Jim Trotter breaks down an impressive defensive showing.
Los Angeles had seven offensive possessions, each of which reached the Dallas 33-yard line or closer. And yet the Chargers could manage only one touchdown, their six other possessions ending via two interceptions, three field goals and a missed field goal.
If you saw such a performance coming from the Dallas defense, you’re either clairvoyant or a liar because there was no visualizing it, not with the Chargers having the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in quarterback Justin Herbert and a receiving corps that ranks among the league’s best.
And yet the Cowboys had two sacks, six tackles for loss and nine QB hits on Herbert, who threw for 338 yards but matched his career-high with two interceptions. Were they perfect? No. But they were good enough, which could be the first step back to credible relevance for something other than having a star on the side of their helmets.
It’s worth remembering that the kicker saved the day when the coaching staff had almost doomed it.
It’s worth remembering that Zuerlein did mask a near meltdown late in the game, when the Cowboys had the opportunity to get into better field-goal range — then inexplicably ran the ball with Pollard with 33 seconds left and one timeout, failing to use that timeout when Pollard was tackled in the middle of the field with 28 seconds remaining. Had that timeout been used, Dallas could have preserved a handful of additional plays that might have shaved critical yardage off Zuerlein’s 56-yard attempt. Instead, the offense slowly got back to the line and seemed confused, finally using the timeout for the kick with four seconds left. It was such a wincing moment that former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was almost beside himself doing color commentary for CBS, wondering aloud what Dallas had in mind in the final moments.
“They had plenty of time to get multiple plays off and get at least 10 more yards,” Romo said on the broadcast. “But handing the ball off [to Pollard], if you did that, you needed to call timeout with 30 seconds left. And that way you’re still allowed to throw another pass for 10 yards, get a first down and clock it.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy: Issues forced team to settle for 56-yard FG to decide game - Todd Archer, ESPN
There seemed to be some issues at the end with the FG.
First, a player went off the field after Tony Pollard’s 3-yard run to the Los Angeles 38 on second down with 33 seconds to play.
“One of our players came off that shouldn’t have come off,” McCarthy said. “Just a communication error.”
Then the clock McCarthy was eyeing on the digital-board overhanging the SoFi Stadium field went out.
“I never had a clock go off the board like that,” McCarthy said.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was not in a better position either.
“He got blocked by a camera guy,” McCarthy said of one of the field-level clocks.
Instead of using the timeout early and potentially leaving the Cowboys in a bad situation if they ran a third-down play, McCarthy opted to let the clock run down with the aid of his assistant coaches from the coaches’ booth and called a timeout with four seconds to play.
“Once we didn’t have the personnel set for the third-down call we were in between once you get below 17 seconds,” McCarthy said. “It’s a threshold, so we let it run down and take the kick.”
The Cowboys beat the Chargers, 20-17. And therein lies the beginning of a departure from 2020 wallowing, Epstein explains
No doubt Dallas’ sights are set far higher than a lone September victory against a team that committed 12 penalties, including two that wiped out would-be go-ahead touchdowns. But lessons garnered this week should transfer. Dallas showed its ability to game plan around an elite pass rusher in Joey Bosa, even with second-year undrafted right tackle Terence Steele needing to replace Collins. The team proved that its draft-weekend effusiveness about Parsons’ versatility and ability to pressure were not merely wishful thinking. The Cowboys demonstrated a perhaps borderline obsessive emphasis on 2-minute and similar situational work in training camp – “Hard Knocks” viewers will recall McCarthy’s “Mojo Moments” – actually are preparing this team for games that come down to the wire. They can even do so without an onside watermelon kick.
The Chargers were limited to six points in three second-half trips to the red zone. Brandon Staley explains how he thinks the Chargers lost the game.
“We lost this game on all three phases of the game,” said Brandon Staley, who was attempting to join Marty Schottenheimer as the second of the Chargers’ 17 coaches — including two interim coaches — to win both of their first two games with the team. “We didn’t play clean enough to win.”
Staley said he would “look at our red area plan.”
“Running the ball better gives you a much better chance of being successful in the red area,” Staley said. “Moving forward, I think if we run the ball better, we’ll put ourselves in a more favorable down for distances down there.”
Plays of note from Dallas’ win.
Diggs with the early pick – We’ll probably talk more about the interception that Damontae Kazee had in the end zone during the third quarter, but don’t sleep on the play Diggs made in the first. Not only was it an amazing diving catch, but it stopped what appeared to be a big drive out of the gate by the Chargers. They quickly were marching down the field until Diggs jumped in front with the pick. That was huge for the momentum swing and confidence of the defense playing without so many starters.
Chargers give away the special gift – The Cowboys basically handed the Chargers a three-point gift when they were called for a personal foul for roughing the punter with two minutes left in the first half. The Chargers kept the ball and drove down to the Cowboys’ 26-yard but they missed a 44-yard field goal off the upright, keeping the Cowboys in the lead, 14-11.
Big possessions were ultimately the difference.
At the very least, it gave them something to build towards. On Sunday though, they weren’t those same, consistently, electric Cowboys on offense. They scored twice, on the ground, to open the game after looking electric early and taking the ball up the field with ease, but they wouldn’t be able to do that again for the rest of the game.
In fact, they wouldn’t even score again until the fourth quarter and that wasn’t all of their own accords, which is where the next part comes into play. It is a team game, so they should be able to lean on the other side a bit, but the offense wouldn’t have gotten that first field goal opportunity, perhaps and based on the rest of the game up until that point, without a big turnover play by the defense.
Even on the drive prior to the final Cowboys drive, the Chargers had a chance to score a touchdown, but the defense held. Yes, you could look to the breaks they received in the form of flags and the sack based on circumstances against Herbert, but they got those breaks because they were working so hard and being aggressive.
Diggs certainly had a big day.
However, there is one thing the Cowboys can definitively take away from Sunday’s sloppy win — second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs is going to be a special player. If he’s not already.
How special? That remains to be seen. But if Sunday was any indication, Diggs could be on his way to becoming one of the top defensive backs in football.
Selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Diggs had high expectations coming into Dallas. However, those expectations were somewhat tempered due to his slip out of the first round.
In his first year in the NFL, Diggs had his ups and downs, and sometimes too often, it was more of the latter. Fast forward to 2021, and Diggs is a totally different player and is constantly tasked with tracking the opposition’s best receiver.
Cowboys at Chargers score, takeaways: Dallas boots Los Angeles on Greg Zuerlein’s last-second field goal - Patrik Walker, CBS Sports
How, and why it all happened against the Chargers.
This one had it all, from questionable coaching decisions to controversial officiating calls and non-calls, and even an issue with the time on the scoreboard toward the end of the game — per head coach Mike McCarthy — that led to a clock-management gaffe that nearly cost the Cowboys the game.
It all set the stage for what might be an electric finish in Los Angeles, and that’s exactly what we were treated to. In the end, it was a 56-yard kick by Greg Zuerlein, a player who left at least four points on the field in the Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that sealed the deal for the Cowboys and served as one final gut punch for a talented Chargers team that simply couldn’t get out of their own way.
Football gonna football.
Why the Cowboys won
Cowboys last-second field goal gives the team a badly needed win over Chargers, 20-17, Tom Ryle, BloggingtheBoys.com
“Needed” definitely suffices here.
How well they would handle things with so many missing would be key to the game. As it turned out, Dallas managed just well enough. Now they have an easier looking stretch of games until their bye in Week 7 and hopefully will get healthier.
After the Chargers won the toss and deferred, the Cowboys opened the game with a 15-play, six-minute, 78-yard drive that was nothing but encouraging. Dak Prescott hit five different receivers, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both found some running room behind the line with Zack Martin back in place after missing game one, and they avoided the red zone woes that plagued them last week. The drive was capped by an end around run from Pollard. It was aided along the way by a DPI call on a gutsy fourth and one call inside their own territory, but the big thing was a quick seven-point lead on the road, before a crowd that had a lot of Cowboys fans in attendance.
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