The Dallas Cowboys made their way back to the AFC West today, hoping for better results than their last 2013 road trip. This one was different than the last, but more of the same, as they relapsed to their early struggles and fell to the San Diego Chargers 30-21. The loss drops the Cowboys record on the season to 2-2.
There will be plenty of blame to go around, but on this one the coaching staff may have to take the brunt of the criticism. The defense seemed completely unable to adjust to the Chargers dink and dunk game with any successful solutions. That's not to say there weren't any attempts, just none that worked. Phillip Rivers carved up the Dallas defense for over 400 yards and three scores. The Cowboys depleted defensive line couldn't take advantage of the Chargers missing three O-line starters.
On offense, the team didn't seem to capitalize on the early success of DeMarco Murray and the running game. The Cowboys also made a questionable decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal attempt that missed, and promptly led to a Chargers field goal after the short field. Outside of two successful drives, the offense had a serious problem solving the Chargers 3-4 defense that had entered the game giving up an average of 370 yards per contest.
Prior to the game, we wondered if the Cowboys linebackers would be able to correct their issues in zone coverage, a must have of the Monte Kiffin defensive principle. It turned out they aren't yet ready to say that, as they were the main culprits behind the three Chargers touchdowns. Danny Woodhead beat Bruce Carter for two wheel route scores, and then once the Cowboys went away from the deep zone, Antonio Gates got behind Sean Lee for the game-clinching 56 yard touchdown.
In a game of momentum, the Chargers seized it by the throat during the third quarter and wouldn't let it go. After Dallas had stretched out to a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, Phillip Rivers and the Chargers owned the time of possession and the field in route to 20 straight points and a 30-21 lead halfway through the fourth quarter that they wouldn't relinquish.
The Dallas defense was clearly worn down by the fact that they stayed on the field.
The Cowboys started out the gate slowly, only gaining a first down once on their first three drives. Behind three second-quarter touchdowns, the Cowboys surged back from their slow start and poured water over the Chargers chances to return to .500 on the season.
Tony Romo (26-36 245 yards, 2 TDs) connected to Dez Bryant on two touchdowns in the stanza, the second out of a predominantly run formation (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) with a play fake to give Dallas it's first lead of the game 14-10. On the ensuing Chargers possession, Jason Hatcher continued his electric start to the season and hit Phillip Rivers as he was winding up. The ball popped into the air and Sean Lee corraled it, then raced 54 yards with an envoy of help for the team's third defensive score in just four games.
The Cowboys, however, wouldn't be able to keep the Chargers from scoring a field goal before the half, and San Diego would never look back.
The Cowboys entered today's contest with a record of 2-1, feeling good, but with several questions still left unanswered about what kind of team they would be in 2013. Question number one was how good is the pass defense. Question number two was whether or not the offensive line had a good game or was a good unit. Question number three, and probably most important for overall success, could this team get off the roller coaster and put back-to-back good performances together?
Not very. Not really. Not yet.
The Cowboys will return to AT&T Stadium next week, where they are 2-0 lifetime*, to host the undefeated Denver Broncos and their offensive juggernaut. There will be a lot of teeth-gnashing until kickoff.