Five keys: Cowboys at Chargers

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
11:25
AM ET
Good morning. The San Diego Chargers face an important home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. At 1-2, the Chargers need to keep pace with AFC West leaders Denver (3-0) and Kansas City (3-0) by taking care of business at Qualcomm Stadium.

Here are five keys for the Chargers as they attempt to crawl back to the .500 mark.

Contain Murray: It’s no surprise the Cowboys are 10-0 when running back DeMarco Murray rushes for 100 yards or more. When the Cowboys can run the ball, Tony Romo isn’t forced to make every crucial play on offense, and the Cowboys don’t turn the ball over as much. However, the Chargers have only given up one 100-yard rusher in the past 10 games at home. So limiting Murray’s touches and not allowing explosive plays from the Cowboys’ running game will be priority No. 1 for San Diego’s defense.

Don’t let Dez Bryant or Jason Witten beat you: Of course, this key is easier said than done. But the Cowboys do come in the game short-handed, with Miles Austin out due to a hamstring injury. So expect the Chargers to bracket Bryant and Witten, and force guys like Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar to beat them.

Force some turnovers: It’s time. Most know the Chargers have only generated one turnover this season, one of three teams with one turnover or less through three games (Houston and Pittsburgh are the others). However, San Diego has had its chances. The Chargers have forced three fumbles, and recovered none of them. I think that will change, with the Chargers creating at least two Dallas turnovers on Sunday.

Run the football: The Chargers likely will be without left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and right guard Jeromey Clary (clavicle) on Sunday. All three players did not practice this week. So how will a patchwork offensive line deal with DeMarcus Ware and a Dallas defensive front that has totaled 13 sacks through three games? Run the football and force Ware to make some tackles in the run game. Ryan Mathews needs at least 20 touches.

Finish: San Diego coach Mike McCoy has preached finishing this week. Cornerback Derek Cox said the coaching staff broke down practice to four quarters, emphasizing the importance of finishing strong during the final portion of practice. The Chargers have either led or were tied at the beginning of the fourth quarter in all three contests this season, but have only won one of them. San Diego has to figure out how to protect a lead if the Chargers are lucky enough to get one against the Cowboys.

Here are few links to check out this morning.

Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus offers three things to focus on in the Cowboys-Chargers matchup. McGinness: “(DeMarco) Murray poses a problem for opposing defenses because he has the ability to run around you or straight through you, with 10 missed tackles forced already this year. Add to that his 10 missed tackles forced as a receiver, and his average of 2.88 Yards After Contact Per Carry, and it’s not surprising to see him at the top of our Elusive Rating rankings this early in the year, with an ER of 77.8.”

Bill Simmons of Grantland picks the Chargers over the Cowboys. Simmons: “It's the Somebody's Blowing This Game In The Most Agonizing Way Possible Bowl! Did you know the AFC is 11-3 this season against the NFC? Please add that to the long list of things I was dead wrong about heading into this season: The NFC is much better than the AFC.”

ESPN’s Calvin Watkins writes that Dallas defensive coordinator Bill Callahan has developed a good rapport with quarterback Tony Romo.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego takes a closer look at the passing of the torch for the Spanos family, owners of the Chargers.

Eric D. Williams

ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter

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