What We Saw: Cowboys at Chargers

The Cowboys held on for a tight win in a rock fight.

Cowboys @ Chargers

Final Score: Cowboys 20, Chargers 17

Writer: Adam Sloate (@MrAdster99 on Twitter)

 

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore’s revenge game kicked off with a bang, as the Bolts returned a Cowboys punt for 26 yards and into Dallas territory; just a few plays later, including a sweet Austin Ekeler 28-yard reception, the Chargers had the lead. The lead didn’t last long, as Dak Prescott scored on a beautifully-designed TD run to even it up. A ferocious Cowboys defense — so ferocious the referees took repeated notice — slowed down Los Angeles’ attack through much of the first and second quarters. They frequently put the Bolts in third-and-long situations that set up Dallas’ pass rush and forced Justin Herbert to get rid of the ball in uncomfortable spots. Dallas finally got back on the board at the very end of the second quarter, ending a long scoreless streak for both squads.

The second half featured holds galore, with both teams committing head-scratching penalties in important moments. Thanks to Dallas’ defense, which again forced Herbert to move out of many, many pockets, the Chargers couldn’t do much of anything for much of the second half. Dallas’ offense, stymied by Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s insistence on running Tony Pollard into brick walls if it would gain the Cowboys 2 yards, struggled to get much going. Dallas finally broke free on a strong catch, near-tackle, and run by Pollard to get Dem Boyz into the red zone, where Prescott was able to find former LA resident Brandin Cooks for a huge go-ahead TD. The Chargers answered with a TD off a Cowboys muffed punt, knotting the game at 17. Prescott and Dem Boyz then drove down the field, taking roughly 5 of the last 7-plus minutes off the clock, and Brandon Aubrey nailed a go-ahead field goal. Unfortunately for the Charger faithful, despite 2 and a half minutes and needing only a field goal, LA could not answer, and the Cowboys walked off with a win.

Three Up

  • CeeDee Lamb — Got involved early and often, and saw quality targets from Dak Prescott. As a result, Lamb nearly hit the century mark in receiving yardage in the first half. He slowed down in the third quarter but was able to get back into the game in the fourth and finally put up the value we’ve been looking for. He was also a fierce advocate for the Dallas defense at times!
  • Keenan Allen — This sure doesn’t feel like the same guy whose hamstrings seem to struggle every season. Allen looked explosive off the snap and difficult to tackle in the open field, thanks to his size.
  • Dak Prescott — Dak looked like the total package at QB today, adding value both with his legs and through the air. I don’t attribute much of the Cowboys’ scoring futility to Prescott, as there were countless holds and drops by receivers.

Three Down

  • Michael Gallup — Gallup was able to salvage his fantasy day later with a couple of catches, but this game was not his game in any respect. Gallup dropped a couple of easy catches, including a well-thrown ball by Dak Prescott to the end zone.
  • Austin Ekeler — Like Pollard, Ekeler got plenty of work…it just didn’t go anywhere. Ekeler averaged a putrid 1.9 yards per carry in the game and couldn’t break through a tough Dallas defensive front. Fantasy managers should also practice a little forgiveness, though, as Ekeler was able to recoup some fantasy value through the air and seems to have a normal workload overall.
  • Jake Ferguson — Ferguson added a lot of value as a blocker today but could not be found through the air for more than 1 reception, a season-low. Just two weeks ago, Ferguson was averaging over 5 targets a game; in his last two, he is down to just 4 total.

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

Quarterback

 

Dak Prescott: 21/30, 272 yards, 1 TD, 5 sacks | 7 carries, 40 yards, 1 TD

 

What a day for Dak Prescott’s legs! In his previous 5 games, Prescott had a total of 45 rushing yards and a single-game high of 24. Prescott hit 24 rush yards in two plays today, and it greatly opened up the offense. The Chargers had to respect Prescott’s run game by bringing defenders closer to the line of scrimmage (and in the middle of the field), but it didn’t seem to help teammate Tony Pollard so much. Otherwise, Dak was on his game today, finding open receivers when Dallas needed it most.

In the second half, Prescott targeted Michael Gallup just twice after a difficult first half and refocused his targets on Brandin Cooks, Pollard, and CeeDee Lamb. He was able to move the ball well when the Chargers’ line wasn’t punishing him for holding onto the ball for more than .001 seconds, as Dallas was able to score on 2 of its 3 full possessions in the second half. For someone who can struggle with the game on the line, Prescott really showed out when Dallas needed him the most.

Notes

  • Prescott took advantage of a beautifully designed run play, almost turned the ball over in the hand-off, and scored a solid rushing TD:

 

 

  • This TD pass to Brandin Cooks is a beauty from Prescott, who hits Cooks while backpedaling away from the Chargers’ defender:

 

 

Missed Opportunities

  • On the drive that ultimately ended in the above TD run, Prescott missed Michael Gallup on an easy TD pass. The ball was just over Gallup’s outstretched hands, which was especially brutal because Gallup had a step on his defender. This is the only play that really looked like Prescott’s fault, as far as I could tell.
  • Later in the second quarter, Prescott hit Gallup right on the hands for another potential TD pass, which Gallup couldn’t hang on to. Gallup was in the midst of a couple of Chargers defenders, but it did hit him squarely on the hands.
  • Better leave the Brotherly Shove to the experts in the NFC East:

 

Running Back

 

Tony Pollard: 15 carries, 30 yards | 7 targets, 6 receptions, 80 yards

 

The Chargers’ run defense isn’t known for being particularly stout under Brandon Staley. They’re middle of the pack in yards allowed per rush in 2023 and ranked dead last in the same stat in 2022. Yet, Pollard couldn’t find much of anything on the ground; 1/3 of his 20 first-half rush yards came on one 7-yard scamper. It looked more like LA came prepared for the Cowboys’ run game and not that Pollard was particularly bad. One thing to be encouraged about, as a Pollard investor, is that he looked just fine when Dak Prescott found him through the air. Plus, Pollard got the vast majority of the carries for the team as usual.

Notes

  • Pollard saw his looks through check-down opportunities close to the line of scrimmage but he was able to make the most of his looks by turning them into longer gains. In fact, Pollard’s tough running and suspect LA tackling set up the second Cowboys TD on this play:

 

 

Missed Opportunities

  • Pollard’s ground game left a lot to be desired but he did receive an end zone carry on the drive that ultimately became a Dak passing TD.
  • He also juuuuust missed a receiving touchdown on the final full drive of the game. The pass was probably more of a Prescott error than a Pollard error here.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

CeeDee Lamb: 7 targets, 7 receptions, 117 yards

 

Lamb has notably been frustrated with his lack of production within the offense, so it was nice to see him return to the workload for which fantasy managers — and Lamb — have desperately been asking. He couldn’t be touched in the first half but the Chargers made the appropriate adjustment to take away Lamb for much of the second half. It was only in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were able to go to Lamb for some huge late-game touches, including a huge 18-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 on the go-ahead drive. I am hopeful that this is Lamb’s “breakout” game in that the Cowboys will recognize that CeeDee is the Ferrari for which they’ve forgotten they had the keys all along, and start using him as the focal point in this attack as he was in the first quarter here.

 

Missed Opportunities

  • You’d love to see Lamb score a TD in the red zone at least once in a while (just one for the entire season so far), so it’s a shame for Lamb investors to see that TD go to Brandin Cooks. There was no real issue with Lamb’s play tonight; he took a frustrating holding call, but luckily that doesn’t show up in the fantasy box score in standard formats.

 

Michael Gallup: 10 targets, 3 receptions, 24 yards

 

Oh boy, it was not Gallup’s night. He could not hang onto the ball much, and that’s borne out in the box score here. The thing that will hurt the most is that Prescott targeted Gallup with some high-quality targets that he just couldn’t convert; these weren’t badly thrown check-downs, they were prime fantasy scoring opportunities. The Cowboys moved away from Gallup a bit in the second half, so it would seem that they got frustrated with Gallup’s struggles, but it doesn’t seem like something worth dropping Gallup over yet, especially since, in total, he collected the most targets of any player on the team.

 

Missed Opportunities

 

 

Brandin Cooks: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 36 yards, 1 TD | 1 carry, 14 yards

 

Dallas finally remembered they had Cooks in the second half, as Dak targeted him for some of the biggest plays in the game like the passing TD mentioned above. That catch had a mere 32.9% probability, per Next Gen Stats, of turning into a completion, so it was a heck of a play by both to make that conversion. The targets mostly came in the second half, as Cooks seemed to take over the WR2 spot for Gallup late in the game. In fact, on the game-winning drive, Prescott was able to look Cooks’ way beyond the sticks a couple of times.

Notes

  • The Cowboys finally used Cooks on a jet sweep, utilizing his speed to pick up a chunk of yardage late in the game.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

 

Quarterback

 

Justin Herbert: 22/37, 227 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 sack | 6 carries, 20 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 10 yards

 

Herbert battled through a Cowboys pass rush that had some teeth to it tonight; Dallas was constantly forcing him into tough throws, muddy pockets, and laying big hits on him, so it’s a minor miracle that Herbert ended this game with just 1 sack taken. Additionally, if you feel yourself so inclined to watch the All-22 film and squint just hard enough, you might see Herbert protected by something resembling Swiss cheese. All of this combined to throw Herbert off his game; he didn’t have time to attack downfield and resorted to some difficult throws to his check-downs.

Notes

  • Herbo might be both passer and receiver in this offense:

 

 

  • Dallas’ strong pressure up front and the Chargers’ middling offensive line forced Herbert into some tough decisions and rushed throws. Herbert missed a couple of open receivers in the second quarter on some downright inaccurate passes and was often looking for guys at or near the line of scrimmage just to keep the ball out of harm’s way.

Missed Opportunities

  • Herbert misses Keenan Allen, who was painfully wide open here, by overthrowing him. Nothing but open space in front of him after a sweet double move:

 

 

  • Herbert was blitzed on 42.9% of his dropbacks, which is an absolutely absurd percentage of blitzes. One might have thought Wink Martindale was engineering this Cowboys’ defense for the evening. Dan Quinn sent a big blitz when the Cowboys needed it most, resulting in this ugly play on 3rd-and-long for the game-clinching INT:

 

 

Running Back

 

Austin Ekeler: 14 carries, 27 yards | 6 targets, 4 receptions, 35 yards

 

Ekeler didn’t look like he’d missed 3 weeks, as he ran with his usual toughness, and the Chargers treated him with the workload of any other week. Encouragingly, LA went to him in short-yardage situations, but he was running into some tough Dallas fronts right at the line of scrimmage and wasn’t able to get much going. Ekeler is not a big tackle-breaker (just 5 in 2022), so it was unlikely that he would be able to create much if the Cowboys were ready for him at the line of scrimmage. In the second half, Ekeler was able to get a little more going, breaking off a whopping 6-yard run on the opening drive of the half, but otherwise, it was much of the same.

Notes

  • At least Ekeler got involved in the passing game!

Missed Opportunities

  • Ekeler saw a pretty hefty number of red zone looks, including a carry on 2nd and goal from the Dallas 4-yard-line in the first quarter, a wildcat snap on first and goal on the first drive of the second half, and a short pass on 3rd and 3 that probably should’ve been a TD had Herbert thrown it sooner on the second drive.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Keenan Allen: 11 targets, 7 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD

 

When Herbert had the time to find him, Allen looked strong and explosive. He was able to break some tackles and find open space, and the Chargers schemed up a couple of sweet looks to get him the ball. Allen doesn’t look his age or his injury history just yet. He’s the alpha of the offense and appears to be the only trustworthy receiver for Herbert when he’s able to look more than 3 yards downfield.

Notes

  • Here’s the play that keys in on the Cowboys’ confusion on the goal line, allowing Allen to waltz in for the TD:

 

 

  • Watch as he’s able to shake a couple of defenders here on a huge completion late in the game. Allen catches this well in front of the line to gain and needs a third Dallas defender to finally take him down just shy of a first down:

 

 

Missed Opportunities

  • See above for the wide-open pass on which Herbert missed Allen.

 

Joshua Palmer: 7 targets, 4 receptions, 60 yards

 

After Keenan Allen, this receiving corps gets a little dicey fantasy-wise, as there aren’t many reliable targets to go around between the rest of the guys in the receiver room. Palmer was able to make much of his plays tonight, turning in a couple of solid catches. Apologies to the Quentin Johnston crowd tonight, as Palmer took up the targets that were supposedly going to go to Johnston in the wake of Mike Williams’ injury. Instead, no one got enough of a workload to warrant starting fantasy consideration in 10 or 12-team leagues.

Missed Opportunities

  • Palmer had a TD nullified by an ineligible man downfield penalty early in the first quarter. Palmer got the ball on a short pass and took it to the end zone, but unfortunately, Chargers Guard Zion Johnson had other ideas.

 

 

Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter/X)

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