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Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Inconsistencies have defined offense

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- There are issues with the Dallas Cowboys' offense.

In the past eight quarters, the Cowboys have scored just two touchdowns and averaged 291.5 yards per game, which is 26th in the league the past two games.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys might have a solution for their offensive problems. The Oakland Raiders are ranked 24th in total defense and visit Cowboys Stadium to face a struggling offense.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said the team's goal is to figure out a way to snap out of the slump.

"We understand we have to play better," he said. "The way to do that is to execute better and have everyone perform a little bit better and then make the plays that are there, and hopefully that's what we're going to do this week."

There are several reasons for the struggles on offense. Dallas has converted just 38.7 percent of its third downs the past two games. In Sunday's victory over the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys converted 27 percent of their third downs.

"Little bit was [their] defense, little bit was us," Romo said regarding the third-down problems. "It's easy when you look at these last two games, and we just made mistakes. That's why statistics after a game [can be pointless]; it is what it is.

"If it's a trend over five or six games, then there's something there, but I think for us, hopefully we'll come out this week and perform better on third down, and I expect we will. And if not, we'll be behind the eight ball. So I think we'll be improved, but I think it's a mistake here and there."

The running game has been inconsistent this season overall and has not been used effectively in the past two games.

In the loss at Green Bay, the Cowboys ran the ball only 14 times for 61 yards. In the second half, when the game was still close, Dallas rushed six times.

But things changed the next week against the Redskins. Dallas ran 31 times with its running backs for 149 yards but did not produce a rushing touchdown. Marion Barber carried 20 times for 99 yards.

The starting wide receivers haven't been consistent, either. After catching five passes for 105 yards with one touchdown in the loss to the Packers, Roy Williams didn't have any catches against the Redskins. Williams had three passes bounce off his fingertips and was described by Redskins safety LaRon Landry as being scared.

Miles Austin was shut down against the Packers until the fourth quarter and finished with four catches for 20 yards. He didn't make a catch this past week against the Redskins until the end of the third quarter and had four catches for 47 yards.

Receivers coach Ray Sherman said defenses are doubling up Austin and Williams, making it harder for Romo to complete passes to either one.

Yet there are other options on the field that the Cowboys have been unable to use. Tight end Jason Witten has 10 catches in the past two games, and Patrick Crayton has made clutch receptions, including the winning touchdown against Washington and a fourth-quarter diving catch against the Packers, but there are times when he's invisible.

"We need to play better," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said after the Redskins game. "The biggest thing there is we need to score more points."

Garrett said the offense has to perform on third down and in the red zone if it's going to get out of this funk. Finishing drives is also important because the Cowboys missed two field goal opportunities early in the game the past two weeks.

If the Cowboys solve these issues against the Raiders, the December problems the team has endured might go away.

"Our guys have a great approach," Garrett said. "So we'll come back in, and we've got to clean it up quickly this week because we'll be back in [at Cowboys Stadium] on Thursday. But you clean it up and go to the next one with the approach that has been right."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at calvin.watkins@espn3.com.