The Dallas Cowboys‘ upcoming matchup against the San Diego Chargers is one of those games that’s bound to produce some bizarre plays and thus a rather odd outcome. These are two of the most unpredictable and inconsistent teams in the NFL and they always seem to leave fans scratching their heads after each meeting between them. However, there is one aspect of the game that will be easy to predict and if Dallas doesn’t buck that trend, the Cowboys will be 2-2 following Week 4.
For the past several years, the Cowboys have been an unbalanced, pass-happy team that has lived and died by the performance of Tony Romo‘s right arm. That actually has nothing to do with Romo, though; it’s a pure product of the team’s offensive play-calling.
In Week 3, the Cowboys stay committed to the running game and it resulted in a big day for DeMarco Murray and the 10th win for Dallas in games that saw its talented running back tally at least 20 carries. In fact, the Cowboys are now undefeated in games in which Murray has at least 20 carries and/or 100 rushing yards since the Oklahoma product was drafted in 2011. The formula for success is simple, yet the Cowboys deviate from this foolproof plan all the time, and are likely to do so again when they play the Chargers on Sunday.
San Diego boasts the NFL’s worst passing defense and one of the best passing offenses (statistically), which means they end up playing in a lot of shootouts. The Chargers are 1-2 after three weeks, but each of their games have been decided by exactly three points. They don’t run the ball much and in their lone win, Philip Rivers threw the ball 47 times but was held to less than 30 throws in each of their two losses. Still, he has eight touchdown passes and only one interception this year, so when he’s allowed to throw the ball and opponents try to play the Chargers’ style of football, good things happen for San Diego.
That means Dallas must control the pace of the game and that is accomplished by running the ball. The Chargers are going to score — there are no ifs, ands or buts about it; but the Cowboys can’t get caught up in a shootout or both teams will be .500 after the game.
Even when the Chargers are ahead by a score, the Cowboys absolutely must continue to run the ball like they did against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3. As the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans have shown this year, the way to beat the Chargers is keeping their offense off the field and the way to do that is running the ball, which also usually results in a lot of points for Dallas.
Everyone knows Romo can air it out relatively well, but that usually doesn’t end well for the Cowboys — they’re 8-16 in games in which Romo throws at least 40 passes. The effect of a successful running game also makes Romo more efficient and effective: he threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns on just 24 attempts in a 24-point win in Week 3. But that was the result of Bill Callahan staying disciplined with his play-calling and not allowing Jason Garrett‘s trigger-happy nature to rub off on him, as was the case in Week 2.
Again, the formula is extremely simple, but it’s especially critical against a team like San Diego that can dictate the pace of the game easily by baiting its opposition to play the game in its style and at its pace. The Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the NFL at falling subject to that trick by their opposition, and that doomed the Philadelphia Eagles against the Chargers in Week 2. Thus, this week is critical for Dallas to prove its more than just another mentally weak .500 team.