We are eagerly awaiting the Dallas Cowboys Monday Night Football game with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Cowboys come into the game as two-point favorites according to our good friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
We took a little time to speak to our sister site at SB Nation, Bolts From The Blue, who cover the Chargers. We asked them five questions on the upcoming game.
Blogging The Boys: One big storyline for the game is Kellen Moore. How has he done as the Chargers offensive coordinator? What has changed for the team under his coaching?
Bolts from the Blue: It’s probably a little too early to give a definitive answer here, but the biggest change that we’re hoping to see is more success on the ground. All through the offseason the players were raving over Moore’s approach to the running game, explaining that there was a more cerebral plan behind Moore’s play calling and scheme than they were used to with Lombardi. There was a ton of buy-in from the players, and in the preseason it came to fruition with all the running backs significantly outperforming their prior preseasons, and the emergence of a young UDFA in Elijah Dotson. In Week One against the Dolphins, this trend continued as Austin Ekeler ran for 117 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Joshua Kelley posted 91 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries of his own. However, Ekeler went down with an ankle sprain at the end of the game, and the backup running backs haven’t been able to get the running game back in a groove.
Chargers fans are really hoping that Moore was truly behind that early success, and the running game success will return with a healthy Ekeler back on the field.
BTB: Brandon Staley seems like a controversial topic as coach. Where do you stand on him as head coach of the Chargers?
BFTB: This is definitely a hot topic for fans. Many wanted him gone after the embarrassing Jacksonville playoff defeat last year, but the Chargers had just revamped their roster around his scheme and defensive ideology, so it didn’t really make sense at the time.
I like Staley as a man and a leader, but the honest reality is the Chargers heavily leveraged their future to go “all-in” on this season. A couple of us at BFTB love tracking the salary cap, and have estimated that because of the four restructures we did this last offseason to Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams, we are approximately $70-80 million over the cap next year when you budget for draft picks, in-season budget, and a full roster.
Essentially, we are on the brink of a decent size rebuild. Staley not only needs to show he can advance in the playoffs with this team, but he needs this squad operating at a high enough level to instill confidence in his ability to succeed with a far less talented roster, because a ton of talent is walking out the door next year.
BTB: What’s the injury update and impact on the game of players like Austin Ekeler, Joey Bosa and Derwin James?
BFTB: Austin Ekeler (ankle) says he’s 99% sure he’ll be playing, and Derwin James (hamstring) announced he’ll be back as well. Barring no setbacks, I’d expect both to be out there looking like their usual selves.
Joey Bosa (hamstring, toe) is the funny one of the bunch. I was personally hoping the Chargers would shop him in the offseason when we were exploring ways to get cap compliant, because it really seemed like the last opportunity to get value out of him. Staying healthy has just been difficult for him as of late. If he is active for the game, I would expect him to be rotated in as a situational pass rusher. After his Week One hamstring injury, they regulated him to a rotational role and gave Tuli Tuipulotu an expanded role, and both thrived in that situation. Tuli has been the best young EDGE the Chargers have fielded since drafting Bosa in 2016. Bosa has looked gassed late in games the last couple seasons, so giving him less snaps actually has him looking rejuvenated when he’s on the field. Those two, combined with Khalil Mack, also provide a killer NASCAR package when they’re all on the field together.
BTB: What are the major issues with the Chargers on defense?
BFTB: What’s most frustrating about Staley is that he often fields an extra defensive back over conventional norms, and floods the strong side of the field with a creative match-quarters defensive scheme with over-the-top help, and the weak side typically has man coverage. The trade-off is a light defensive front that teams can run all over.
Staley counts on his offense to put up points, and hopes to force his opposition to rely on their passing game to keep up with Herbert’s scoring. When they do, their elite pass rushers and creative pass coverage scheme should be extremely opportunistic and essentially shut down the aerial attack. The problem is - we’ve only seen this script play out a handful of times thus far. More often, the defensive scheme has looked too complicated for players, and despite having extra defensive backs on the field and over-the-top help, teams have thrown against the Chargers with ease and the Chargers can’t seem to slam the door shut when they are playing with a lead.
We all expect the defense to continue to give up explosive running plays here and there, but if the defensive backfield can’t clamp down in the passing game, the defense is in trouble. The lack of confidence in the run defense also creates a lot of opportunities for teams to succeed off the play action, like the Titans did in Week Two.
BTB: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Cowboys as 2-point favorites. Do you think that is a fair line, and how do you see the game playing out?
BFTB: It could honestly go a multitude of ways... I could see the Cowboys coming out for a strong revenge game after what happened with the 49ers, and have a statement win. My gut tells me that the Chargers have more to lose right now - Staley needs to have success this season, they are coming off a bye, and are bringing back some injured players. That being said - they really struggle putting a team away, so I’d expect a high scoring affair.
Thanks for the knowledge, Bolts From The Blue.