Dallas Cowboys: 5 Things That Need to Be Fixed in the Second Half

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IIOctober 26, 2011

Dallas Cowboys: 5 Things That Need to Be Fixed in the Second Half

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    The Dallas Cowboys are just one game back of the first place New York Giants in the NFC East, but there are plenty of things to work on in the second half of the season. 

    Dallas has had quite the up-and-down start to the season.  

    The Cowboys have losses to the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots in games where they arguably outplayed the opposition.

    They also picked up wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins in games they probably shouldn't have won. 

    The Cowboys have a lot of work to do if they want to bring Jerry Jones his fourth Super Bowl. Luckily, everything that's gone wrong so far can be corrected. 

    It will be up to Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan to coach the players up, but ultimately it will come down to the guys on the field to make it happen. 

Penalties

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    The Cowboys' defense actually leads the league in least amount of penalties taken, but Jason Garrett's offense has again been a magnet for whistles. 

    The offense has 44 penalties in the six games the Cowboys have played so far, good for an average of 7.33 per game. That number is unacceptable.

    The Cowboys offense ranks 12th in the NFL in penalties, and the Cowboys have played one less game than seven of the 11 teams ahead of them. 

    Taking penalties means you're leaving yards on the field, which you cannot do if you're trying to win the NFC East. 

    One of the big problems with this team the past few years has been discipline, and the pileup of penalties has been indicative of that. 

    When Garrett was hired as the head coach, he vowed to clean up the mental mistakes like this. He'll have to do a better job in the second half of the season to live up to his word. 

Fourth Quarter Meltdowns

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    Tony Romo is a terrific quarterback, and I've repeatedly defended him as such to anyone who says otherwise. His numbers and his impact are up there with the best quarterbacks in the NFL. 

    But—and you knew there was a but—he has a tendency to let things snowball when something goes wrong. 

    By now you know the story. The Dallas Cowboys have lost two games this season that can be directly tied to fourth quarter meltdowns by Romo. 

    They also lost a winnable game against the New England Patriots because it appeared that Jason Garrett didn't trust Romo enough to win the game and not turn the ball over. 

    Romo has all the necessary skills to lead this team to a Super Bowl; he just needs to harness them correctly and prevent himself from breaking down when things go wrong. 

Rushing Offense

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    Sunday's monstrous rushing attack notwithstanding, the Cowboys have not run the football that well this season, and that needs to change moving forward. 

    Some of the struggles can be attributed to breaking in a new offensive line with only one starter at the same position he played last season. When the line stabilizes and rookie Tyron Smith gets more experience, there should be more holes to run through. 

    Getting DeMarco Murray some more touches obviously looks like it would be a good idea. 

    Realizing that Felix Jones is not a feature back is another step. It's time to recognize that Jones can't consistently stay on the field when he's getting that many touches.

    Felix was also more effective with limited touches as Marion Barber's backup when for his first two seasons.

    As a rookie Jones averaged 8.9 yards per carry, though he played in only six games. The next season he played in 14 and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. 

    Last year he took over for Marion Barber as the feature back and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and this year he was down to 4.0. It's time to move him back to the number two role. 

    Tashard Choice has been a disappointment this year, so the rookie Philip Tanner deserves an extended look. He performed well on Sunday with Jones and Choice injured, scoring his first career touchdown. 

Third Down Defense

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    Rob Ryan's defensive unit has been extremely good so far this season.

    The Cowboys are seventh in yards allowed per game and are allowing a league-low 69.7 rushing yards a week. 

    The one area the defense has not excelled in is on third downs. The Cowboys are allowing opponents to convert on 42.0 percent of third downs, 21st in the league. 

    Their struggle in this area was particularly evident against the New England Patriots, when Tom Brady completed 8-of-10 passes for 106 yards. The Patriots converted 8-of-13 third downs on the day. 

    As a defense, your main objective is to get the ball back for the offense so they can score points. Allowing third down conversions obviously runs counter to that goal. 

    If Ryan and his defensive players can clean this up, a very good defense quickly becomes elite. 

Red Zone Offense

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    The Cowboys' red zone offense has been horrific this season. They're ranked 26th in the league with a 40.91 percent conversion rate in the red zone.

    A lot of this can be attributed to Jason Garrett's curious play-calling. He loves to go with a shotgun draw or a tight end screen in the red zone as if he thinks he has to outsmart the defense to score from that close. 

    The Cowboys have one of the best red zone weapons in the NFL and they don't use him nearly enough. His name is Dez Bryant. 

    Coming into Sunday's tilt against the St. Louis Rams, Bryant had been thrown to 11 times in the red zone in his career and had caught nine passes for seven touchdowns. 

    Bryant is huge, strong and has great hands. He goes up and snatches the ball at it's highest point. He's the perfect jump ball wide receiver, in addition to all of his other skills. 

    Garrett finally called some passes in his direction on Sunday, and although Bryant dropped two would-be touchdowns, he connected on a third and he doesn't customarily drop passes. 

    Jason Witten should also see more red zone looks, as he's nearly uncoverable for linebackers and defensive backs alike. 

    The Cowboys like to run the ball out of jumbo sets near the goal line, but I think spreading the defense out might be a better option. With running backs who aren't exactly "power" guys, it might be better to open some wider lanes than to have extra blockers.