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Spagnola: Offense Key To Breaking This .500 Cycle

IRVING, Texas – Deep breath, and let's reassess.

The Cowboys after four games are 2-2, a .500 football team, same as they were when we left off last season, that 8-8 certainly not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. Do the math, and that means they are now 10-10 since the start of the 2011 season. Five hundred.

In fact, if we go back to the final six games of that gosh-awful 2010 campaign when they ultimately finished 6-10, they were a .500 team over the final six games of the year, which certainly was an improvement over the atrociously bad 1-7 start.

So, if we are adding all that up, these Cowboys seem to be stuck in this .500 rut, sporting a 13-13 record over their past 26 games, unable to get off this win-one, lose-one loop. Truth be known, with four of the next five contest on the road, including a pair of back-to-back road games sandwiching that lone home outing against the New York Giants, the Cowboys probably wish they could continue on this maddening four-game streak of win-one, lose-one, which would mean they would go 3-2 over those five games and stand 5-4 with three consecutive home games (including the traditional Thanksgiving week two) up next.

Now I ask: What would have been a realistic record after these first four games? I'm sure no one expected the Cowboys to stand 4-0, right, since I did preface this with realistic. So I'm thinking 3-1 is about where you thought they'd be. Well, and no matter how bad a taste that 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears left in your mouth, it still stands as just one loss, no more, no less. Of course how they lost that game didn't leave anyone with warm-fuzzies over their future prospects, but again, the loss only left the Cowboys one game off what I'd call a realistic pace.

Just one, burying no deeper than .500, along with nine other teams, including the likes of New England, Green Bay, the Giants, Denver and the Jets.

And I know, 3-1 sure would be a comfy cushion heading into this streak of games against the Ravens, Panthers, Giants, Falcons and Eagles, and might have been necessary to keep their heads above water after the first nine games of the season. For remember, as I brought up at the start of the schedule when the Cowboys opened at the Giants and at Seattle, sure is hard to win back-to-back games on the road, a double the Cowboys have failed to accomplish nine of the last 10 times.

Huh, and now they will have two of these back-to-backs in five weeks. Good luck with all that.

And good luck with all that if they don't start scoring some points, which brings us to the four-game reassessment of this team while taking a deep breath this weekend with them others trying to knock each other's heads off.

Everything to this point seems to be bass-ackwards. The concern, at least my concern, heading into the season was whether this defense had improved, whether what we were seeing during the preseason was for real or a mere exhibition mirage? Because remember, the Cowboys certainly were scoring enough points last year on a mostly regular basis to be better than 8-8. But when you allow your opponent to score at least 24 points 10 times and more than 30 in half of your eight losses, that is tough to overcome.

But so far, this defense is for real, currently ranked No. 4 in the NFL. And if we're honest with ourselves, discounting special teams mistakes, interception or punt-block returns for touchdowns or turnovers deep in their own territory, the defense on its own has given up, in order, 14, 17, 10 and 20 points. In other words, it has done enough in every game to give Dallas a chance to win.

The Cowboys have found a player in Bruce Carter. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, along with the return of Mike Jenkins, create a significant improvement at cornerback. Anthony Spencer's worth certainly has been realized, especially in his absence. Now if they can just get everyone healthy and back on the field – talking about Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman, Spencer and Carter. Talking about DeMarcus Ware getting over this hamstring deal, too.

Defense, good, but the problem has been this offense – and wish everyone would cut it out, always blaming Tony Romo for everything, probably the high rate of unemployment, too. You know, they should come up with a new stat: Team interceptions, because the Cowboys had three of those in the 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears, the first three of the five. Why does the quarterback always have to take the blame for other folks' mistakes?

There is no way you will even be a .500 team in this league averaging the 16.1 points the Cowboys have over the first four games of the season, which by the way leaves them ranked 31st in scoring offense. Absolutely no way you can play .500 ball if you average the 13.7 points the Cowboys have over the last three games, and they haven't, going 1-2 in those contests.

This is all about execution, especially on the offensive line. Which reminds me of a quip from legendary head coach John McKay, who had taken over the moribund Tampa Bay expansion franchise, when asked what he thought of his "team's execution" following another miserable loss. Says McKay, "I'm all for it."

Execution, execution.

"Speaking just offensively, it comes down to plays, just a couple of plays change the game," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "I mean, 17 points (Chicago) with turnovers, it's hard to overcome that. You've got to be able to execute plays."

No kidding. I mean we are just four games into a season and the Cowboys already have had an interception returned to their 1-yard line; a fumble of an opening kickoff; a blocked punt returned for a touchdown; an interception of a bad route returned for a touchdown; a ruled interception with pressure coming down on quarterback Tony Romo from behind causing the ball to squirt forward returned 74 yards for a touchdown; another punt partially blocked; a ball bounce off a receiver's numbers for yet another interception; receivers with maybe six degrees of separation causing another interception; and get this, win two games while committing 13 penalties in each and lose two games when committing five and two.

Go figure.

In fact, how 'bout this one? Do you happen to remember the play right before Charles Tillman's 25-yard interception return for a touchdown on Monday night when Romo was throwing a hot route in the face of a blitz and Dez Bryant was running a go route? Well, it just so happened to be that second-and-5 from the Cowboys 25, a toss sweep to DeMarco Murray going left that the Cowboys had perfectly blocked, hats on hats. This one was going for at least 10 yards, maybe 20, maybe even more than that.

But what happens? Murray drops the pitch, ends up losing a couple of yards, forcing the Cowboys into a third-and-long that enabled the Bears to know exactly what the Cowboys would be doing on that play, passing, so they call a blitz.

You see.

Indeed with all that hocus-pocus in the air maybe this weekend's bye comes at an opportune time. Too bad the Cowboys had a Monday night game scheduled into their bye week, limiting them to just one extra practice this week since the new CBA mandates the players have a four-day weekend. Wonder what McKay would have said about that.

This offense needs work, and as Witten says, "Obviously we've got to play better."

Now four games is a relatively small sample to rule out the possibility of that happening, especially when it's been your mistakes making Salvation Army Red Kettle-type donations in both losses, spotting the Seahawks a 10-0 lead and then gifting the Bears enough points (14) to qualify for a tax deduction. So there is room for improvement.

That includes the blocking up front, and not just the offensive line's work, but also that of the fullback and tight ends. That includes catching the darn football – far too many drops in four games so far – and running the right routes.

Man, where'd that team playing in the worst of conditions for a season opener – Wednesday night, national TV, MetLife Stadium, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants celebrating their title pregame – yeah, where did that team go?

Not sure or a mere mirage?

But I do know this, scoring 7, 16 and 18 (the final eight were consolation points) is not going to get it in this league, and is barely enough to possibly break even to remain in the mediocre and certainly undesirable .500 Club.

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