Dec 122009

Collision Course

Collision Course

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost

The Dallas Cowboys  are 8 – 4, and as coach Wade Phillips reminded the media, that makes them winners. Unfortunately, their foe Sunday, the San Diego Chargers, are 9 – 3, riding a hot streak, and, well, they, too, are winners.

The two teams, though they seldom meet – this is only their ninth meeting – have plenty of history. Norv Turner, the Chargers’ coach, is a former offensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Wade Phillips is the former defensive coordinator for the Chargers. Both men were strongly considered for the coaching position in Dallas, after Bill Parcells left. Most thought Turner would be Jerry Jones’s choice.

He wasn’t. Phillips was. Jones figured he had the offense covered with Jason Garrett (who was a hot commodity at the time, you may recall). What he needed, in his mind, was someone to whip the defense into shape. Wade has done that.

Phillips has also posted a nice winning percentage with the Cowboys…especially if you do not count December or the playoffs. Dallas’s December woes are well chronicled and much debated. Meanwhile, Turner’s Chargers are 15 – 0 in December. Turner’s team made the conference championship in 2007, losing to the New England Patriots. They made the Divisional round last year and lost.

While the Chargers try to figure out how to take that next step and make the Super Bowl, The Cowboys are just trying to solve December and finally post a playoff win for the first time in thirteen years. The Chargers want to win this game; the Cowboys have to win it.

Phillip Rivers and company are as dangerous an offense as any this side of New Orleans. They create matchup problems all over the field, especially with Tight End Antonio Gates. The Dallas Defense is playing well, though, currently ranked fifth in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed per game.

The Cowboys’ high-octane offense, however, has not played as well in recent weeks. They run well one week, pass well the next, but haven’t put the two together in awhile.

Sunday’s game will come down to quarterback play, defense, and coaching. One might give an ever-so-slight edge to Phillip Rivers over Tony Romo, but it is razor-thin. Romo has played well this year, while Rivers is playing out of his mind. Defensively, you have to like Dallas. Phillips knows how to prepare a defense and call a game on that side of the ball. And he knows the Chargers.  The Coaching edge, it says here, belongs to Norv Turner, simply because he has proven he can get his team ready to play the games that matter most and get into the post-season, where he has had good success with the Chargers.

The wildcard may be Jason Garrett. If he can mix his game plan up enough to keep the Chargers off-balance and resist the urge to be cute when he needs to just be right, his offense could have a nice day against the Chargers, which ranks 15th in points allowed and 12th in yards given up.

The outcome of the game may very well determine Wade Phillips’s future with the Cowboys…and he knows it. His margin for error is nonexistent after the loss last week to the Giants. Should his team lose its grip on the NFC East and fall into a wild card fight, or out of playoff contention entirely, he will need to dust off that resume.

The Chargers will come to play. Of that, there is little doubt. If the Cowboys do, as well, this could be the NFL game of the week. The series edge is decidedly in the Cowboys favor. They hold a 6 – 2 series edge over the Chargers. But this is not your daddy’s Chargers…or your momma’s Cowboys.

For Wade Phillips and his Dallas Cowboys, in light of recent late-season collapses, this is definitely the time for them to take that road less traveled.

Prediction: Cowboys win 27-24.