IRVING, Texas –Nobody would care about a lack of running success if the Cowboys scored when they got inside the 20-yard line.
The problems faced by this Cowboys team are no different now than they were toward the beginning of the season. Inconsistent line play, no running success, turnovers, penalties, third down struggles and a lack of timely stops on defense all continue to play a role in their losses. But none of those problems are quite as significant as their failure to score when they march down the field.
Sure, the Cowboys rushed just 11 times in yet another game where they came from behind to get the score just close enough to keep fans on the edge of their seats before falling short. They wouldn't have gotten there without opening it up.
All three fourth-quarter Dallas scoring possessions featured at least one no-huddle play, including both of their touchdown drives. Once again, the Cowboys, who've been outscored by 61 points in the first halves of games this season, began moving the football while trailing by a colossal deficit.
But marching down the field wasn't the problem all year and it wasn't the issue against the Redskins, who finished with 19 fewer yards than the Cowboys.
The problem is that the offense has reached the red zone 13 times in the last four games, scoring a touchdown just five times in that span. In none of those games did the offense finish with more than a 50 percent efficiency rate inside the red zone.
Had Dez Bryant not made another marvelous grab on a fourth-and-3 touchdown pass from the Redskins' 11-yard line, the Cowboys would have finished 1-for-4 in red zone efficiency Thursday.
Maybe when, or if, DeMarco Murray returns, the red zone inefficiency will lessen, though that wasn't the circumstance when he was around earlier in the year. If the run needs to be abandoned to move the football, so be it. But when the back of the end zone acts as another defender, quarterback Tony Romo must be near-perfect inside the red zone if teams know head coach Jason Garrett doesn't trust the running game.
Throwing short passes could do the trick, although Romo tried that unsuccessfully on the first two red zone failures, resulting in two field goals. Dumping it off to the running back could also work, as it did on Felix Jones' 10-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter. But it can also result negatively, as it did when Romo dropped off a pass to Lance Dunbar that went four yards backward prior to a field goal to begin the third quarter.
The Cowboys have no go-to play in the red zone that they can count on. Tight end Jason Witten remains consistently reliable across the middle of the field, but disappears inside the 20-yard line. The only target consistently delivering for Romo in the red zone is Bryant. They may want to keep looking his way.