There's something about Week 4 and getting to 3-1 that the Dallas Cowboys just can't handle.
Last year, they hosted the Chicago Bears with a 2-1 record, and Tony Romo threw five interceptions in an embarrassing loss. Two years ago, the 2-1 Cowboys hosted the Detroit Lions, and Romo threw three second-half interceptions, as Dallas blew a 27-3 halftime lead.
The good news is that, this year, they aren't at home and they aren't playing a team from the NFC North. The San Diego Chargers are still pretty talented, though. Moreover, both Dallas and San Diego have lacked consistency in recent years, so we really don't know what we're in for on Sunday afternoon.
Here's our final preview of the matchup from a Cowboys perspective, along with a prediction...
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Romo can't throw five picks. Or three picks. Or any picks, really. The Cowboys have to run early to establish balance, as they did against St. Louis, and then allow opportunities to organically present themselves against a pass defense that ranks dead last in the NFL.
If they try to force it, they'll pay.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Attack Philip Rivers. He's been limiting his mistakes thus far and has made some impressive adjustments in terms of his ability to get the ball away, but that offensive line is really banged up.
This Cowboys defense has been making plays under Monte Kiffin. That has to continue on Sunday.
Five most important non-quarterback players
DeMarcus Ware: Anthony Spencer's out for the year, and the jury's still out on George Selvie. Ware will have to lead the charge against Rivers.
Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley: With the receiving corps banged up, both will have to step it up in a big way.
DeMarco Murray and Brian Waters: This running game has to keep building momentum against a run defense that has struggled.
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
Spencer's out and Ware's been limited in practice by recurring stingers. He's expected to play, but that's not good news for a line already missing Spencer and tackle Jay Ratliff.
On offense, Miles Austin has been ruled out, and Dwayne Harris says he'll play but is listed as questionable. The Chargers are vulnerable in coverage regardless, but Dallas will have a tougher time exploiting that without one, maybe two of its top three receivers.
Injury analysis, Chargers edition
The San Diego offensive line didn't look good going into the year, but it has done a decent enough job through three weeks. Thanks to satisfactory blocking and shorter dropbacks, Rivers has been sacked only five times in three games. The Chargers are still having some trouble running, though, and now that same line is getting hit hard by injuries.
Left tackle King Dunlap is questionable with a concussion, left guard Chad Rinehart is doubtful with a toe injury and right guard Jeromey Clary is also doubtful with a clavicle injury.
An injured Chargers' offensive line could mean big things for the Cowboys' defensive front, though it is also banged up.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Cowboys 23, Chargers 21
The Chargers thus far have played pretty well out east and have been better than expected this season. Their Week 4 game at home against the Cowboys is a toss-up, especially when considering that their opponent is equally unpredictable as they are. Ultimately, I'm giving a slight edge to a defense that has more bite and an offense that has more talent.
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