A 2-1 record notwithstanding, the Dallas Cowboys have faced some serious troubles on offense this season, with the offensive line and receivers being a cause for concern.
The problems begin with the offensive line,which has been without center Phil Costa for all of training camp and the preseason. The 25-year-old came back and started in Week One against the New York Giants, but sat after three snaps and was replaced by Ryan Cook, who Dallas obtained from the Miami Dolphins in a trade a day before the final roster cut.
Cook has been serviceable, but the rest of the offensive line seemed unsettled in Dallas’ close 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. The Cowboys were called for 13 penalties for a loss of 105 yards, including four false starts and two holds by the offensive line.
Right tackle Doug Free, who is the highest paid member of the offensive line, was responsible for three of those false starts, and Dallas now is second in the league with 31 offensive penalties.
While the penalties haven’t resulted in a loss yet, they have affected the total offense, as the Cowboys are ranked 20th with 342 yards per game, and even with the 13th best passing offense, have scored a combined 23 points in their last two games.
Much of the blame lies with the offensive line, but Dallas’ receivers are just as guilty.
Arguably Dallas’ most dangerous offensive threat, receiver Dez Bryant has 13 catches for 164 yards and no touchdowns this season. It’s important to consider that six of those receptions came in Week One in the Cowboys' win over the New York Giants.
Then there is All-Pro tight end Jason Witten who had three drops and two false starts Sunday against the Buccaneers.
Through three games the 30-year-old has eight receptions for 76 yards, with one of those receptions accounting for 23 yards. Witten is on pace for about 43 catches on the season, which would be his lowest output since his rookie season in 2003 when he made 35 receptions.
The former Tennessee standout suffered a lacerated spleen in Dallas’ first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, and then made an uplifting return against New York, but his production has so far been absent. Some have even questioned if the injury has had a psychological effect on Witten.
"I'm not making excuses for him, but there was a stretch of four weeks there in training camp where he didn't practice," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said to ESPN. "He gutted it out in a really heroic effort against the Giants, playing after not practicing, and I think he's just still getting his feet up underneath him. He's had six practices since then and I think he's just trying to get himself back in rhythm."
True to his reputation of taking full responsibility and never compromising his teammates, Witten said he expects improved play in the coming weeks.
“There was an opportunity to make plays,” Witten said to DallasCowboys.com. “Not all of them are perfect opportunities to where it’s just between the 8 and the 2 and you catch it and go on. But they’re plays I expect to make, plays that you see week in and week out in the NFL, and I haven’t made them over the last two weeks. I take full responsibility for it, and rest assured I’ll get it fixed.”