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Cowboys Hash Marks: Dallas wins low-scoring power struggle with Chargers

The Dallas Cowboys won their first game of the season as they outlasted the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that featured wild swings everywhere but the scoreboard

DALLAS — If there were ever such a thing as a "low scoring shootout," that may be what took place at SoFi Stadium in Week 2 when the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers squared off Sunday afternoon.

Although the Cowboys prevailed 20-17, the two sides appeared to throw haymakers throughout the entire game, and both defenses were able to come up with takeaways; it wasn't like either unit was exactly lying down. The Cowboys out-gained the Chargers 419 to 408, but it was Dallas' ability to cash in near the red zone that made the difference.

Here are four impressions from the win that moves Dallas to 1-1 for the second straight season under coach Mike McCarthy:

1. RB Tony Pollard is coming into his own — The former 2019 fourth-round pick from Memphis is starting to apply his experience to his preexisting youth and athleticism, which is making for a powerful combination on the field.

Pollard is doing a great job of using his vision and patience to set up blocks and turn his touches into chunk plays — an element lacking in the Cowboys offense since defenses started keying in on Ezekiel Elliott.

The consummate teammate, Pollard said after the game that the team wants to go with the hot hand at running back. "We just wanted to go with who’s hot," said Pollard, who had 13 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. "We both feed off each other. If he was hot, we would have went that way. It just turned out this way."

2. OT Terence Steele held his own — There was no better way to terrorize Cowboys fans leading up to this game than to tell them that the former 2020 undrafted free agent tackle from Texas Tech would be going against Pro Bowl QB stalker Joey Bosa. Steele was thrown into the fire last year at right tackle and got bullied.

However, true to what Steele said in training camp, he grew from those negative experiences and has developed into a dependable swing tackle.

For Steele to thrive against one of the league’s best, it went back to his determination.

"To play in this league, you have to have major confidence in yourself," said Steele. "I worked my butt off this whole offseason, just for this moment, to prepare for this moment. I still have to continue to build off this."

Maybe Cowboys fans won't be so afraid in Week 3 when he starts against the Philadelphia Eagles.

3. Clock management — Let's say the scoreboard in SoFi Stadium wasn't off and forced the Cowboys to draw down the game clock to four seconds before burning a timeout. Dallas has first-and-10 from the Chargers' 45-yard line, and instead of pushing towards the end zone, the Cowboys start going into field goal mode.

Dak Prescott throws a 4-yard pass to receiver Cedrick Wilson, who steps out of bounds to stop the clock. The next play on second down was a handoff to Pollard for three yards, placing Dallas at the Chargers' 41-yard line with one timeout remaining.

Now, the Cowboys were pigeonholed into attempting the 56-yard field goal, relying on the leg of a kicker who missed a 60-yarder the week before. While all's well that ends well, the Cowboys have to ascertain what happened on the second down play that caused them to call a run with one timeout remaining on second down.

4. Conversion story — The Cowboys were much better in the red zone, and it showed on the scoreboard. With Dallas going 2-of-3 in the red zone and then 2-of-2 in goal-to-go situations, the Cowboys got the two necessary touchdowns that turned the final drive into a push for a last-second field goal rather than to tie the game or execute a game-winning touchdown.

If Dallas is able to convert 66.7% of their red zone trips — up from 50.0% in 2020 — it should be the winning formula to help them win the close ballgames that had become losses in recent years.

Do you feel like the Cowboys are making strides under Mike McCarthy? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.