Game Scout, Week 14: Chargers vs. Cowboys

The San Diego Chargers look to give the Dallas media another week's worth of fodder as they face the Cowboys on Sunday. Get set for this contest with injury updates, keys to the game, predictions and more.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/13/09
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

PREDICTION: Cowboys 30-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: With its defense coming off a poor performance against the Giants, Dallas will want to control time of possession. The Chargers give up 117.8 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. That would also present QB Tony Romo with manageable passing situations and keep him out of the teeth of San Diego's pass rush. The Cowboys' secondary is susceptible to big plays and Chargers QB Philip Rivers thrives in the vertical passing game. But RB LaDainian Tomlinson must remain involved to keep San Diego's defense from spending too much time on the field.

FAST FACTS: The Chargers have a 15-game winning streak in December. ... Dallas' .573 winning percentage in interconference play since 1970 is the best in the NFC.



--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn't practice Thursday and won't play Sunday.

--S Eric Weddle (knee) didn't practice and won't play Sunday.

OG Kris Dielman
Jeff Gross/Getty
--LG Kris Dielman was back practicing after missing Wednesday for personal reasons but will play Sunday.

--CB Quentin Jammer (toe) went through another full practice. He will start Sunday.

--DL Travis Johnson (groin) practiced Thursday and will be part of the rotation Sunday.

--LT Marcus McNeill (ankle) practiced for the second straight day and will start Sunday. But he's worth keeping an eye on considering Dallas' speed rushers.

--WR Legedu Naanee (foot) went through practice and is a go for Sunday.

--P Mike Scifres (groin) is ready to play -- and aim for the Cowboy Stadium scoreboard -- Sunday.


--FS Ken Hamlin did not practice Thursday and has been ruled out of the Chargers game. He has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain.

--TE Martellus Bennett missed his second day of practice with concussion-like symptoms stemming from an injury he sustained in the Giants game. He will have to pass some neurological tests before being cleared to play against the Chargers this weekend.

--LB Keith Brooking has no regrets about going after a member of the media this week in defense of coach Wade Phillips. Brooking said he would do it again if necessary.

"I didn't come here to make friends, I came here to win," Brooking said. "I said what I mean and I feel strongly about it. I believe it with all my heart when I come to the defense of my teammates and my coach. I believe in what we are doing. I have very strong convictions about what we are doing. I didn't necessarily agree with what he said. I wanted to do everything in my power to let everybody know what the team is about, what we stand for and what we are going to do moving forward."

--TE John Phillips will have a bigger role in the offense if tight end Martellus Bennett can't go because of concussion like symptoms. He has just two catches for eight yards on the season. But veteran tight end Jason Witten has confidence that Phillips can be a solid fill in.

"If Martellus can't go it's a blow," Witten said. "John embraces that challenge. One thing you look at in a rookie is the stage going to be too big for him, definitely not the case for him. He kind of embraces those challenges. He's a smart guy, played in a lot of different looks. John really stepped up and played well, I think everybody has been surprised at how well he's done."

--FB Deon Anderson practiced on Thursday and should be ready to play Sunday against the Chargers after missing Wednesday with a sore knee. He had no problems in practice on Thursday.



The Chargers are facing one of their stiffest tests of the season Sunday in Dallas. The question is: How many key players won't be healthy enough to participate?

LB Shaun Phillips
Matt Sullivan/Getty
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who has arguably become the team's best player on that side of the ball the past two months, missed his second straight practice on Thursday.

Phillips leads the team with seven sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with six forced fumbles, is trying to nurse an ankle injury.

Last week he was able to practice on Thursday leading up to the game in Cleveland. For this week's Thursday session, he was on the sideline.

But coach Norv Turner said he's not sure that the work Phillips got a week ago in practice did more good than harm.

"I think this will help him and believe he will be a full go tomorrow and hopefully be ready for the game," Turner said of Phillips.

Shawne Merriman starts opposite Phillips and went through a full practice. Merriman, who has a foot injury, didn't play in the win over Cleveland and was in on just a handful of plays the previous week against the Chiefs.

"I was pleased with what I saw," Turner said. "He was a lot better than he has been. I'm anxious to see how he feels tomorrow morning."

The news was upbeat on defensive end Luis Castillo and his ailing calf, too. He practiced and will play Sunday.

Good thing, because it appears backup Alfonso Boone -- who went about 45 plays last week in Castillo's absence -- is out this week. Boone (knee) didn't practice Thursday.

In facing the massive Dallas offensive line and the Cowboys' impressive running game, the Chargers can't afford to be too short-handed.

"They are so big and physical and they run the ball extremely well," Turner said. "That is going to be a big test for our defensive line and linebackers."


Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo stepped up to volunteer to hold on field goals and extra points, replacing punter Mat McBriar.

With kicker Nick Folk in a slump -- he has missed eight kicks this year and one in each of the last four games -- the Cowboys had considered a change. Folk blames his struggles partly on poor holds from McBriar.

"When you're the quarterback of a football team, really all that matters is winning," Romo said Thursday. "I think that was the point. We need to continue to get better in certain areas. We're always talking about improvement and figuring out ways to get better as a team. This is another thing, hopefully, that can help us continue to improve. The bottom line is figuring out a way to win football games. If this helps us do that, I'm going to do it."

Folk didn't seem to have a preference who replaced McBriar when the Cowboys started to contemplate a change.

"I hope he does a great job at it," Folk said of Romo. "He's working on it. We're working everyone. Mat is still working at it just in case something happens."

According to special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, Romo volunteered on the flight home from New York last week. Folk missed a 42-yarder in the 31-24 loss.

Romo hasn't held since 2006, which ended with his infamous bobble in the wildcard playoff loss to the Seahawks. He held at the Pro Bowl that year but was replaced as the holder the following year by backup quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson had the job the past two years.

With this switch, Romo will be the NFL's only starting quarterback serving as a holder.

"Obviously I would prefer not to do it for obvious reasons," Romo said. "But at the same point my pops told me one time leadership is doing what needs to be done, and I think in some ways, not that it's a big, big thing, but it's important for us to be good in that area, and I feel as though, you know, that's something I've talked to Nick and felt like is important and we'll go forward and see if I can do this. If I can't, if I'm not any good, OK. But obviously, hopefully I'm good."

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