allowing Jake Locker to turn into Peyton Manning for a single game. Luckily for the Chargers and their poor secondary, they face the Dallas Cowboys who struggle on offense and don't have very many weapons or a good quarterback...

That was sarcasm. To the fullest. Dallas is actually the complete opposite of that, and boasts one of the better offenses in the NFL.

Now that I've lost some readers, let me start over.

This game should be fun. That is, if you like offense. I was joking about the struggling secondary. If not for the Redskins' horrific, record-breaking start, San Diego would have arguably the worst secondary in the league. So, who do they get next? Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin (maybe), DeMarco Murray and a high powered Cowboys offense.

Watching their games, Dallas is a fun team to watch. They have their bread and butter plays like any team else, but they love to spread you out and make you match-up against their weapons. Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan currently is calling the plays and isn't running the ball anymore than his predecessor, Jason Garrett. That should come to no surprise. After all this is the same guy who called plays for that 2002 Oakland Raider team who threw the ball all over the place. Currently, the Cowboys have about a 60/40 pass to run ratio.

Did I say they have weapons? No? Well they do. You know what the biggest misconception in football is? That Tony Romo is a bad quarterback. He's not, and it's not even close. He's closer to the top tier of quarterbacks. He moves so well in the pocket and buys extra time by avoiding oncoming blitzers and making big plays down the field. Then you have Dez Bryant, who's doing things like this on a weekly basis, and Witten constantly open over the middle of the field. In recent weeks, Romo has spread the ball all over, keeping opposing defenses off balance.

Much like the Texans ran, the Cowboys bread and butter run play is the outside zone. This gives a back like Murray plenty of holes to chose from. Most of his 175 yards last week came off of this very play. It'll be imperative that the Chargers don't over run their gap assignments, and wrap up, or we'll be seeing plenty of runs like this. Like Houston, they will run play-action fakes off of this, and Dallas can stretch the field with their weapons better than Houston did.

What I did expect to see was more complicate route combinations, but it wasn't there. Bryant basically ran 3 routes each game. The main route was a slant. Bryant has 17 receptions this year, and 7 of them are slants. Mostly 3 step slants, everything is quick. When it comes to Witten, the majority of his catches are option routes, mainly a "stick" route. He'll run up field 5-6 yards, stop and turn around. If the defender is all over him, he'll break for an out route. He's much like Antonio Gates, meaning he's almost an impossible cover for any LB. I'd say he runs those 2 routes 80% of the time, which is enough because he can get open at will. Remember this when you're screaming from your chair on Sunday.

Back to the route combinations. I must have saw these 2 plays diagrammed a zillion times. There's really nothing tricky at all. The inside WR runs off, or a seam route, and the outside WR runs a slant.

Cowboy1_medium

From here, they ran double slants with both WR's to the right, or Witten (82) would run an out route. Nothing complex, but tough to stop when executed as well as the Cowboys do.

The most common formation I saw was when there was trips to one side. This creates match up problems for any defense, let alone the Chargers. There was one route in particular that they've run that has given multiple defenses fits. What they do is lull you to sleep, hitting Bryant or Witten on the curl, then boom, they take their shot on the seam route for a touchdown. The seam route has resulted in 3 touchdowns so far this season for Dallas.

Cowboy2_medium

They've thrown the curl to 82/88 a bunch, because it's been open, but the few shots Romo has took on the seam route out of the slot, it's gone for a touchdown. The Safeties will have to stay deep and stay disciplined. Here's how the play looked live.

Cowboy3_medium

This play works especially well, when the defense has a single high safety. It allows no help over the top of the slot or outside WR. That's a tough cover for any CB in the NFL out of the slot with no help.

Cowboy4_medium

Romo is really good at holding safeties with his eyes. He looks off left, knowing he's throwing right the entire time. As you can see, the TE runs right by the linebacker in the slot, and with no help, it's an easy throw and catch for Romo.

Dallas really does favor this formation, though. Alternate routes where the slot runs a short crossing route, 88 runs a vertical route, and 82 is open on an out route. There's just so much to deal with in this offense. Much like many passing attacks, the best way to stop it is to control the line of scrimmage, which is something the Chargers have yet to do.

Offensive Line

Speaking of controlling the line of scrimmage, it hasn't exactly been a strength of the Cowboys, either. Doug Free has been outstanding so far, but the OL has given up their fair share of pressure. It's just that Romo has been outstanding in eluding said pressure and making the throws.

Again, this is where the defensive line must generate pressure. I'm not sure anyone outside of Dwight Freeney has realized the season has started yet. The Cowboys start a rookie center, and two guards that haven't fare well in pass protection. This is a game that, if the Chargers line doesn't get pressure, the Cowboys are capable of scoring 40.

Match-ups

There aren't many favorable match-ups for the Chargers defense. I'd say nose tackle Cam Thomas on rookie center Travis Frederick, but he just looks like he's not ready at this point. In nickel situations, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will have their best match-ups of the season so far, but I'm not holding my breath based on their performances this season. I expect Kwame Geathers to see a more extended role, and play well.

If Eric Weddle continues to track tight ends, Witten will be a tough task as he is such a big target for Romo.

Brandon Flowers is an all-pro type corner and Dez Bryant made him look like a high schooler. That doesn't bode well for any corners on the Chargers roster.

I do think the blitzes up the middle will be able to create some pressure, finally. But if the Chargers aren't playing press coverage, the routes I diagrammed above will be there all day. Those are free yards.

Let's see if Pagano is able to make any in-game adjustments, or if the defense can finally muster together some turnovers. San Diego has been one of the worst teams in the NFL through 3 weeks in creating turnovers, and it's shown. When you have a lack of depth, turnovers are needed to be successful. Dallas is second in the league in time of possession, so the Chargers are going to have to find a way to get stops, or make plays. If not, the Chargers will be in for a shootout.

I'll be previewing the new defense of Dallas later this week. Do you feel like the defense can get stops or will this be a shootout? The line is currently only +1 for Dallas, something is fishy there. Either Dallas isn't that good (they are) or they expect the Chargers to capitalize on mistakes. What say you?

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