Baltimore Ravens

Offensively, Cowboys looking to overcome recent struggles

The once-solid offense has failed to score 20 points in each of its last three contests, the featured tailback has become a forgotten commodity, and the unit has relied heavily on an inconsistent quarterback.

The description has fit the Ravens at times, but it currently characterizes the Dallas Cowboys, who will visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.


As Dallas limps into the matchup having lost two of its last three games, the offense is promising, but also loaded with issues.

"They've had great potential, but sometimes they don't live up to it," Fox Sports and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said. "They've shown at times the ability to really run the ball well, which they're going to have to do against the Ravens with DeMarco Murray.


"And as of late, they haven't been able to sustain that. Tony Romo has shown signs of being one of the best quarterbacks in the league with his ability to extend plays and make plays outside the design of the offense. But that's also gotten him in trouble with the five interceptions against Chicago. So yeah, this is a very capable offense, but the question becomes, which one are we going to see on Sunday?"

Since opening the season by scoring three touchdowns in a 24-17 upset of the New York Giants, the Cowboys have struggled to gain much footing on offense. The unit scored just once in a 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 and only one touchdown in a 16-10 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3. The Cowboys have already committed 11 turnovers, which is tied for the sixth-worst in the NFL.

The offense ranks 16th in average yards in the league, but is 30th in points per game. Striking a balance between those categories is a priority, according to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

"I just think we need to be a more consistent offense," he said during his conference call Wednesday with Baltimore media. "We need to be more efficient. In different games, different areas have kind of been the reason we haven't been able to be as productive as we want to be. We had some pre-snap penalties, and we had some negative runs. We had some turnovers. The biggest thing we need to do is we need to minimize those mistakes and start playing the way we're capable of playing."

Tony Romo, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who ranks 20th in passing yards (1,148) and is tied for 21st in touchdowns (five), has struggled to find a rhythm for the Cowboys. His eight interceptions are tied for the third-most in the NFL behind the nine tossed by the Kansas City Chiefs' Matt Cassel and Cleveland Browns rookie Brandon Weeden.

An interesting statistic on Romo's record as a starter, as well as his inconsistency, is evident when looking at his pass attempts. When he has thrown 35 or more times in games, the Cowboys are 13-21. They are 36-9, however, when he has attempted less than 35 passes.

Romo noted the offense has abandoned the run as the team fell behind in the last three contests.

"If you're winning the football game, there is going to be less throwing," he said. "If you are losing and you're behind in games, you are going to have to put the ball up in the air. That just happens. That's a normal process that takes shape. So, once again, numbers can be skewed just based off the score of the football game."

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Romo's frequent dropbacks have come at a cost to Murray, a third-round choice in 2011 who rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards in his first game on Oct. 23 last season. When he gets 18 or more carries as a starter, Dallas is 6-0. But the team is 0-5 when Murray runs fewer than 18 times.

"You want to be able to attack defenses different ways, and it starts with a balance between run and pass," Garrett said. "In a few of the games we've played, we've been behind, and we've thrown the ball a lot, so the number gets distorted."

The Cowboys' run-to-pass ratio of 31.9 percent ranks as the fourth-lowest in the NFL, trailing only the New Orleans Saints (27.9 percent), the Oakland Raiders (29.6) and the Cleveland Browns (30.8). But Billick said he has no doubts about Dallas' offensive identity.

"Their commitment to balance is there," the former Ravens coach said. "It's not a matter of being stubborn or forcing the issue with the pass. Jason Garrett is committed to balance, but you've got to be in the game."

Despite the Cowboys' shoddy play on offense, it's not difficult for the Ravens' defense to spend considerable time studying Dallas. Components like Romo, Murray, tight end Jason Witten and receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have grabbed the attention of inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

"You see pieces everywhere, and when you watch the games, you see whatever they may be going through," Lewis said. "In the Chicago game, you see the turnovers, and you understand that, but of course, having a bye week, they are definitely going to work on that. That's definitely something that they're going to pay attention to."