FRISCO, TX — It was one the messiest contests put on film by the Dallas Cowboys in the Mike McCarthy era, and yet they were still in position to mount a comeback against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Instead, they fell to 2-1 on a 28-16 final score, and plenty of blame can be assigned to the run defense, the rash of penalties and their continued issues in the red zone.
The latter is the one item of those three that has persisted through three games, and that fact isn't lost on head coach Mike McCarthy, who took over play-calling duties this offseason; and the foundation of this year's playbook is rooted in what worked for Kellen Moore in Dallas.
So there's no need to revisit it again in September.
"We looked at everything we did in the spring — the last two years [worth] — and built this offense off of the foundation of what our players currently knew and, conceptually, on how we could move forward," McCarthy said on Monday. "We're not going to go back and look at last year [now]. We've done that part. It's part of how we planned to attack this year."
The "Texas Coast Offense" has been mostly successful in driving the ball downfield in 2023, and it has also contributed to Dak Prescott being the best in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, but the red zone has suddenly become exactly that: the red zone.
As in stop light.
They're currently tied for third-worst in the league with just a 40 percent success rate once the offense steps foot on the opponent's 20-yard line.
McCarthy says the Cowboys are working to figure out what's creating the issue.
"Yes, we will spend more time on the red zone this week," he said. "And that's just the way I've always done it. When things aren't right, you work harder at it, and you spend more time on it. It's Week 3, and we know what our numbers are. We were last in the league on third down a couple of weeks into it last year, and that turned out pretty good.
"We're not gonna overreact to it."
As it stands, the Cowboys' offense could just as much point toward two possible defensive pass interference penalties in the end zone that went uncalled in Arizona as they can to Prescott's lone interception in three weeks, and/or the fact no receivers have a touchdown yet this season, and/or the struggles with simply punching it in on the ground in the wake of having yet to take the field with all five offensive line starters.
Three of those starters, namely Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz and Zack Martin, were out against the Cardinals — though there is a “possibility” all could return for Week 4 against the Patriots.
And still, they could have and should have defeated the Cardinals.
Once the Cowboys figure out the red-zone woes, and the willingness to dial up a bit more verticality in their passing attack, they'll be exactly where they want to be.
"The most important thing is we're getting down there more than anybody," said McCarthy. "We lead the league in [drives with 10 or more plays]. So we're moving the ball. That's the hard part. … We have some strong feelings about it that we're not gonna talk about [publicly.
"But, yes, we're aware of it."