Commentary

Cowboys' red zone concerns carry over

Updated: August 9, 2010, 3:29 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

CANTON, Ohio -- The Dallas Cowboys ended a three-game Hall of Fame game losing streak Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. But the fact that the defense scored the Cowboys' only touchdown in a 16-7 victory over the Bengals is a little troubling.

It's only one preseason game and the Cowboys have four remaining, with the next one scheduled for Thursday against Oakland. But the offense struggled. Dallas was 0-for-3 in the red zone Sunday.

Last season, the Cowboys scored 52 percent of the time in the red zone, good for 14th in the league. On third down, the Cowboys converted 37 percent of plays in the red zone, ranking 17th. In red zone passing, Tony Romo threw 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but his quarterback rating of 81.5 percent made him the 19th-best in that area.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said he takes full responsibility for the failures inside the red zone because he's calling the plays. Yet execution is the key here, and the Cowboys didn't do it.

"I thought we were OK," Garrett said of the offense overall, "but obviously we have a lot of areas to improve upon, and we had a lot of really good drives, but it is a different package of plays in these preseason games. We're not doing a whole lot from a scheme standpoint. Guys have to stand in there and execute."

Overall, the Cowboys averaged just 2.9 yards per carry, and their four quarterbacks combined for a 73.2 passer rating. The passers were sacked five times out of 41 throws.

The opening drive of the game showed just what the Cowboys do have in their offense: talent.

They drove from their own 35 to the Bengals' 19 after Romo found Roy Williams with a 19-yard pass completion.

Romo completed consecutive passes to one of his favorite targets, Patrick Crayton, for a combined 14 yards to get into the red zone.

After a penalty moved the ball to the Bengals' 2, Romo threw an incomplete pass to Williams in the end zone. Romo went back to Williams in the end zone, but this was under pressure from the middle, and he lofted a ball that was high and just out of Williams' reach.

On a third-and-goal, Romo couldn't find anybody open. As Felix Jones ran a route toward the sideline, the pass fell incomplete.

The good thing about this series is that Romo is throwing to Williams and tight end Jason Witten isn't blocking. Last season, Witten remained at the line of scrimmage in the red zone as the Cowboys tried to score. Now Witten is running more routes into the end zone, allowing Romo to have more options.

"It's kind of difficult, because you've got to go with the stuff that's vanilla," Romo said. "At the same time we do need to get the ball in, and that's important, and we're going to work on that this week."

As the game wore on, Garrett was hampered personnel-wise because backup tight end John Phillips was lost to a severe knee injury. It limited Garrett in what he could do in terms of his two- and three-tight end sets. Martellus Bennett missed the game, still recovering from an ankle injury.

So Garrett was left with Kevin Brock and Scott Sicko, but Brock suffered a sprained right ankle in the game.

Injuries happen. Still, not getting a score against the Bengals' defense was disappointing.

"Our goal is to score every time we get down there, and we have the weapons to do it," Williams said. "We just have to execute."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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