Cowboys’ biggest enemy? Still themselves

The SportsXchange

OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys entered training camp with two main focuses: run the ball better on offense and create more turnovers on defense.

A third unwritten, unsaid but clearly obvious goal was to cut down on the self-inflicted wounds in the form of penalties, turnovers or miscues that plagued them last season.

Right on cue in the 19-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders last Friday in what was the first outing of the preseason for quarterback Tony Romo and the starters after sitting out the preseason opener, it was more of the same for the Cowboys.

The first-team offense was on the field for two drives, two red-zone opportunities and the Cowboys ended up with just three points, including one drive that started at the 16-yard line after a sack and forced fumble on the opening series.

Credit three penalties -- two false starters and a holding -- and a blocked field goal for the continuation of the Cowboys' woes that plagued them throughout last season's 8-8 campaign.

It was line one for coach Jason Garrett when he addressed the media for the first time before Sunday's practice after giving the players Saturday night off.

"We talked about our analysis of our red-zone offense last year and I think it fit a little bit with what happened the other night in the game," Garrett said. "We get the ball on the 16-yard line going in - the defense does a great job taking the ball away on the first play and we have a holding penalty. We go from first-and-10 on the 16 to first-and-20 on the 26. So that kinda gets you out of your down and distance thing and you're scrambling a little bit. And then we didn't execute ball plays very well after that. But certainly it started with that.

"We had a false start a little bit later in the red zone. We had another false start a little later in the red zone. We had a holding penalty by a receiver later in the red zone. So when you do those plays, you go backwards once you're down there, you're going to have a hard time scoring. Obviously the field there gets condensed down a little bit. There are more defenders in a smaller place. It's harder to play offense down there. It's certainly hard when you're behind the chains. The self-inflicted wounds, they showed up. We've got to make sure we eliminate those to give ourselves a chance to score points."

The sad part on first drive that came after the turnover was that veteran tight end Jason Witten was called for holding on the first play. That drive ended with a field goal.

Romo, who played for the first time since last December, finished 6-for-8 in the game for 88 yards. He looked pretty good on the second drive as he completed passes of 14, 16 and 15 yards to receiver Dez Bryant and one of 11 yards to Miles Austin.

But there were two false starts on the drive. They overcame one. They couldn't overcome the other, which turned a third-and-7 from the 14 into third-and-12 from the 19. The Cowboys set up for another field goal but Raiders safety Tyvon Branch broke through the right side of the Cowboys' line to block a 26-yard attempt by Dan Bailey.

The worst part is that Bailey, arguably the team's most indispensable player, got rocked on the play. The Cowboys are lucky he didn't get hurt.

"We had a couple penalties that put us in a hole that cost us some points. That is something that we are going to correct real fast," Romo said. "You just can't overcome that stuff in the red zone."

The good news is that the Cowboys were very happy with what they saw from Romo against the Raiders in what was his first outing since having back surgery in the offseason and given Peyton Manning-like input on offense.

Owner Jerry Jones said Romo looked like he was finally in shape after missing the offseason and on schedule to be sharp and ready for the season opener.

"What I'm happy about is to see him get out there and make plays," Jones said. "I thought he made that one throw that was classic Romo. The other thing I didn't see him do was draw it up in the sand. Really I did not. I saw him playing within the offense we had called. I think all the way around, his stamina, his strength, his legs, yeah. From this point forward, to a normal repetition situation for the next three or four weeks before we have our first game, he's ready."

Romo was also satisfied with his performance and had no problems with his back.

"It was good. It was good to take a hit," Romo said. "It was good to move around, throw and just know that it felt like training camp. I put that same tempo, that same kind of mindset each day I go out for practice. It carries over to the game. So that was a good feeling."
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