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Cowboys at Chargers: Writer predictions for Dak Prescott-Justin Herbert faceoff

Do we think the Cowboys can overcome all of their injuries?

Los Angeles Chargers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After a narrow defeat to the Buccaneers in the season opener, the Cowboys are on the road again in Los Angeles facing off against the 1-0 Chargers. The good news? They’re getting Zack Martin back after he missed the Buccaneers game with COVID-19. Oh, and Dak Prescott looks very much like himself, which is huge.

The bad news? Pretty much everything else that has happened since that loss. La’el Collins is suspended, Michael Gallup is going to miss several weeks, Randy Gregory is likely to miss this game with COVID-19, DeMarcus Lawrence is on the injured reserve, and starting safety Donovan Wilson has been ruled out.

That is a very long list of important players for the Cowboys who won’t be suiting up for this game. But the Chargers are without a few key players too. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and top cornerback Chris Harris Jr. are both out, while defensive tackle Justin Jones is doubtful. Both starting safeties have been injured this week, with Nasir Adderley questionable for the game and Derwin James set to play, although he was limited in practice. All of this is setting up for a shootout between Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert. So how do our writers feel about that?

When Los Angeles has the ball

Prevent the big plays

Justin Herbert had a phenomenal rookie year, and it rightly culminated in winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The rookie from Oregon finished the year ranked 13th in QBR and fifth in EPA. A big part of his success was his willingness to let it rip. Among quarterbacks with 12 or more starts last year, Herbert had the fourth-highest rate of throws into tight windows; of the three guys with more throws into tight windows, only one had a higher completion percentage over expectation than Herbert. In other words, Herbert played like a gunslinger and hit on his risky throws quite often.

Under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, formerly the quarterbacks coach for the Saints, Herbert has thus far continued that trend. Only three quarterbacks threw into tight windows at a higher rate last week, although Herbert didn’t have as much success against Washington. The Chargers saw the second-most third down attempts last week, and while they converted nearly three fourths of them, that conversion rate is highly unlikely to hold. If Dallas can prevent Herbert from hitting on those big plays he regularly made last year and force the Chargers into more third downs, they could win.

When Dallas has the ball

Attack the slot

The Chargers’ pass defense struggled last week against the duo of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke, and that was with Harris playing all but one snap on defense. Playing in his 11th season, Harris is the Chargers’ best defensive back and also their top slot corner. With Harris out, that likely means rookie Asante Samuel Jr. will move into the slot for this game.

Samuel looked good playing mostly on the outside last week, but this week he’ll get plenty of matchups against Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. That’s no easy task for a rookie, no matter how good they are. The Cowboys’ top two receivers should be able to take advantage of his inexperience, and if Dak Prescott can get into a rhythm with those guys it could open up everything else for the offense.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

Tom Ryle:

I know the Cowboys are missing a lot of key players for this game, but they still have Dak Prescott and all of his weapons outside of Michael Gallup. The offensive line may be having to rely on Terence Steele, but I subscribe to the theory that Zack Martin will help him, and the staff will not leave him on an island. The defense has to figure out how to at least slow Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense.

I think they will manage just enough, and the Cowboys will get a 31-27 win.

Terence Watson:

The Cowboys are looking to rebound from their tough loss to the Buccaneers. They will have to do this shorthanded on both sides of the football. The losses of La’el Collins (suspension) and Michael Gallup (calf injury) on offense and DeMarcus Lawrence (foot), Donovan Wilson (groin), and possibly Randy Gregory (Covid) on defense present a new challenge for the Cowboys. But they will be up to the task as they pull off the win. Thanks in part to the performance from Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard who will slow the game down enough to keep the Chargers explosive offense off the field.

Cowboys 31, Chargers 21

Justin Morris:

Welcome to the Joey Bosa show. With La’el Collins sidelined, the ‘Boys have a massive gaping hole on the right side of their line, and I don’t believe Terence Steele is the antidote to quell the onslaught. The Chargers’ offense wasn’t at its best in their season opener against Washington, but Justin Herbert and crew will see an uptick in production in their second offering. Defensive stops will be key, and whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game. Dak will be stellar per usual, and both defensive troupes will struggle in a back-and-forth shootout that will be won by the team with the last possession. I believe that will be the Chargers.

30-27, LA

Matt Holleran:

The past week has been a nightmare for the Cowboys. After an extremely encouraging performance against Tampa on opening night, things have spiraled downward in a big way. Even after losing Michael Gallup, La’el Collins, and Randy Gregory, I still believed the Cowboys could win this game. But once the DeMarcus Lawrence news dropped on Wednesday, I think the Cowboys fate was sealed. I just see no way that this Dallas defense can hold down rising star Justin Herbert enough to win this game. Dak and the offense will do enough to keep the Cowboys in the game, but the defense just won’t be able to get enough stops, causing the Cowboys to drop to 0-2 for the first time since 2010.

Give me the Chargers, 33-24.

Darreck Kirby:

I think in spite of all of the bad news the Cowboys have incurred the past week, they are going to respond with a big win. It’ll be a competitive game but Dallas escapes with a 27-23 win behind Prescott and Elliott.

Aidan Davis:

Coming off a competitive loss to the defending Super Bowl champions, this is where the Cowboys have to prove they can beat a playoff-caliber team. However, this is not the same Los Angeles Chargers that finished 7-9 last year. With Derwin James coming back from injury, and several offseason additions, the Chargers finished with the best PFF coverage grade in week one. Pair that with the best run-stopping team on first down and this defense presents a real threat. If the Cowboys want to win this game, they are going to have to pass on early downs, setting up short yardage conversions on the ground.

With Trevon Diggs likely to line up against Kennan Allen for the majority of this game, there is nobody in the Cowboys secondary that will be able to account for Mike Williams. While he is injury-prone, Williams has the athleticism to high-point the ball and win in contested catches. This game will come down to how well the Cowboys are able to convert on the ground and cover Mike Williams. With injuries on the line and an inability to get to the quarterback without DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys lose another nail-biter.

Final Score: Los Angeles Chargers 28, Dallas Cowboys 27

Tony Catalina:

Since the moment the Cowboys got off the field Thursday night it has felt like a roller-coaster on the downswing. Covid, injuries, suspensions, you name it, they dealt with in the last 10 days leading up to this game.The fact of the matter is this team is going to have to strap it up and play football, regardless of who is or isn’t going to be out there. The loss of their two pass rushers is going to hurt, and the defense will suffer as a result, but look for the Cowboys to be more exotic in how they deploy Micah Parsons and even Jaylon Smith to try and make up for the lack of pass rush.

Also, we have a chance to see Malik Hooker for the first time and I think his ability has a chance to help the back end of this defense improve.All in all, this game will be an offensive affair with both teams going back and forth all day. Give me the Cowboys in a close one with Greg Zuerlein making up for his week one woes.

Dallas Cowboys 31 Los Angeles Chargers 28

Brian Martin:

No Michael Gallup or La’el Collins on offense and no DeMarcus Lawrence or Randy Gregory on defense. With so many starters expected to miss this Week 2 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers it’s hard to believe the Dallas Cowboys have much of a chance at coming away with the victory.

Believe it or not though, I’m going to predict one anyway. The Cowboys offense was sharp last week and I expect them to pick up right where they left off. It won’t be pretty, but I think the Cowboys can put more points on the board then the Chargers and in the end that’s all that matters.

David Howman:

I’ve been expecting this one to become a shootout pretty much since the teams were determined. Justin Herbert isn’t as good as Tom Brady, but he’s a different kind of danger. Whereas Brady beats you with quick timing and precision, Herbert is one of those guys who can spin something out of nothing with consistency. It’s hard to see the Cowboys defense putting up much of a fight, especially without their two best pass rushers.

The good news for the Cowboys is they have Dak Prescott, and he’s playing at a very high level. I’m not too worried about Terence Steele starting at right tackle given what we watched last week; Kellen Moore knows how to scheme around offensive line deficiencies. With Chris Harris Jr. out and both safeties banged up, this is setting up nicely for the Cowboys offense to really get going. And if both Dak and Herbert are dealing, I’m picking the better quarterback to win.

Cowboys win 43-41