San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead (39) during warmups prior to playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chargers defeated the Eagles 33-30. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego Chargers Week 4 Keys to the Game


The San Diego Chargers will be taking on the Dallas Cowboys at 4:25 p.m. ET, and this could end up being a high scoring game pitting two star quarterbacks against each other in Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Rivers has been revelation this season under the new regime, and only Peyton Manning has looked better passing the football through three weeks of the season. However, the Chargers offense is in trouble this week against the Cowboys, because the offensive line will head into the game banged up. King Dunlap has reportedly been ruled out, so that leaves Mike Harris starting at left tackle against one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the game in DeMarcus Ware. On the bright side, Anthony Spencer won’t be a problem, as he’s out for the season. On the downside, George Selvie is a more than capable starter at left end and has been terrific this season. Below are some keys to victory for the San Diego Chargers.

1. Dwight Freeney vs. Tyron Smith

The San Diego Chargers defense has been struggling mightily so far this season, but the brightest spot on the Chargers defense has been veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The Chargers couldn’t have envisioned the signing of Freeney going better than this, as he has been more than what they expected when they inked him following Melvin Ingram‘s injury. Freeney has been amazing this season if you are willing to look past the 0.5 sacks. He has put so much pressure on the quarterback, and that consistent pressure has been huge for the Chargers defensively. They are going to need more of the same from Freeney against Romo, because that’s the best way to beat the Cowboys passing attack.

However, Freeney doesn’t have an easy matchup today, as Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith is one talented young tackle. Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams is one of the best DEs in the game, but he couldn’t get anything going against Smith after roughing up Sam Baker of the Atlanta Falcons the previous week. If the Chargers are going to stop Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense, they are going to need Freeney to win his individual matchup against Smith and put pressure on Romo’s blindside.

2. Stop DeMarco Murray

The Cowboys are fresh off of a blowout victory of the Rams, and DeMarco Murray was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to tear up the Rams defense. Murray gained 175 yards on the ground, and he has averaged nearly five yards per carry this season. Combine that with the fact that the San Diego Chargers have allowed over five yards per carry, and you have the potential for Murray to have another huge game at the Chargers expense. This team’s YPC average against is a little bit skewed, though, because they have been facing talented backs all season. Arian Foster, Ben Tate, LeSean McCoy, and Chris Johnson are all among the most talented rushers in this league, so it’s no surprise that the Chargers defense has allowed over five yards per carry.

Another reason why I think the Chargers run defense is due for a change for the better statistically is because players who are usually good against the run have been rusty to start the season. Eric Weddle has missed eight tackles so far this season, and you can bet that the game’s best safety, especially all-around, isn’t going to continue that trend. Cam Thomas and the rest of the defensive line should also get more stout against the run, but the Chargers do need to cut down on their missed tackles; they have 23 this season. But will they improve quickly enough to stop a solid feature back today? That’s the burning question.

3. Give it to Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates

The Dallas Cowboys biggest weakness on defense is in the middle of the field, and the San Diego Chargers need to take full advantage of the Cowboys linebackers in coverage. The Cowboys gave up seven receptions to Isaiah Pead last week, eight to star Jamaal Charles the week before, and even five receptions to Da’Rel Scott in Week 1.

So what does that mean? Give the ball to Woodhead. Danny Woodhead is easily one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, and it’s almost like having a slot receiver catching passes out of the backfield. Woodhead is as dependable as they come, and I could see him tearing up the Cowboys defense. With the Chargers offensive line banged up, throwing short passes to a safety valve like the RB or TE becomes more important, and that’s where both Woodhead and Philip Rivers can benefit. So not only does Woodhead have a favorable matchup, but he also should be a key part of the gameplan since I expect Rivers to be under pressure for most of the game. And here’s a fast fact: Did you know that Danny Woodhead leads the San Diego Chargers with 17 receptions? Give him the ball today.

Here’s a more obvious fact: Did you know that Antonio Gates is second on the team with 15 catches? Gates has been the team’s best and most reliable weapon so far this season, and Philip Rivers has been looking for him often. The likely Hall of Famer has averaged 15.2 yards per reception this season for a total of 228 yards, and he should also have a big game today against the Cowboys. Jared Cook and Brandon Myers had solid days against the Cowboys this season, and Gates is in a better situation than both of those players. Not only does he have a quarterback who is playing much better than Sam Bradford and Eli Manning (not to mention the fact that Rivers is better than both of them, even slightly better than Eli), but he’s also going to get more targets. Gates is the focal point of this passing attack right now, so it makes sense to give him the ball frequently; just expect him to have a monster game on top of that.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter for more NFL updates and analysis @SorianoJoe. Be sure to like us on Facebook here and follow our site on Twitter as well.

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Tags: Antonio Gates Danny Woodhead DeMarco Murray Dwight Freeney Eric Weddle Philip Rivers San Diego Chargers Tyron Smith