Sunday, September 19, 2010
Cowboys' offense killed by mistakes
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- How the heck can an offensive unit as talented as the Dallas Cowboys produce a grand total of two touchdowns in two games?
"I don't have a great explanation for you," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said after Sunday's 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears.
A lot of folks will find Garrett's comment fitting. It sets up an easy punch line: Garrett never has a good answer during the game, either. But that's too easy.
Cowboys receiver Roy Williams has the ball stripped away from him in the fourth quarter by the Bears' D.J. Moore (30) and Charles Tillman.
Garrett won't get a pass here, but he won't get the brunt of the blame. His too-pass-happy game plans the past two weeks haven't been flawless, but they've been good enough to average 395 yards, not even a first down less than the average when the Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in total offense last season.
It's the players who keep finding ways to kill drives. The Cowboys have mastered the art of the momentum-halting mistake, such as their four offensive penalties and three turnovers against the Bears.
You could certainly argue that such sloppiness is a reflection of poor coaching, but that's letting the players off the hook. These aren't rookie mistakes. They're being made by seasoned veterans.
The four offensive penalties were all committed by 30-something offensive linemen Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier. Dallas failed to pick up a first down after three of them.
"You're trying to survive on the drive rather than staying in attack mode," Garrett said.
Tony Romo threw a pair of picks, passes that Bears cornerback D.J. Moore rebounded after trusted targets Miles Austin and Jason Witten failed to hang on to balls that hit them in the hands. (Austin took a big hit; Romo threw the ball earlier and about two feet farther inside than Witten expected.) Receiver Roy Williams, who lost a late fumble, is experienced enough to understand the importance of protecting the ball.
"We can't make the mistakes we're making," said Romo, whose stats (34-of-51 for 374 yards) were padded during the comeback attempt. "The turnovers are killing us, whether they just happen or because of poor technique. Whatever it is, we need to stop that. We need to do everything better."
Added Williams, the lone receiver or running back accountable enough to talk to the media after the loss: "Stop turning it over, stop having penalties and we'll be fine. Something always happens. We just have to fix it."
That's easy to say, but it's apparently extremely difficult to do.
Garrett stressed eliminating mistakes all offseason. He identified penalties and negative plays as the primary reason a team that finished behind only the New Orleans Saints in total yards found itself in the middle of the pack in scoring.
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Maybe the Cowboys didn't want to hear it. They better start listening soon. The season is slipping way, and it's still September.
Garrett, who tends to get too cute for his own good, needs to do a better job. But these problems fall primarily on the players' shoulders.
These are professionals, not pee wee kids. The coaches shouldn't have to make them run laps to emphasize the importance of avoiding penalties and stupid mistakes.
"We're going to get it fixed," center Andre Gurode said. "We have no choice. We've come out two weeks in a row and haven't gotten it done as a team. We need to put some points up, so we need to get it fixed.
"It's going to take a little bit more from everybody."
When so few points are produced, there's plenty of blame to go around. We'll find out if there are any decent answers.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.