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Cowboys’ slump product of third-down struggles

Reasons abound for the Cowboys going 2-3 in their last five games, turning a once-formidable 6-1 record to 8-4.

But look no further than than the team’s struggles on third down. Through the first seven games, the Cowboys led the league in third-down conversions at a rate of 57.4 percent.

That rate has dropped to 34.5 percent the last five games, including 4 of 12 in the 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day.

“I think you look at it and you evaluate it,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You go on and on with every one of them. That’s what we do. Then you say, ‘OK, are there any trends here or do we just have to address this specific thing?’

“We’ve been a good third down team for most of the year. A lot of that has been because we’ve been in somewhat manageable third downs. We’ve executed. We’ve spread the ball around, we protect it, we make good decisions, we make good plays on the other end of it. We just have to go back to doing that.”

The Cowboys have been brutal on third downs in the three losses. They went 5 of 12 in the 20-17 overtime loss against the Redskins and 3 of 11 in the 28-17 loss to the Cardinals.

“I think it always comes back to execution,” Garrett said. “There were some protection issues and then inefficient throwing the football or catching the football.”

The Cowboys were particularly disappointed with misses on third-and-short against the Eagles. One was because of a bad snap by center Travis Frederick and another because running back Lance Dunbar cut inside rather than outside.

“I don’t think it’s one common thing,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “I think it’s, like we said, third down just sometimes you need all 11 guys to do their job and we just have sprinkled in one here or one there. Last week … the difference between a good third-down day and a bad one is sometimes just two third downs. We had some things that we did just mentally that weren’t very sharp that we have to tighten up.”

Harris block legal

The NFL ruled that a flag shouldn’t have been thrown against Cowboys punt returner Dwayne Harris for unnecessary roughness on a block in the fourth quarter Thursday.

Harris blocked an Eagles player to prevent the ball from being downed inside the 5-yard line.

The Cowboys sent a tape of the play to the league and received an email confirming that Harris’ hit was legal, Garrett said Sunday.

Garrett said the Cowboys teach the returner that if he doesn’t call a fair catch, he can block the defender. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia instructed Harris to do so on the play because a previous punt had been downed at the 4.

Briefly

• Left tackle Tyron Smith missed practice Sunday because he was ill. He is expected to practice on Monday.



• Linebacker Rolando McClain practiced Sunday even though he is still bothered by a sprained knee. McClain played 49 of 77 defensive snaps Thursday but noticeably had trouble running. McClain is expected to play against the Bears.



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