- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' special teams are raggedy. And, right now, so is its offensive line.
No team has scored fewer points than Jason Garrett's offense, and the Cowboys are second in the NFL with 31 penalties.
At one level, we should be amazed and impressed the Cowboys are 2-1 and in first place in the NFC East.
But we all know that's not going to last long if they continue to play the way they have the past two games.
The reality is that Jason Garrett needs to get this stuff cleaned up.
The league is too competitive and the games are too close for the Cowboys to be this bad in some important areas and continue to win.
Garrett can begin the transformation by demanding that special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis gets his unit to play better.
If that means using more starters, then so be it. The Cowboys had a punt blocked in Week 2 because Dan Connor didn't execute what Garrett termed a simple technique.
And they nearly gave up a blocked punt last week when a Tampa Bay defender sprinted unblocked up the middle. Only God knows how he didn't block Chris Jones' punt, which probably would've given the Bucs a 14-7 lead.
Jones sprained his knee on the play, forcing the Cowboys to sign veteran Brian Moorman.
It just makes you want to shake your head.
"There was a miscommunication up front," Garrett said. "There was an overload and we didn't handle the overload. It was not a real complicated look and it was a look we prepared guys for, and we didn't carry it to the game."
How in the world does that happen?
If a dude isn't good enough, then sit his butt down. If a dude isn't smart enough, then sit his butt down.
Let's not forget the curious case of twice having just 10 men on the field on special teams. Once for a punt return in the first half and again for Tampa's fourth-quarter field goal attempt.
"The communication between coaches, medical people and players telling somebody, it's just supposed to happen," Garrett said. "We just have to do a better job of that. Obviously, we need 11 guys out there."
Don't forget, the Cowboys also had too many men on the field on a punt against Seattle, leading to a first down.
It's Joe D's responsibility, but Garrett needs to apply intense pressure to ensure the special teams are top notch, otherwise they'll lose Monday night because Chicago's Devin Hester is one of the all-time great returners.
Garrett must address the pre-snap penalties on offense because it doesn't correlate to winning football. Guys with frequent false starts -- tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have combined for nine -- do so for two reasons.
There's either a lack of focus because they're thinking about a million things, from their blocking assignment to the snap count. Or they don't think they can block the dude in front of them, so they cheat just a tad.
"Playing with (a) different combination of guys has been a factor in this whole thing," Garrett said. "We have to make sure we handle the communication in a real clean and simple manner."
The penalties are wrecking drives. The Cowboys overcame 16 negative plays in New York to win and 22 against Tampa Bay.
It doesn't take an Ivy League degree to know that's not winning football.
The penalties and negative plays are a big reason why Dallas has scored just two touchdowns in the past eight quarters.
The Cowboys have committed four first-quarter turnovers, leading to 17 points this season, and they've trailed 7-0 each of the past two games.
"We believe getting off to a good start is important every week and what we have to do is simply execute in all three phases," Garrett said. "We talk a lot about finishing around here, but you have to start well to put yourself in a position to finish well.
"We have to get out of the gate better and that will help our football team play better throughout the game."
If Wade Phillips was coaching this team and it had the same types of issues the 2012 Cowboys have, we'd be ripping him.
Garrett has the Cowboys pointed in the right direction, but the progress must be faster.
5dEric D. Williams
5dMel Kiper Jr.