PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 15: Linebacker Manti Te'o #50 of the San Diego Chargers warms up before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 15, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
The Chargers are 2-point underdogs Sunday at home against the Cowboys. San Diego has been the dog in all four games this season.
Dallas comes in with a 2-1 record, their only loss coming in their only road game, at Kansas City. The Bolts are 1-2, but haven't played a home game since the opening week, against the other team from Texas (let's not re-live how that one finished up).
Since all three of San Diego's games so far have been decided by three points, let's take a look at three players who will have a say in whether or not the Chargers get to .500, or finish the season's first quarter with a losing record:
Manti Te'o, ILB:
It's been a long time coming, but the 2nd round pick from Notre Dame is expected to make his NFL debut against Dallas. The last two weeks the Chargers have missed more tackles than any other team in the league. They've also forced only one turnover, on the first play of the season when defensive tackle Cam Thomas intercepted a batted ball. Te'o was drafted because he brings down ball carriers and had seven interceptions his senior year. He'll be asked to keep 220-pound running back DeMarco Murray in check, as well as help cover a pair of big, athletic tight ends in Jason Witten and former SDSU star Gavin Escobar. Te'o only played nine snaps in the preseason, so he'll be learning on the job.
Johnnie Troutman, OG:
The Chargers likely won't have three offensive line starters against a Dallas pass rush that ranks 2nd in the NFL with 13 sacks. King Dunlap is recovering from a concussion, Jeromey Clary a clavicle injury and Chad Rinehart a toe ailment. Troutman, a 5th round pick in 2012 from Penn State who has played all of two snaps with the Chargers (both of them last week in Tennessee), enters the starting lineup at one of the guard spots. Troutman will have to deal with a Monte Kiffin-coached defense that does two things extremely well ... get after the quarterback and force turnovers.
Eddie Royal and/or Keenan Allen and/or Danny Woodhead, KR:
Fozzy Whittaker was released on Saturday (to make room for offensive lineman Nick Becton), so the Chargers are looking for a new kickoff returner. Richard Goodman handled most of the returns in the preseason, and Fozzy handled all of them in the first three games of the regular season. Royal is next on the depth chart but the Chargers might not want to expose him to the potential for more punishment. Woodhead returned kicks in New England and Allen did it a handful of times at Cal, but hasn't returned one since his freshman year. I mention the importance of this because in close games (which this one could very well be) field position can be a deciding factor. A big return can be a game-changer.
The Chargers have the league's worst passing defense. I could argue that it's because of their competition. Facing the Texans and Eagles in the first two weeks can skew the numbers. However, when Jack Locker threw for 299 yards against them, it proved this is a unit that simply is not real good at defending the pass.
Tony Romo will not have Miles Austin to throw to, but Dez Bryant is a nightmare matchup on the outside. Future Hall of Famer Jason Witten is still causing havoc in the middle, and now he has a new sidekick in former Aztec Gavin Escobar, who caught his first career NFL touchdown pass last week against the Rams. If the game turns in to a shootout, with the way Philip Rivers has been going, the Chargers have enough on offense to keep it close. But with a makeshift offensive line and no indication the running game will get going any time soon, San Diego's inability to slow down Romo and company will be the difference.
Final Score: Cowboys 34, Chargers 27.