The Dallas Cowboys are facing their first 0-2 start in more than a decade, and they'll have to go on the road to face the Chargers on Sunday to get right. They may have friendly confines in LA, though, where there could be more Big D fans than Charger fans in SoFi Stadium.
Despite their season-opening loss on "Thursday Night Football," the Cowboys have much to be optimistic about this season. Dak Prescott looked like his Pro Bowl self after missing most of last season with a fractured ankle and dealing with a shoulder strain this summer.
Of course, nearly taking down the Super Bowl champions in a prime-time game is nothing to scoff at either. And three of the other four NFC East teams also lost, illustrating how weak the division remains. (Washington defeated the New York Giants 30-29 on Thursday night to take the early lead in the division.)
The Chargers were one reason for the NFC East's struggles, as they beat the Washington Football Team on the road last Sunday. Justin Herbert passed for 337 yards in Brandon Staley's head coaching debut, and LA out-gained Washington 424-259.
Can the Cowboys bounce back on the road? Or will Staley win a second straight game to propel the Chargers into the playoff conversation?
Dallas at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Chargers -3.5
Three Things to watch
1. Can Ezekiel Elliott get going?
For as much went well for the Dallas offense in Week 1, one glaring weakness was the running game. Elliott only picked up 33 yards on 11 attempts, which included a long of 13 yards. Most of his rushes went for two or fewer yards.
Most disappointing was his inability to punch it in from 3rd-and-goal at the 2-yard line (although tight end Blake Jarwin missed a crucial block). Elliot did convert his only other third-down carry, but Dallas largely opted to lean on Prescott instead in crucial downs.
And it's not just that he disappointed against a tough team. He was even out-shined by second-year back Tony Pollard, who picked up 14 yards on three carries and added 29 receiving yards on four receptions.
Elliot should get a far easier test this week. Tampa Bay led the league in run defense last season, while the Chargers only ranked 18th at 119.8 yards allowed per game. Washington's Antonio Gibson gashed them for 90 yards on 20 attempts, so there should be room in the trenches to show that the three-time Pro Bowler has still got it.
2. Which team will generate more pressure?
The two biggest stars of this game are clearly the quarterbacks, as Prescott and Herbert ranked second and seventh in passing last week. Stopping the opposing passer has to be at the top of both team's priorities.
The problem is that both teams struggled to rush the passer last week. The Chargers got one sack, two hurries, and seven pressures, while the Cowboys generated a dreadful three pressures with one hurry and no sacks. Making matters worse for Dallas, it will be without leading pass rushers DeMarcus Lawrence (broken foot) and Randy Gregory (COVID-19) on defense.
Los Angeles has the clear edge in this department after a stronger Week 1 showing and better health, but this could go either way since neither team was impressive at rushing the passer — or pass-protecting — last season.
Adding to the Cowboys' concerns is an offensive line that will be without starting right tackle La'El Collins, who is serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and his backup, Ty Nsekhe, who had to be hospitalized on Thursday due to a heat-related illness. That leaves Terence Steele to start at right tackle where he could have to deal with the Chargers' Joey Bosa, who has his team's only sack thus far.
3. Who will convert in the red zone?
One other area of struggle for both teams last week was in the red zone.
Dallas converted a touchdown on just one of four trips inside the 20 against Tamp Bay, and kicker Greg Zuerlein even missed a 31-yard field goal wide left. (Zuerlein also missed a PAT and a 60-yard field goal at the half.) Los Angeles made six trips to the red zone but only scored two touchdowns, with a pair of field goals, a fumble, and an interception.
This was a problem for both teams as well last year, as the Cowboys only scored on 50 percent of red-zone opportunities (tied for 29th), while the Chargers converted 57.1 percent (21st). Much more is expected of Dallas now that Prescott is back instead of Andy Dalton, but both teams will need to step up in this department to make a serious playoff run.
Both teams have reason to be excited about their playoff chances after Week 1 but have quite a few issues to iron out. Expect lots of offensive fireworks with Dak back and Herbert picking up where he left off after his big rookie season. LA may have the edge on defense Sunday, but Dallas may be too much to contain on offense, especially if Zeke can get going against an easier opponent with three extra days of .