We’re finally back to Chargers football this coming Monday night as the Cowboys (3-2) are coming to town for a primetime matchup under the lights. It’s also Kellen Moore’s first revenge game against the team that decided after four seasons it was time to move on from him as their offensive coordinator.
Dallas is coming off a humbling loss to the 49ers where their stacked defense allowed 42 points. Kyle Shanahan is a wizard, but that’s a big number to let up no matter who you’re playing. By no means does that infer the Chargers could do the same, but it’s at least a plus to see an intimidating unit seem vulnerable the week prior to facing them yourself.
With that said, below are three storylines to follow closely when the Chargers and Cowboys take the field inside SoFi Stadium on Monday night.
1.) Could we see Kellen Moore take some notes from the 49ers following their 42-10 beatdown of the Cowboys?
It’s no surprise that Kellen Moore getting his first crack at his former team this Monday night is the biggest storyline preceding this primetime matchup. When the Cowboys lost to the 49ers in the NFC Divisional round, not many knew that would be the final game of Moore’s four-year tenure as the offensive play-caller in Dallas. Soon after the season, Moore and head coach Mike McCarthy mutually agreed to part ways.
As one of the top up-and-coming offensive minds in the league, Moore was immediately scooped up by the Chargers to replace Joe Lombardi. He’s since gone on to pump up the production and efficiency of that side of the ball thus far in 2023 and he gets his toughest task yet with his former team coming to town.
Luckily for Moore, he was handed some excellent study material in the way of their 42-10 loss to the 49ers in Week Five. The Niners threw for 251 yards and rushed for 170. Tight end George Kittle caught three passes, all of which went for touchdowns. The 49ers made it look easy exploiting the holes in the middle of their zone looks while also seeing success running outside the tackles. The Chargers’ offensive line is not on the same tier as the 49ers’ but they’ve still got enough talent to try and attack those edges.
Overall, Moore has a bit of a cheat sheet for this game and it’ll be intriguing to see if, at all, he tries to mix in some new looks against Dallas.
2.) How much will Austin Ekeler’s return help the Chargers run game against a lackluster rush defense?
The Chargers run game looked like a completely different unit in the season opener against the Dolphins where they rushed for 234 combined yards from both Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley. Ekeler led the way with 117 yards and a score but hasn’t seen the field since due to an ankle injury. In those three games without Ekeler, the Chargers only managed to rush for 245 yards combined while Justin Herbert has been the only one to find the end zone on the ground.
Earlier this week, Ekeler told reporters there’s a “99 percent chance” he’ll suit up which means the Bolts will have their stud ball carrier back in the fold. After a month off, the hope is that Ekeler’s fresh legs will provide not only a boost in the rushing attack, but for the offense overall. Basically what I’m saying is the offense should NOT go missing in the second half this week. If it does, then we’ve got bigger issues.
3.) How will a healthier Chargers' secondary do as a more settled unit?
The Chargers have not had consistency in the secondary since day one of this season; between the J.C. Jackson saga and a series of injuries Staley has not been able to put out the same starting five in consecutive games. Now with Derwin James and Alohi Gillman back from injury and the three corner spots being locked into place, can the Bolts push up from the bottom of the pile and put together a good game from start to finish for the first time this season.
They are faced with a mediocre passing attack who PFF rank as 20th, but even this could be a challenge for the Chargers 28th ranked coverage unit. Slowing CeeDee Lamb down will be where the game is won and lost, his 358 receiving yards lead the team by far with the next nearest receiver on half of that. The Chargers need more out of Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. who have both been below their best, they now know with some certainty that they'll be starting outside until the wheels fall off. Trading away a talented player can be a mark of confidence in the rest of that unit, maybe this is the boost they both needed.
This prime time game against America's team is a golden opportunity for them to shine. Let's see what kind of heights they can reach with stable ground beneath their feet for the first time this season.