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False Starts, O-Line Protection Issues Hurt Offensive Efficiency


ARLINGTON, Texas – Injuries prevented continuity on the offensive line in the preseason, but after three weeks of the regular season, the line still doesn't look like the jelled product the Cowboys hoped for.

Six false starts and three more offensive penalties comprised the majority of the Cowboys' 13 total penalties in an offensive struggle Sunday, which resulted in quarterback Tony Romo getting sacked four times.

The false starts weren't limited to new Cowboys players. Right tackle Doug Free committed three false starts and had a holding penalty in the third quarter. Two of the false starts were charged to tight end Jason Witten, while the final went to left tackle Tyron Smith.

"I don't have an answer to that other than that we need to focus on that and do better with it," Romo said. "When one guy does it, it's just not that guy's fault. Someone else might have moved and the ref might have seen something and the call is made at the last second."

The false starts were a problem in the opener, but appeared to be cleaned up in Seattle. Head coach Jason Garrett acknowledged that they're clearly still an issue the Cowboys need to solve.

"We are going to work very hard to figure out why that's happening," Garrett said. "We have to make sure we eliminate those because it is putting us in some bad down-and-distance situations."

Romo never had an opportunity to get comfortable in the pocket, but he still managed to throw for 283 yards, including 107 yards to wide receiver Miles Austin. The Cowboys were forced to pass more because of a struggling rushing attack and long distances resulting from the penalties.

The offensive line couldn't create any running room for DeMarco Murray, allowing Tampa Bay pass rushers Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett to focus on taking down Romo, which they did two times apiece.

"It's not good enough," said center Ryan Cook. "We would like to, in a perfect world, have no shots, no pressures, and for him to sit back in the pocket and throw the ball. But that wasn't the reality today. We've got to do a better job of protecting him and giving him time to make those long throws down the field."

Ever since Cook took over for Phil Costa after the team's first drive against the Giants in Week 1, the same group of five linemen has remained intact. Romo said he thinks the unit is still in the process of meshing. "I just think that we need to continue to get reps," Romo said. "It's still early in the process, so we would like that stuff to be smoother and it will get better as we go forward."

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