Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 12 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys:
1. Keep Feeding Keenan – While the country feasts on Thanksgiving dinner, the Bolts will look to keep feeding Keenan Allen. KA13 is fresh off a vintage performance against the Bills when he caught 12-of-13 targets for 159 yards and a pair of TDs. One of the game's top route-runners, there are few capable of getting in a groove like the Bolts' top receiver. Watch for the Chargers to take a similar approach to last week, after having the most sustained attack of the season. That obviously means more Allen, who has 56 catches for 755 yards and three touchdowns on the year. As Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn was quick to point out, that type of workload is music to Allen's ears:
"If you ask Keenan, (he always wants more). He's begging for the ball every series. He's a big receiver. He has the skill set that he can sustain those targets all year long…. For a big guy, he can be a slot receiver. He has the initial quickness to do that. So, we like to put him in the slot just for matchups."
2. Lock in on Lawrence – In order for Philip Rivers to have time to get the ball to Allen and company, the offensive line is going to have to keep number 17 upright. They'll face one of their tougher tasks all year in DeMarcus Lawrence, who is tied for the NFL lead with 11.5 sacks. Capable of wrecking a game all on his own, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt weighed in on why Lawrence is in the midst of a career-year:
"He's long, first of all. (He) has good length, long arms (and) he's really good with his hands. Gosh, seems like we see guys like that week in (and) week out, in this division especially. He certainly ranks up there with those guys. He's a very good player."
3. Nothing Changes Without Zeke – The Cowboys will be without one of the game's premiere running backs as Ezekiel Elliot is suspended for the Thanksgiving Day game. However, the Bolts can't afford to take Dallas' run game lightly as they possess a pair of talented running backs as well as a powerhouse offensive line that dominates at the point of attack. Alfred Morris is expected to be the team's primary back, and has averaged 6.2 yards per carry on the year. The veteran had 17 carries a week ago for 91 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Rod Smith has been explosive since getting more looks, carrying the rock 21 times for 94 yards (4.5 ypc). As Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley explained, not much changes for the Chargers even though Elliott won't be on the field:
"You see some of the same philosophies. They are who they are. They've got that really good offensive line up front. And I think where they do such a really good job is running the ball. They're still very effective at it. And it's not just one scheme. They have zone scheme, stretch with puller. You see a little pistol and option. So in a short week with all of the things that they do, we just have to really be on our rules..."
Lynn also praised Dallas' rushing attack:
"They have Alfred and the other two backs, Rod. They're just using them by committee right now. Last week, they rushed the ball pretty decently. They just got behind and couldn't stick with the run. As long as you have that offensive line in front of you, I believe that committee of backs, they can still rush the ball and get the job done. We have to focus on stopping the run, still."
4. The Dak Attack – Few quarterbacks have taken the NFL by storm the past two years like Dak Prescott. The second-year QB has picked up right where he left off following a breakout rookie campaign as one of the top dual-threat passers in the NFL. Prescott has completed 201-of-320 attempts (62.8-percent) for 2,139 yards and 16 touchdowns for an 89.8 passer rating, while also running 34 times for 247 yards with another five scores. As always, the Chargers will look to assert their will with their vaunted pass rush. However, they know that will be tough against the elusive Prescott. Lynn admitted they are concerned about his ability to extend plays and make teams' pay:
"Real concerned about that, because those are the plays you just can't prepare for. Dak does a really good job of making those plays. We've got to stay with our man. When he leaves the pocket, we may have a spy or something on him. We have to stay with our man, because he makes a lot of completions that way."
5. There's Nothing Like Swagger – The Bolts have spoken all week about embracing the national platform they've been given come kickoff. They also haven't shied away about the magnitude of Thursday's game, which is pivotal to both teams' postseason aspirations. Fortunately, the Chargers come into the game with a ton of confidence. While Philip Rivers isn't a big believer in momentum, he does believe it can carry over when there are two games so close together. Thus, the Bolts must not only maintain, but build off the swagger they currently have fresh off a dominating 54-24 win a few days ago. As Whiz noted, there's nothing like swagger:
"I think a lot of this game is about confidence. Let's not forget that technique is a big part of it because you're going against really good football players, but you know, you hear the term swagger a lot, and that is part of it, believing you can do it, having a little confidence in it, and that's something that was good to see."