Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chargers vs. Cowboys

Once again, the Chargers are in a game with playoff atmosphere and implications. If San Diego can win today, they may be able to separate themselves from the Cincinnati Bengals in the hunt for the 2nd seed and playoff bye. The Cowboys are coming off a loss and trying to stay in first place in their division. Dallas fans are calling for the head of Wade Phillips as they think their team is underperforming.

The Cowboys' offense is the exact kind that gives the Chargers problems. They have a huge offensive line and a couple of big power running backs, plus the lightning fast Felix Jones. They also have a Pro Bowl tight end in Jason Witten with the hot and cold Tony Romo passing the ball. Wide receiver Miles Austin has matured into an elite "go to" receiver.

It looks like Luis Catillo and Shawne Merriman will be able to start today. If they are actually healthy and can play at a high level, the Chargers will have a better chance of stopping the run and putting a little pressure on Romo. Safety Eric Weddle is most likely going to be out. This is worrisome, as he has become a defensive leader and on-field coach of sorts.

The Cowboys will be able to move the ball up and down the field. Without Weddle deep to control things, the less experienced Charger safeties will most likely get eaten up. This game will come down to what happens in the red zone. If the Chargers can stiffen a bit inside the twenty and stop the run, then they can force the gambling Romo into making some crucial mistakes.

On offense, the Chargers will have to have one of their best games to stay in this one. They are going to have to match the Cowboys score for score and the environment will be loud and intense in the Cowboys huge new dome. The Charger running game most likely won't do much, but look for Darren Sproles to bust at least one big one on the Cowboys' field turf. Sproles has been slowed by some poor field conditions the past few weeks and is "due" to make some plays.

The passing game, of course, will be crucial. The Cowboys don't have the strongest defense backs and one of their starting safeties is out with an injury. The pass blocking has been stellar for San Diego, but they will receive their biggest test this week, as 3-4 guru Wade Phillips is desperate for a win to keep his playoff chances, and job, alive. The crucial match-up will be DeMarcus Ware against Marcus McNeill on the edge. If Rivers doesn't have time to throw, this game could get ugly in a hurry.

If the Chargers had Weddle, I would feel confident in predicting a victory. If Merriman was out, I would predict a loss, but with the overall state of the Chargers' health, I think this one is a toss up. It may come down to one big play from either team. I'm going to go with the "Sproles has a big day on field turf" theory and give San Diego the nod:

Chargers 34, Cowboys 31

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