Before the game I wrote here on BTB that I thought the Cowboys should win this game by 2+ scores, not necessarily because of the X's & O's, but more because of the Jimmy's and Joe's. However, the Cowboys did exactly what I said they couldn't, they went to San Diego and laid an egg. Here are my notes....
Tony Romo was not sharp: Romo has yet to play a game this year that really wow'd me. He was okay at times on Sunday but overall he was not at his best. He made some questionable decisions with the ball (throwing up the seam to a double-covered Witten on 3rd & 8 in the 4Q with Beasley one-on-one in the slot), and hesitated a couple of times which made him late on throws and gave SD defenders time to recover (pass to Witten on goal line broken up by Weddle, which was followed by Williams' fumble), and at times the ball seemed to lack its normal zip out of his hand.
The Chargers had Eric Weddle, their best defensive player, covering Witten alot of the game, especially in key situations, and he made several plays but I feel like Romo should have done a better job looking to other guys with better match ups.
I'm not sure what was going on with him in the game and it does not fall entirely on his shoulders (we'll get to the receivers shortly) but Romo had opportunities to be better, and give this team a chance, he just didn't make those plays.
Success on the ground: DeMarco Murray ran for a high quality 5.0 ypc average. However, he only ran the ball 14 times. On the series leading to the Cowboys second touchdown the Cowboys ran five plays to move the ball the 65 yards they needed for the TD and every one of those plays was either a run or involved play action, and everyone was successful. This should have been the way the offense ran the entire game. I am not usually one to question the play calling of these coaches but I don't think they did nearly enough on the ground to dictate the tempo of the game.
Defensive guys in bad positions: It is the job of a coaching staff to put their players in position to make plays,\ and I feel like over the course of the first three games the defensive staff led by Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli had done so beautifully, however I saw several times where the defense called, or the built in adjustments made to counter motions or formations, put their guys in bad spots.
In the series following Sean Lee's pick six, the Chargers lined up in trips to the right with the TE on the same side, and rather than walking a safety down or a LB out to the inside guy, they brought Mo Claiborne all the way across the formation to play against the inside slot guy. This put Mo in a horrible spot to have to defend the whole field from an alignment he's not accustomed to. When his guy ran a deep crosser to the open side of the field w/ no help, Mo had no chance and gave up a big completion to set up the Chargers for their FG to end the half.
Another instance was on the Chargers first score when Antonio Gates motioned wide outside of Danny Woodhead, the Cowboys adjusted to the motion by widening CB Brandon Carr over Gates, and walking LB Bruce Carter out to Woodhead in the slot. Then Woodhead ran the wheel route that the Chargers had shown in the red zone from their backs in the red zone in previous games and Carter, although in good position, mis-timed his play on the ball and allowed the TD pass. In my opinion, the better play would have been to have an automatic adjustment to zone coverage vs that motion/formation, or if they were set on playing man, let Carter go outside with Gates and leave Carr on Woodhead inside. I like Carr's chances to go up and make the play on that ball in the air and I like Carter's physicality on Gates outside.
Have to catch the ball: The only WR who didn't drop a ball was Cole Beasley. Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris, Witten, and Terrance Williams all dropped balls that would have moved the chains and helped the offense get in a better rhythm, however, because of the missed opportunities, they were forced to punt and put their defense back on the field.
Rivers was at his best: On a day when Tony Romo was missing reads and making late decisions, and dealing with drops, Phillip Rivers had none of the same issues. As I wrote before the game, one thing that Chargers head coach Mike McCoy had gotten from Rivers was a willingness to check the ball down more quickly to guys like Gates and Woodhead and this is exactly how the Chargers QB ate up the Cowboys D.
There were plenty of 3-step drops and dump passes underneath the Cowboys LBs to the TE or RB to help out their depleted offensive line and get easy 5-8 yard gains. He got great games from Gates, Woodhead, and rookie Keenan Allen, and made good decisions with the ball. This defense is designed to allow the short dumps and then tighten in the red zone but the Chargers were able to create coverage mismatches with their versatile guys (Woodhead, Gates) in order to get seven points in the red zone twice. I won't know what really happened on Gates' long score until the coaches tape is available on Wednesday, but it was a big time play by two guys who have played together for many years.
The Cowboys face a huge test in week 5 when Peyton Manning and the 4-0 Broncos bring come to town, and if Dallas doesn't play much better than they played against San Diego they will get run out of the building. As I said after the loss to Kansas City, these are the types of games you have opportunities to win and if you fail to take advantage they come back to haunt you at the end of the year when division championships are being decided.