Chargers vs. Cowboys matchups: Offensive line play key for each team

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Los Angeles Chargers center Corey Linsley (63) blocks during an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021 in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)
Center Corey Linsley (63) anchored a Chargers offensive line with his usual All-Pro acumen in the season opener last week. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (1-0) and the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) match up heading into their game at 1:25 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).

When Chargers have the ball: In recent seasons, this was the spot to mention the offensive line because of how much the Chargers struggled there. Now, the situation has flipped, the offensive line a glorious sight to the team and its fans in Week 1. The linemen provided ample protection for quarterback Justin Herbert in a 20-16 victory over Washington. All-Pro center Corey Linsley was solid-plus, as was rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater. “We had high expectations for him, but it’s good to see it validated,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of Slater. “It’s good when your draft picks work like that. It’s certainly a credit to our scouting staff.” Slater was selected 13th in April and arrived as the starter. He did nothing but cement his status during training camp, even while dealing with a back injury. “He’s got really top-notch ability,” Lombardi said. “But there are a lot of guys that have that kind of ability. So I think it’s a work ethic. It’s a character issue. It’s a smarts issue. All those factors that you see in great players. ... I don’t want to crown him as the next Hall of Famer yet. It’s one game. But it was an impressive game against a really good caliber opponent.” Herbert has produced nine 300-yard games in 16 starts. Dallas gave up 379 yards to Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady in its opener.

When Cowboys have the ball: Ezekiel Elliott is coming off one of the least productive games of his career. Only twice has he had fewer carries than the 11 and fewer yards than the 33 he had in Week 1. For this reason alone, the Chargers are bracing for a potential load of Elliott. “He has my full attention,” coach Brandon Staley said. “My eyes tell me this guy is a top two to five back in this league.” Dak Prescott returned from ankle and shoulder injuries to throw for 403 yards and three touchdowns in Dallas’ season-opening defeat. He completed 42 of 58 attempts and has thrown at least 47 passes in four of his last five games dating to before he hurt his ankle last October. “I think the value of Dak Prescott really expressed itself last season when they didn't have him,” Staley said. “Since he’s played for the Cowboys, their record (42-28) speaks for itself. ... We’re excited to be able to chase him this week.” Despite throwing 58 times, Prescott was sacked only once by the Buccaneers, but Dallas is down two offensive linemen, with La’el Collins (suspension) and Ty Nsekhe (illness) both out. The Chargers limited Washington’s less-dynamic offense to 133 yards through the air last weekend. The 2020 Rams defense — coordinated by Staley — yielded 266 yards to Prescott in Week 1.

When they kick: Tristan Vizcaino’s debut with the Chargers was perfect, just like his only other NFL appearance. In his two career games, he’s five for five on field-goal attempts and four for four on extra-point attempts. Veteran Greg Zuerlein missed two field-goal attempts and one extra-point attempt in the Cowboys’ opener.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: Dallas is definitely missing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) and might be without another defensive end, Randy Gregory (COVID-19). The Chargers take advantage.

CHARGERS 35, COWBOYS 30

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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