Cowboys need to jump-start stalled offense

There are explanations for the Dallas Cowboys’ struggling offense of late.

Against the Washington Redskins, Dwayne Harris had a big return game that limited opportunities. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, there were windy conditions. Against the Detroit Lions, there were double-teams on both Jason Witten and Dez Bryant that hadn’t been expected.

That’s not even mentioning the absence of starting running back DeMarco Murray, who exited early in the second quarter against the Redskins with a knee injury that has kept him out the past two weeks.

Regardless of the reason, though, the Cowboys know they must improve on offense. The offensive struggles the past three weeks are worrisome, especially against lower-ranked defenses. The Redskins and Eagles were ranked 32nd in total defense when the Cowboys faced them, and the Lions were 31st.

“If you look at the season as a whole, you’re going to have games that are more difficult,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “I think we’ve had two road games [the past two weeks]. That’s part of it. They’ve created some good pressure up front. I’ve thrown away more balls the last two games than I had previously maybe in four or five. That’s trying to stay ahead of the chains and things like that.

“The other part is just executing. We’ve just got to be better. It all comes into play.”

The Cowboys have a chance to get going yet again against a lowly defense: The Minnesota Vikings are ranked 30th in the league. But Romo isn’t taking that for granted with how the past three weeks have gone, saying the Vikings’ defensive stats are somewhat misleading.

Or he might just remember being sacked six times and leading only a field-goal drive against them in the Cowboys’ 34-3 playoff loss after the 2009 season. That was followed by a 24-21 loss to Minnesota in the 2010 season.

But that’s in the past for both teams.

Some things remain the same, with Romo having taken his fair share of hits this season. He was sacked only once against the Lions last week, but took several shots after throws.

Part of that is not having enough time in the pocket and the receivers having trouble getting open.

The other part, however, is Romo simply being off. He has completed only 56.1 percent of his passes for an average of 231 yards per game with five touchdowns and three interceptions the past three games. In his first five games, he averaged 304.6 yards per game, completing 71.8 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and two interceptions.

“Some weeks are going to be harder than others,” Romo said. “I know it doesn’t look as pretty, but at the end, did you put up enough points or not? Did you get your team in the end zone enough times to win the football game?

“Sometimes it’s more in the first half. Sometimes it’s harder on the road. Sometimes it’s tough. It’s just part of the game. But you’ve got to find a way to score enough points to outscore the opponent. We didn’t do that last week. We’ve got to do it this week.”

Finding a way to get the ball more to Bryant and Witten would help, and it has been an emphasis this week, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said. The team is constantly looking at new routes and new schemes to best utilize their playmakers.

Bryant was targeted six times last week, finishing with three receptions for 72 yards and two TDs. Witten was targeted twice and caught both passes for 15 yards. He has combined for nine catches and 90 yards the past three weeks.

Callahan also said that the offense has to improve its ability to convert on third down. And, of course, Murray’s return will be a boost.

The offense has struggled to establish a running game the past three weeks without Murray. They have rushed for only 184 yards on 71 carries in that span.

Rookie Joseph Randle, who has started the past two weeks, has 108 yards on 44 carries, averaging 2.5 yards a carry. Murray, meanwhile, averaged 4.7.

“We need to run it better, there’s no question about that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It needs to be a consistent part of our offense. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”

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