Commentary

Cowboys' offense has no excuses

First-teamers must show life vs. Chargers despite injuries, personnel changes

Updated: August 18, 2012, 8:34 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- Regardless of the injuries facing the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett's first-team offense needs to produce Saturday night in San Diego.

The Cowboys can't have the same issues they did in Monday's 3-0 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Ben MargotJason Garrett saw the Cowboys' first-team offense gain just one first down in three series in the preseason opener.

Garrett gave his first-team offense three chances to do something positive in the preseason opener. The Cowboys registered just one first down.

The offense line didn't open any running lanes for Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray.

In the passing game, Tony Romo was sacked, Jones dropped a pass, and tight end Jason Witten suffered a slightly lacerated spleen on a play in which he lost two yards.

In last year's preseason opener against Denver, Romo's group was done for the night after producing a field goal in one possession.

Garrett needs to see his offense do something positive against the Chargers.

The Cowboys are working with a patchwork offensive line. The current interior of center David Arkin and guards Derrick Dockery and Mackenzy Bernadeau is unlikely to start at those spots for the regular season.

Chemistry is developing right now with that trio, but it might have to start over again when guard Nate Livings and center Phil Costa return from injuries.

"Arkin is the wild card in the whole thing," Garrett said. "He never snapped a ball until about 10 days ago. Those kinds of things factor in. There's no excuses. You got to make this work. You got to communicate. You got to do things the right way."

The loss of Witten and the ongoing absence of Miles Austin disrupts the offense. Instead of safety-blanket Witten, Romo will have to rely on rookie tight end James Hanna and backup John Phillips, who is coming off a sprained ankle.

Receiver Dez Bryant has been wonderful in training camp and looked great making a 24-yard reception at Oakland. Can he sustain it for long periods of time without Austin?

"We've got a lot of options to go to," owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "I feel good that we will have -- absent other injuries -- with what we're dealing with right now in the offensive line, that we can handle that and get it in sync."

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Tom HauckStarting running back DeMarco Murray gained zero yards on two carries against Oakland.

The backup receivers -- led by Kevin Ogletree, who is attempting, again, to become the No. 3 receiver -- are young and unproven.

Garrett's running attack has some problems to sort through. Murray and Jones can't do it alone.

In addition to the injuries on the line, tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith have switched sides and the running backs are getting familiar with new fullback Lawrence Vickers.

"We didn't run it very well," Garrett said of the Oakland game. "We tried to run it a little bit and we didn't move them off the ball very much."

Lack of scoring isn't a new problem for the Cowboys. Last season, they finished 15th in the NFL with an average of 23.1 points per game.

All but two 2011 playoff teams, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, outscored the Cowboys. Three non-playoff teams averaged more than Dallas.

The Cowboys failed to score any touchdowns in a victory over Washington. There were just 14 points scored in two losses to Philadelphia. In the last two weeks of the season, the Cowboys scored just 21 points.

Injuries to Austin, Bryant, Jones and Murray hampered the offense last year. But the Cowboys had the seventh-best passing offense in the league.

However, every team above the Cowboys in passing also averaged more points than them.

Life in the NFL doesn't care what teams have to get through. Just fix it and produce. And it has to start Saturday night for the Cowboys' offense.

"You have to be able to adjust," Jerry Jones said, "and hopefully have enough flexibility and have enough options offensively so that when you get players hurt, you've got to have other ways to run your offense. And we do."

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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