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Slow Start Hurts Cowboys' Offense vs. Cards


The Cowboys' offense always has self-belief, no matter how tough the sledding gets.

"We knew if we got the ball back (at the end), we would've went down and scored and won the game," wide receiver Amari Cooper said after Sunday's 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium.

Based on the offense's fourth-quarter production -- two touchdowns out of three drives -- that very well might have been true. They never got the chance, though, because Arizona was able to run out the final two minutes of regulation after the officiating crew ruled Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds down by contact instead of an apparent forced fumble by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

It was a frustrating end for Dallas, who dropped to 11-5 on the season and down two spots to No. 4 in the current NFC playoff seeding.

But the offense also knows they could have done more -- namely, start faster.

"We just started slow offensively," said Cooper, who cut the Cardinals' lead to three with a touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter. "Against a good team like that, a high-powered team like that, we can't start slow. We have to convert third down, and we have to go in and score on all the opportunities we have. That's the type of offense we are."

Indeed, the Cowboys entered Sunday with the No. 1 offense, averaging 38.4 points in seven previous home games. A week earlier, the club erupted for 56 points -- the most by the franchise in a game since 1980 -- in a blowout win over Washington.

Arizona made things much tougher. They held the Cowboys to 3 of 11 on third down and a season-low 45 rushing yards on 17 carries.

And the offense made things tough on themselves, committing a penalty on five of their six drives through the third quarter. Entering the fourth, they trailed the Cardinals 22-7.

"I think the biggest thing for us offensively was really the timing of the penalties," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Those penalties were drive-killers for us in the first half and that was a big part of our struggle."

Said quarterback Dak Prescott, "Some self-inflicted penalties and things that just put us behind the chains. Just couldn't get going early. Obviously, that plays a part in how the game ended."

Starting faster has been an emphasis for weeks. In nine games since the bye, the offense has only scored twice on their opening drive: a touchdown against Atlanta on Nov. 14 and a field goal in their first game against Washington on Dec. 12.

In the rematch against Washington, Prescott and the offense emphatically halted their recent production drop. And Sunday, Prescott did throw three touchdown passes with no interceptions, though he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter and didn't find the end zone until 1:25 before halftime.

The Cardinals appeared to borrow a similar blueprint from recent opponents, keeping safety help over the top, disguising coverages and flooding passing lanes to prevent big plays. Prescott completed 24 of 36 passes for 226 yards with a long of 26.

"Definitely disappointed we didn't come away with the win but damned sure not discouraged," Prescott said. "I know the team we have, what we've got. Just simply didn't get it done as a team, starting with myself, (I've) got to be better. All of us, we've got to look at ourselves in the mirror and find a way to come out with a win in a game like this."

Tempo was a factor in the offense's resurgence against Washington last Sunday but wasn't used as often against Arizona because of the stalled drives. The Cardinals also dominated time of possession, 34:42 to 25:18, keeping the Cowboys' defense on the field for long stretches.

"We never really got in a rhythm, so we were never really able to get on the ball (fast) like we did the last week," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We've got to play better. We've got to start faster."

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