Chargers at Cowboys: Keys to Victory

What both teams must do to get a Holiday W

The Chargers and Cowboys meet on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. Now, NFL players have not been shy about voicing their disdain for Thursday night games. They’re basically being asked to put their bodies through two car wrecks in the span of five days, something that nobody really finds enjoyable.

But there is something about the Thanksgiving Day game that is just a little bit … different. When you throw tradition into the mix the guys on the field don’t seem to mind quite as much.

“I think, besides a playoff game, I don’t know that it gets any bigger,” said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. “Playing on Thanksgiving is something I don’t know if any of the guys on any other teams have done. Certainly we know we haven’t done it here. You’re always watching those games on Thanksgiving so it’s exciting. Going to Dallas, playing a really good team, it’s probably the last opportunity to get to do it and I’m looking forward to it.”

In fact the Bolts have never played a Thanksgiving Day game … as a National Football League team. During their AFL days the Chargers played several times on turkey day, the last one being in 1969 when they beat the Houston Oilers 24-20.

In his career there are only two marquee games that Rivers has never played in: a Thanksgiving Day matchup and the Super Bowl. This year he’ll get to knock one of those off his bucket list. At 4-6 the Chargers need all the wins they can get. Ditto the Cowboys at 5-5. For this holiday Keys to the Game Fernando Ramirez looks at the Chargers keys to victory while Derek Togerson handles what the Cowboys have to do to avoid dipping below .500.

Chargers Key #1: Don’t Let the Backs Run Wild

The Dallas Cowboys are missing their starting running back Ezekiel Elliot, who was suspended six games by the NFL. Since his suspension, the Cowboys have lost both games and have only managed to score 16 points. Last Sunday in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles the ‘Boys only used two backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, who is more of a fullback. The Chargers defense can’t let those two run wild. They must keep them in check because many people might forget, but Morris was a dangerous back when he played in Washington. The defense must neutralize the running attack and make quarterback Dak Prescott beat them.

Cowboys Key #1: Draw on Experience

Dallas hosts a Thanksgiving Day game every year so this is something they’re accustomed to. The Chargers talked a lot after their blowout of the Bills about how big of a game this is (see Rivers above). The Cowboys know how to approach this week since it’s business as usual. The Chargers run the risk of letting adrenaline and the moment overwhelm them, at least early, which is normal and to be expected. If they can’t keep it under control the ‘Boys need to punch them in the mouth early and play from ahead.

Chargers Key #2: Keep Dak in Check

The Chargers need to keep Dak Prescott in check and not let him take this game over. Dak is a dual-threat quarterback so he can run the ball just as well as he can throw it. This is the first time in his short career he doesn’t have his back playing with him and he isn't used to it. The Chargers need to contain the edges and make sure they have a QB spy so just in case he takes off running it won’t be for big yardage. In the last two games Dak has been sacked 12 times, lost three fumbles, and thrown three interceptions, so he is vulnerable. The Chargers are coming off a game where they picked off the Bills five times and returned two turnovers for touchdowns. The defense must be the ball-hawking team on Sunday and not the team that drops sure interceptions.

Cowboys Key #2: Give Prescott a Chance

Lots of people want to point to the fact that Ezekiel Elliott’s absence coincided with the Dallas offense going completely in the tank. The bigger issue is they haven’t had franchise left tackle Tyron Smith on the field for the last two weeks. Prior to Dak Prescott going down 12 times in two games he was only sacked 10 times in eight games and did not lose a single fumble. Smith, who was dealing with back and groin injuries, is active again against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. His presence impacts the entire offensive line. If the Bolts can’t get the kind of pressure they’re used to getting against Prescott (and Smith will make that a whole lot more difficult) the Dallas offense will be a lot more explosive.

Chargers Key #3: Keep Rivers Up

The offensive line will have a big task yet again as they will need to keep the league leader in sacks, Demarcus Lawrence, off of their quarterback. Lawrence has been a monster all season sacking the QB 11.5 times so far this season. Cowboys are tied for ninth in the NFL for sacks. The Chargers offensive line has only allowed Rivers to be sacked 12 times this season, which is third in the NFL. They have let him get hit 50 times, but they will need to limit a dangerous Cowboys pass rush. On Sunday, Rivers had a clean pocket and was able to feed receiver Keenan Allen all game long. The Chargers should look to get tight end Hunter Henry more involved because he hasn’t really been a part of the passing offense lately, but when it comes to run blocking he has been doing a good job. When the offensive line gives Rivers time he carves up defenses like a turkey.

Cowboys Key #3: Keep the Bolts Under 25

This is simple. When the Cowboys defense holds its opponent under 25 points this year they’re 5-0. When the opposition tops 25 Dallas is 0-5. Keeping teams out of the end zone and off the field gives them a huge advantage. Prior to last week’s Nathan Peterman-enhanced 54-point outburst the Chargers had only scored more than 25 points once, in their road win against the 2-win New York Giants. Don’t let the Chargers offense rip off chunk plays and keep the score down and Dallas gets the W.

Fernando’s Prediction: Chargers 31 Cowboys 20. The Chargers defense will be too much for the Cowboys to handle and the offense will take of business.

Derek’s Prediction: Cowboys 27, Chargers 17. I have seen this movie play out too many times before. Right when the Chargers look like they’re about to take the next step to contention they lay a giant egg. Until I see otherwise, I’m thinking that happens again on Thanksgiving Day.

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