Game Primer: Chargers-Cowboys

All three Chargers games have come down to the wire. The team is a handful of plays away from being 3-0, and a play or two away from being 0-3. Can San Diego restore its balance and even its record at 2-2? We break down three things to watch in Week 4's home clash with the Cowboys.

What to Watch: Offense

San Diego is efficient on offense thanks to a quick-strive attack. Philip Rivers is completing 70 percent of his passes and has been sacked just five times (less than once per 20 drop-backs). It is important he gets the ball out quickly against Dallas, as he will be working behind a makeshift offensive line.

Starting guards Chad Rinehart (toe) and Jeromey Clary (clavicle) are listed as doubtful. They will be replaced by Johnnie Troutman and Rich Ohrnberger, respectively. Steve Schilling, just re-signed this week, will be active and the top backup interior lineman.

As an immobile pocket passer, Rivers has always struggled most with up-the-middle pressure. The Cowboys know this and should be able to generate plenty of it on Sunday. Dallas ranks No. 2 in the league with 13 sacks. If San Diego falls behind and is forced to pass its way back into the game, things could get ugly.

What to Watch: Defense

The most fascinating unit on the field will be San Diego's linebackers. Making his debut with that unit will be Manti Te'o, who was a full participant in practice this week after missing the first three games with a foot injury. He will play along side Donald Butler, who is back in full force after missing most of last week's game with a groin injury.

The key to the game is on the outside, as Dwight Freeney and Larry English look to put pressure on Tony Romo. The Chargers have the league's worst pass defense (340.7 yards per game) and cannot afford to give Romo time to dissect a secondary that may be without starting CB Shareece Wright (questionable with a hamstring).

Freeney has been very active through the first three games but has just a half-sack to show for it. English had his first sack of the season last week in Tennessee and now has two sacks in his last five games played. Tourek Williams has a chance to be active for the second time this season after the Chargers released fellow linebacker Terrell Manning to make room on the roster for Schilling.

What to Watch: Something Special

The Chargers organization is all too familiar with death. Last year, franchise face Junior Seau committed suicide, becoming the eighth member of the 1994 Super Bowl team to pass away before the age of 45. This offseason, fellow legend Chuck Muncie died at age 60 of a heart attack.

Tragedy struck again earlier this week when former Chargers safety Paul Oliver committed suicide at age 29. Oliver was an underrated member of San Diego's secondary for six seasons. Physical and aggressive, his combination of skills as a safety-corner hybrid made him a staple in the Chargers' nickel and dime packages.

With the Chargers back at home this week, playing their first game since Oliver's passing, it is important that players and fans take a minute to remember Oliver and offer up a prayer for the wife and two children he left behind. And for Oliver's close friends that are still on the team, including Eric Weddle and Darrell Stuckey, this is a game that should be dedicated to No. 27.

What do you expect from Te'o on Sundday? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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