Insider's Take: Bolts vs. Cowboys

The San Diego Chargers recorded more wins on the road than they did at home last year. That mysterious trend continued Saturday as the team dropped its preseason home opener to the Dallas Cowboys. Let's look at what worked, what didn't and what's next for the boys in bolts.

What Worked

--With the starters playing most of the first half, the Chargers dominated the contest. In just the first half, San Diego outgained Dallas 205-49, earned a 14-3 edge in first downs and held a 17-minute advantage in time of possession. Four of the Bolts' five first-half drives lasted eight plays or more; the Cowboys' longest first-half drive consumed just six plays.

--Philip Rivers is the epitome of a leader. He showed it by finding Malcom Floyd three times in the first half, which was by design after Floyd was held without a catch last week. He showed it by bouncing back from his early interception to lead the Bolts on a TD drive the next time out, which he capped with a 1-yard scoring plunge. And he showed it with his open-field tackle of SS Barry Church during a fumble return. Rivers has a chance to be the best player in the NFL this season.

--Ryan Mathews keeps reminding fans how fun this offense is to watch when it has some balance. For the second week in a row, he went into the locker room at halftime with at least 50 yards rushing and 60 yards from scrimmage. He offered up a reminder that he's still a rookie by missing a blitz pickup that resulted in a first-quarter sack, but other than that, he is living up to the hype.

--Backup OLBs Jyles Tucker and Antwan Applewhite both had active outings. Tucker helped pinch the pocket in the first half, while Applewhite's fourth-quarter sack gave the Chargers a chance for a last rally try. With Shawne Merriman reporting late and already nursing an Achilles injury, Tucker and Applewhite provide a tremendous amount of security for a defense that relies on heat off the edges.

What Didn't

--The Chargers finished with eight more first downs and 100 more yards than the Cowboys, yet lost. The reason: turnovers. Philip Rivers was picked off when he was late on an out-route to Legedu Naanee; Darren Sproles put the ball on the ground; and Jonathan Crompton lost the ball in the end zone to give Dallas a game-winning safety. This is a talented offense, but it cannot give away so many possessions.

--The Chargers have terrific two-deep depth, but A.J. Smith is kidding himself if he thinks the Chargers have a three-deep roster. Third-stringers Jonathan Crompton and Marcus Mason have played poorly enough that the Chargers may consider keeping just two players at their respective positions. The O-line -- thinned by the holdout of Marcus McNeill and the injuries to Scott Mruczkowski (ankle) and Nick Richmond (knee) -- looked overwhelmed once Norv Turner emptied his bench.

What's Next

San Diego has a short week as it preps to go on the road on take on former Charger Drew Brees and the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The starters are expected to play into the second half, giving Rivers and Brees a chance to really go toe-to-toe in what could turn into a shootout.

Will Rivers be an MVP candidate this season? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and 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 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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