First Response: Chargers 30, Cowboys 21

First Response: Chargers 30, Cowboys 21

Credit: Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee (50) runs back an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, Sunday, September 29, 2013. (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)

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by LANDON HAAF

WFAA Sports

Posted on September 30, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Updated Monday, Sep 30 at 12:56 AM

The Dallas Cowboys logged 21 points in the second quarter, but surrendered 20 unanswered points in a 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers and the win one, lose one trend continues. A breakdown of the nine-point loss, including a short list of positives, the negatives, and a glass-half-full outlook:

The positives

The way the Cowboys use of DeMarco Murray was pretty much par for the course. He averaged five yards per carry against the Chargers, and hauled in five catches as an extension of the newfound dink-and-dunk Dallas offense.

Murray averaged over four yards per carry on first down, putting the Cowboys in second-and-manageable on multiple occasions. The issue was that Murray only received 14 carries – but more on that later.

Dez Bryant grabbed six passes for 81 yards and two scores. Strangely enough, the Cowboys are 1-6 in the seven games in which Bryant has caught multiple TDs, but the ‘Boys attacking the end zone with their top playmaker is something Cowboys fans should like to see. They showed the ability to go to Bryant in a goal-line play (5-yard score) and from outside the red zone (34 yard score).

Sean Lee was the one real bright spot in a shoddy defensive effort. Lee recorded 18 total tackles (15 solo) and had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. He added one tackle for loss in the effort.  

The negatives

I told you I’d have more on DeMarco Murray’s 14 carries later… Well, lucky for you The Reader, the list of positives was short enough that you didn’t have to wait long.

The play-calling Sunday was a negative in both facets of the offense. The Cowboys had only 16 total rushing attempts compared to 37 passing plays. Sure, this stat is skewed by the ‘Boys playing catch-up with a pass-heavy game late. But Murray only got the ball nine times on designed runs in the first half, and Dallas abandoned the rushing attack against a defense that entered the game ranked no. 28 in run defense. In the week following Murray’s 175 yards on 26 carries against a defense that surrendered 61 yards per game through two weeks, wouldn’t it make sense to feed Murray carries until someone consistently stops it?

After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Tony Romo threw for 244 yards and two scores, and played turnover-free football. And he came away with a solid 108.4 passer rating (to put that into context, a season 108.4 rating would put him fourth among regular NFL starters), which is nice. But Romo, who averages almost eight yards per attempt in his career, averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt Sunday for an offense that scored only 14 points on a struggling defense.

One can’t be entirely sure what of that is on Bill Callahan and what is on Romo switching plays at the line or calling for check-down plays, but whoever it is needs to be more aggressive in the passing game. The one-dimensional offense the Cowboys ran won’t fool many defenses. While Bryant had those six catches and two scores, only nine targets for the top receiver isn’t enough, especially against a defense that was allowing 340 yards per game through the air. Romo went 15 straight plays in the fourth quarter without throwing it to Dez, which is not a good trend to set in the aerial attack.

Monte Kiffin’s defense looked like less of a stalwart in week 4 than it had the previous three weeks. Phillip Rivers threw it all over the secondary, amassing 401 yards and three scores. Bruce Carter got beat twice by Danny Woodhead, and Morris Claiborne was repeatedly beaten on the outside.

By comparison, Rivers averaged 9.5 yards per attempt on the Cowboys defense. He recorded five passing plays of 26 yards or more, whereas Romo only had one such completion.

But, more important than the yards allowed was the time of possession battle. The Chargers held the ball for 34 minutes in the game, but dominated possession in the second half. The Cowboys’ defense couldn’t get Rivers and Co. off the field, which allowed San Diego to mount its comeback. The defense got the ball back for the offense only one time in the third quarter, as the Chargers recorded scoring drives of 5:28 and 6:23.

Dallas also committed five second-half penalties after a no flags were thrown against them in the first half. A team with a one-dimensional and mismanaged offense, and a defense that can’t get off the field can’t shoot itself in the foot with penalties.

Glass half-full

Jerry Jones said that Claiborne and Carter “individually add up” after the game. So an optimist – a radical one, at that – could believe Jerry is finally right about something, and those two players will turn it around.

With that looking unlikely, especially with Claiborne, Cowboys Nation can turn to the fact that the division still stinks. Washington won it’s first game, but who cares?

And, with Denver coming to town next week, Cowboys fans who double as Peyton Manning owners in Fantasy Football will be able to swallow the inevitable drubbing by the Broncos offense a little easier than the rest. ‘Cause Claiborne and Friends haven’t seen anything like the elder Manning yet this year, and he will likely have a hay day. 

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