Red zone a wasteland for Cowboys

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
5:57
PM ET


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Gaudy statistics skew the perception of the Chicago Bears' and Dallas Cowboys' offenses where it counts.

So maybe the clubs throw a party in the red zone on Sunday, because it’s evident -- based on Week-1 production -- the teams aren’t doing much else there. Chicago, which is tied for No. 1 in offense, and the Cowboys (No. 5) racked up a combined 843 yards in Week 1.

Yet their red-zone efficiency stood at a combined 14.2 percent (1 of 7).

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Larry French/Getty ImagesTony Romo and the Cowboys racked up big yards but few points in their Week 1 loss to the Redskins.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re looking forward to the next game,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “You’ve got to go forward. You can’t look in the past very long. You learn from the past, but you’ve got to move forward. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Red-zone futility remains a concern for the Bears, too. But it’s not as much of an issue considering they still managed to score 19 points in a win over the Lions, and rank 12th in the NFL in scoring.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, seek to remedy their red-zone ineptitude as quickly as possible. Dallas lit up the Washington Redskins for 380 yards last week in a loss, but managed to score just seven points, which ranks second to last in the NFL.

“Well, I just think there was no real tape on [the Redskins],” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “A lot of the stuff they did in the game was pretty brand new, and that’s to be expected from a coach and a system that hasn’t been together. That’s part of it.

"Overall, the execution side … it’s such a team game that one play -- one mistake -- by an individual can end a drive. When you look back, we moved the ball up and down the field. Then we’d have a mistake that would end the drive. It’s frustrating.”

The Cowboys snapped the ball 10 times in the red zone against the Redskins. The two missed scoring opportunities came on a missed field goal by David Buehler, and a holding penalty by Alex Barron, which negated the potential game-winning touchdown pass from Romo to Roy Williams on the game’s final play.

Dallas ran the ball three times for 18 yards in the red zone, and completed just 1 of 5 through the air (running back Marion Barber threw one pass) as receiver Dez Bryant and Barron contributed to 20 yards in penalties against the Redskins.

The recent red-zone struggle appear to be a continuation of issues from last season, when the Cowboys ranked second in yards, 14th in red-zone efficiency (52 percent), and 18th in red-zone point average (4.48). Should the red-zone issues continue, the Cowboys could be eyeing an 0-2 record after Sunday’s game.

“You can’t get started 0-2,” Romo said. “It’s a very deep hole to get into, and our football team understands that. There is going to be a great sense of urgency this week, we’ll say. We need to get better and play our best football.”

The return of a couple of front-line players should help. Right tackle Marc Columbo appears set to return to the lineup, after returning Wednesday from arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 16 to remove loose particles from his right knee. Left guard Kyle Kosier (MCL) practiced Thursday for the second consecutive day.

“You’re always trying to win that battle up front with our defensive line against their offensive line,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “From what I’m told, they’re getting their guys back this week.”

Colombo’s impact could be the most significant for the Cowboys, considering his replacement -- Barron -- is the NFL's most-penalized offensive lineman since 2005. Barron committed three holding penalties in the final 31 minutes, including the game-decider on the final play, in the final 31 minutes of Dallas’ loss at Washington and returns to his role as a reserve.

Regardless of who enters the lineup for the Cowboys, Phillips wants the club to break out of the red-zone funk it’s endured since last season.

“Certainly we moved the ball well [against the Redskins],” Phillips said. “We’ve got to finish up some drives.”

Having spent extensive time studying tape of Chicago’s opener, Romo expects to see some corner and safety blitzes from the Bears. But the Cowboys “understand that we need to play our best football this week,” Romo said, and “needs to minimize the mental errors here and there” for the club to clean up its issues in the red zone.

“They look good. They’re fast, they run around, very good attention to details,” Romo said of the Bears. “When you watch them, they’re No. 1 in the league, defensively, in a bunch of categories. But I feel strongly about our ballclub, and we need to go out and prove it this week. I do know that we’re going to be ready.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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