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Cowboys Take Aim At Justin Herbert, Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers can start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2012 when they play host to the Dallas Cowboys in their home opener at Inglewoood, Calif., on Sunday afternoon.

At Washington in Week 1, the Chargers escaped with a 20-16 road victory over the Washington Football Team. Quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 337 yards and a touchdown pass to Mike Williams.

One of Herbert’s few blemishes was an interception corralled by Washington cornerback William Jackson III in which he tried to force a ball to tight end Stephen Jackson near the end zone. A review of the game film led Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy to implement “jumpball drills” in practice for his defensive back, noting Herbert’s penchant for throwing “50-50 balls.”

Dallas won the turnover battle at Tampa Bay last Thursday in the NFL opener but lost to the Buccaneers on a last-second field goal.

The Chargers were particularly effective on third down last week.

L.A. converted 14-of-19 third down attempts. The 14 third-down conversions were the most by any team in the last decade in a single game. That number included Herbert and L.A.’s offense converting four straight third downs to seal the victory at the end of the game.

“Third down is so much about keeping yourself protected in this league, understanding your protection plan, and then knowing the coverages that you’re going to face,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “And when it does get tight, where am I going with the football? I felt like we had a really good third down plan. We’ve got tough receivers to defend on third down.”

The Chargers could be without right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and safety Nasir Adderley (groin). Neither practiced Wednesday.

Edge rusher Kyler Fackrell (knee) cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder) and defensive tackle Justin Jones (calf) also missed Wednesday’s practice for the Chargers.

The Chargers won the last meeting between the two teams, a 28-6 humbling of the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. The Bolts have won their last three matchups with the Cowboys. However, Dallas holds a 6-5 edge in the all-time series.

While Dallas hones in on Herbert, the Chargers expect everything they can handle from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

In his first game back from a gruesome, season-ending leg injury last year, Prescott threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns in the Cowboys’ 31-29 road loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

Cowboys wide receivers Amari Cooper (134 receiving yards) and CeeDee Lamb (104) both eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in the contest.

The Cowboys are trying to avoid starting the season 0-2 for the first time since 2010.

Dallas could be without two of its top pass rushers. According to reports, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence fractured his foot in Wednesday’s practice and could be out for six to eight weeks. Edge rusher Randy Gregory also was added to the COVID-19 reserve list, making his availability uncertain.

Dallas should get some help up front on offense with Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin returning to practice this week for the first time off the COVID-19 reserve list.

“I felt good today,” Martin told reporters on Wednesday. “(Thursday) is another big day out here with pads. This will be big for me.”

Running back Ezekiel Elliott logged 11 carries and two catches in Week 1 but didn’t feel all that fresh following a heavy workload picking up inside rushes from 300-pound bulldozers Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. Elliott’s production wasn’t to his own standard, although he said he did “a lot of banging in there” and was pleased with the showing at Tampa.

“Every play I’m given a job. My job is to do my job to the best of its ability,” Elliott said. “I take a lot of pride to being well-rounded. Blitz pickup is big for a running back. You have to have keep that quarterback safe and untouched.”

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