Cowboys-Chargers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 25, 2013
The only game the Dallas Cowboys lost is the only one in which Anthony Spencer played. That sure doesn't mean they wish it was his last of 2013. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, that's exactly the case. Then again, their DeMarcus Ware-led pass rush is a big reason they are the lone NFC East team above .500 heading into Sunday's road game against the San Diego Chargers. Spencer's 11 sacks last season ranked second on the team to Ware's 11 1/2, leading to Dallas putting the franchise tag on the defensive end for a second straight season. A free-agent-to-be making $10.6 million this year, Spencer was put on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday because he needs another surgery on his left knee after getting one in July. "He's a heck of a football player, and he's a guy that we will sorely miss," coach Jason Garrett told the team's official website. "He's been a great leader for our football team. He was a really productive player, a guy that people on our team, players and coaches, look to as an example of how we want to do things." Spencer's only appearance this season was a two-tackle, zero-sack day in a 17-16 loss at Kansas City in Week 2. Ware had two sacks in that game and two more last Sunday as Dallas bounced back with a 31-7 home victory over St. Louis. The Cowboys (2-1) totaled six sacks of Sam Bradford, who hadn't been sacked once in the Rams' first two games, to give them an NFC-leading 11. Ware moved one past Harvey Martin's 30-year-old franchise record with his 115th sack. "I can't say that it is unexpected because of how hard he works, and his talent level, and his competitiveness," owner Jerry Jones said. While Ware's four sacks lead the team, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher has one in every game and former seventh-round pick George Selvie - starting in Spencer's place - has a pair. That defensive line also has played well against the run, allowing an NFC-low 66.3 yards per game. That group has helped limit the Cowboys' last two opponents to an average of 262.5 total yards. Dallas, seeking its best start since 2008, got its own ground game untracked last week as DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown. It was his first 100-yard game since the 2012 season opener. "When you get a runner like that going, you can feed on him," Garrett said. "He gets a little contagious for everybody. Everybody starts feeling it." Tony Romo will feel a lot less pressure if Murray keeps performing that way. His 24 pass attempts and 17 completions were his fewest since 2011, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. San Diego's Philip Rivers also had just 24 attempts last Sunday, completing 20, but only four in the fourth quarter as San Diego again wasted a late lead and lost 20-17 at Tennessee. The Chargers (1-2) have blown fourth-quarter leads in all of their games. The only win came in Week 2, 33-30 in Philadelphia as Rivers threw for a career-high 419 yards. He's thrown for less than 200 in each of their losses. "We have to build off the good things, but really clean up the mistakes as soon as possible," first-year Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "... You see a lot of players making a lot of plays, doing their jobs the right way and then there is one little breakdown somewhere or another." Rivers, who has eight touchdown passes to one interception, has been sacked five times after being dropped an AFC-high 49 times last year. However, the Dallas defense may be the biggest test yet to San Diego's offensive line. Leading rusher Ryan Mathews has not topped 75 yards on the ground, going 17 straight games without reaching 100. These teams last met in 2009 at Dallas, with the Chargers winning 20-17 as Rivers threw for 272 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Gates. While the tight end has 13 catches for 179 yards and a score over the past two weeks, Eddie Royal leads the NFL with five TD catches but had none last week as he finished with a season-low two receptions. Fellow wideout Malcom Floyd sat out with a neck injury and is uncertain to return this week. Right tackle D.J. Fluker (concussion) also missed last week's game and linebacker Donald Butler (groin) was limited, but San Diego thinks both could be back at full strength. The Chargers will play with heavy hearts after this week's news of the suicide of Paul Oliver, who played safety for San Diego from 2007-11.
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