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Cowboys see improvement on third downs

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys converted just 35 percent of their third-down plays this season, good for 23rd in the NFL. On the season, the team is last with just 49 made third-down plays.

There was a terrible three-game stretch where the Cowboys couldn't convert a third down play regardless of who was on the field. Dallas went 8-for-36 on third downs before going 4-for-11 at the New York Giants than then 7-of-13 on Thanksgiving Day against the Oakland Raiders last week.

The third down improvement for the Cowboys against the Raiders is something they need to build on for Monday's game at Chicago.

"We thought in the last two games we certainly got better and they were more manageable," offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said. "And I had said a couple of weeks ago that was the key. If we could stay in those manageable situations that helps us execute, convert drives gives us another chance, another opportunity to extend the plays."

When Callahan means manageable he's talking about what the Cowboys are doing on first-and-second downs. Dallas averages 5.1 yards per play on first downs, while it's just 12th in the NFC, Callahan knows if you operate out of shorter down and distances it helps finish third down plays.

"Right, you always want to win first and second down to stay out of (long) third downs," Callahan said. "And if you can do that and I think we did that a few times in the Raiders game I really believe it lends to a better rhythm. Lends to a better flow not only for the players but for the play-caller and everybody else involved. Again, we really worked hard on that aspect to improve and again, we've been fortunate to improve that and hope we can do it again on Monday night."