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Red Zone Woes Lead To Zuerlein Struggles


FRISCO, Texas – Allow Mike McCarthy to sum this one up as succinctly as possible.

Talking about the difference in Tuesday night's 34-17 loss to Baltimore, the Cowboys' first-year head coach put it pretty perfectly.

"Obviously, the issue, we're attempting to kick field goals and they were scoring touchdowns," he said.

Of course, a pretty crucial component of that quote is the word "attempting." It goes without saying that the Cowboys couldn't keep pace with the Ravens in scoring, as simply too many of their possessions bogged down near the red zone.

If that wasn't problematic enough, Greg Zuerlein suffered through easily his worst night as a Dallas Cowboy. After connecting on his first kick of the night to open the scoring, the veteran kicker missed his next three to cost the offense nine valuable points.

"We kept getting stalled right before the red zone, and we had a tough run on kicks," said Andy Dalton afterward. "We've got to find a way to convert first downs in those situations, keep drives alive and get down there to score touchdowns."

It was a chilly, windy night at M&T Bank Stadium – a fact that was emphasized when normally automatic Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker missed a field goal of his own from just 36 yards out. But Zuerlein wasn't interested in making excuses, as he simply stated that he just wasn't holding up his end of the bargain.

"I wouldn't say it was anything, at all," he said. "I think the conditions were fine, even if there was wind. I'm good enough to make the kicks, I just didn't do it."

It's hard to say for sure how costly the misses were in a game the Ravens would win by three possessions, but they certainly were deflating. Zuerlein's first miss came from just 40 yards out with 2:06 to play in the first half, and it would have cut Baltimore's lead to just 14-13.

If that weren't frustrating enough, it came after an unconscionable clock management error saddled the Cowboys with a delay of game penalty, pushing the ball back from the Baltimore 17-yard line to the 22.

"Those are the kinds of mistakes that you can't make in a game like this," McCarthy said. "We needed points there. We had an opportunity for points we did not come out."

As Zuerlein himself pointed out, five yards probably shouldn't matter to an NFL kicker from such a short distance – though it was just the latest example of a team that hasn't been able to get the details right on a consistent basis this season.

That goes back to the offense, as well. It would be easy to place all the blame on an underperforming kicker, but the Cowboys made it into the red zone four times on Tuesday night and scored just two touchdowns – and one of those came with four minutes to play in a game that had already been decided.

Better effort from Zuerlein will be important moving into the final month of the season, but the Cowboys know they can solve many of their problems with a more efficient offense.

"It's definitely crucial, but we're always thinking six or seven, we're always thinking of those touchdown plays and not settle for a field goal," said Michael Gallup. "It's great to get the field goals, but we want touchdowns, we want to score big. So it is definitely frustrating for us. We've just got to get in the end zone."

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