IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have found a flurry of ways to flub productive drives through four weeks of the season, and they have nothing to do with the foot of kicker Dan Bailey.
Dallas sits at 16th in the league in total offense, yet only Jacksonville has fewer points per game. The Cowboys are putting themselves in position to score, but failing to get points on the board when they reach their opponent's territory.
The Cowboys tallied 24 points on the five drives they moved into Giants' territory in the opener. Since then, they've totaled 40 points in 19 trips past midfield in their last three games, including just 16 points in eight trips inside Tampa Bay territory and 17 points in seven trips when reaching Chicago territory Monday night.
"I think the biggest thing is we have to maximize the opportunities we have," said head coach Jason Garrett. "We moved the ball relatively well. We didn't convert some third downs when we got in the red zone. We did have the one turnover in the red zone. I thought there were some plays to be made out there."
Dallas reached the Chicago 47-yard line before punting on its first drive in the first quarter. The next time the Cowboys moved past midfield was in the second quarter, when they were again forced to punt at the 38-yard line after an incomplete pass on a deep ball to Dez Bryant.
Following Miles Austin's 10-yard touchdown reception, the Cowboys registered just 10 points on their next four trips inside Bears' territory, which included two interceptions inside the 30-yard line. The only touchdown came in garbage time on quarterback Kyle Orton's pass to Jason Witten.
From fumbles to interceptions to a failure to convert crucial third downs, the Cowboys haven't finished drives or allowed Bailey – who hasn't missed this season – to get on the field.
The turnovers are obviously an issue. The only team with a worse turnover margin than Dallas at minus-seven is Kansas City at a whopping minus-13. Many of the Cowboys' turnovers are occurring in opponents' territory, as they did last night when the Bears' defense scored just four fewer points than the Cowboys' offense.
Dallas scored on three of its 11 possessions Monday night, while committing turnovers on five and punting on the other three.
"When you get down in the scoring area, you have to maximize on those chances," Garrett said, "and a couple of times we did, and a couple of times we obviously didn't. There were some other big-play opportunities we didn't cash in on in the ball game. And that's just their formula for success on defense. It's worked for them for a long time. At times we did what we needed to do in the game, but at the critical moments we turned the ball over, and that's what they want you to do."
Another factor is the disappearance of big-play scores. The Cowboys beat the Giants with touchdown passes of 34 yards and 40 yards to Austin and Kevin Ogletree, respectively. Since then, Austin's 22-yard touchdown catch against the Seahawks is the only scoring play of more than 11 yards.
"We have to just keep figuring out a way to execute better," quarterback Tony Romo said. "They're simple things, sometimes. The No. 1 factor is taking care of the football. I know that and preach it to the guys. It's obviously frustrating."
It seems to be something different every week that's limiting possessions. One week offensive penalties alter the downs and distances. The next week the penalties are fixed and the running game is non-existent. Then the drops arrive and the turnovers are committed in bulk.
With only 10 or 11 drives per game, Garrett said the Cowboys must be able to finish when they approach the red zone.
"You're going to be able to drive the football, but at the critical moments, you have to make the third-down conversions, you have to great with the ball, and cash-in on the opportunities," Garrett said. "We were not able to do that in that game."