<
>

Cowboys need to find solutions on offense

IRVING, Texas -- The dissection of the Dallas Cowboys’ season will start soon. Today is just the third day of their offseason, so they will have time.

More than anything, the Cowboys have to figure out what happened to their offense in 2015.

The Cowboys scored 24 offensive touchdowns. They scored at least three offensive touchdowns in only four games. They averaged 17.2 points per game. They converted 34.6 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on just 20 of 45 red zone possessions. Their quarterbacks threw 16 touchdown passes and were intercepted 22 times.

Cole Beasley led the Cowboys in touchdown catches, but he had only five. Joseph Randle led the Cowboys in rushing touchdowns with four and he played in only six games before his release.

Yes, Tony Romo played in only two full games. Yes, Dez Bryant played in only nine games.

There is no doubt a healthy Romo and Bryant would have made the offense better, but it should not have been as bad as it was without them, especially Romo.

“I’m going to honestly say we ran pretty similar plays that we ran last year,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Different things [went wrong]. I think each week is a challenge. I think sometimes it’s just being able to execute those two or three plays that were there and do a better job there. We’ll look at the scheme too. It’s not always perfect. Sometimes really good players make average to bad calls pretty good too. So it’s a combination of that but I wouldn’t say it’s scheme. I wouldn’t say it’s execution or performance. I think there’s a lot of things that fell into place there.”

The one thing the Cowboys did well was run the ball. Darren McFadden ran for 1,089 yards. As a team, the Cowboys finished with 1,890 yards. It was far from the 2,354 yards the Cowboys had in 2014 with DeMarco Murray rushing for 1,845 yards, but it was the third-best rushing season since Jason Garrett’s arrival in 2007.

In other words, it was acceptable. But a good running game doesn’t lead to points.

As good as they were on the ground in 2014, the Cowboys still had Romo throwing 34 touchdown passes and Bryant leading the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on 33 of 51 red zone possessions. They converted on third downs 47.3 percent of the time.

The running game helped the passing game, but the passing game dictated the Cowboys’ success.

“That’s a good formula, but you have to play high-level football and protect the football for that to work,” Linehan said. “You can’t just say you’re going to run the ball and win. You’ve got to do both. You’ve got to run. You’ve got to be effective in situations when you run and the same thing in the passing game. I think the areas we fell short are pretty obvious. We flip that script, it’s a different story I think.”

The Cowboys can’t write a new script until next September. Romo should be healthy. Bryant should be healthy. The offensive line will be more experienced. There will be additions made through the draft and free agency to help.

Before then, however, the coaches have to find answers for what went wrong offensively in 2015 and how to find solutions in 2016.

“I think we have to pull back and evaluate our offense just like we have to evaluate our defense and our special teams,” Garrett said. “See what we were good at, see why we were good at it, see why we weren’t good at it, see why we weren’t good at those things. You have to do a thorough evaluation of scheme, of personnel, of everything. Your offense, your defense, your special teams always grow and evolve. You want to have systems that are good, that are comprehensive, that are flexible, that can attack different ways. You want all those kinds of things. We’ll evaluate our scheme, we’ll evaluate the guys who are running our scheme and we’ll do everything we can to improve.”