Offense Has to be Productive

The Cowboys are still atop the NFC East. They still have the second best record in the NFC at 7-3. But what's also certain is that if they don't get more production out of their offense, starting Sunday against the Panthers, their playoffs hopes might fade as well.

Following the Panthers is a Thanksgiving Day battle against the Dolphins and then a division showdown against the red-hot Eagles, who have won five straight games.

"I think we do have an opportunity," Coach Bill Parcells said. "But if we don't improve ourselves from what we did [against New England], we don't have any chance at all."

Against the Patriots the Cowboys got another solid effort from their top-ranked defense but self-destructing play offense gave them no chance.

And Parcells said that can't happen again.

"It's crystal clear what happened. We just didn't give ourselves a chance to do anything," Parcells said. "Eleven mental errors, four dropped balls, five offensive penalties, three turnovers and a sack. This is all on offense."

Parcells realizes, as long as these bouts of ineptitude remain, losing will too. You can't drop balls, jump offside, throw interceptions, not protect your quarterback and run the wrong routes and expect to win too many games. istakes almost always lose them, not vice versa.

All of which is fixable, which Parcells quickly noted is quite different from fixed. "It's back to that, 'Just because you know what the problem is, you don't always do a good job with it,'" he said, adding that mental errors, drops and penalties all result from lack of player concentration. "But we haven't got much time to dwell on that."

The Cowboys are three games into a five-game November stretch Parcells dubbed "Showtime" a couple of weeks ago. So far, so good. They are 2-1. But they need to win at least one, if not both, of their next two games against Carolina and Miami. Neither is easy. The Panthers are one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Dolphins, who come in four days after the Panthers for Thanksgiving, are no slouches either.

What the Cowboys need to do between now and then is locate their offense. But the problem areas are more plentiful than the non-problem areas.

The offensive line has reverted to last season's poor form against the bigger and badder defensive lines in the NFL. The running game has been nonexistent. There are no clear playmakers. And the passing game, which was spectacular early, seemingly has dwindled every week before virtually disappearing Sunday in New England.

The Cowboys averaged 25 points per game in their first six games and have managed only 31 in the last four.

"I'm not going to get into who's doing what, but I would definitely not say that," Parcells said when asked if he felt quarterback Quincy Carter has regressed.

"I think [with] what happened to him [against New England] you don't have a real good chance to be successful. You've got that kind of penalties, that kind of yardage to overcome, we had some no-hitters in there in the backfield, coming right in on him quickly three or four times. I would say he, obviously, can do a better job as well, but he did improvise last night a few things that worked pretty good. We just have to give him a lot more help than he got."

They could definitely use some help from the running game. It has taken steps back. Troy Hambrick leads the NFL in negative rushing plays. He had two Sunday. One came on fourth-and-one. And while blaming Hambrick is easy, Parcells said it is too simplistic.

It is not one thing that is tripping up the Cowboys' offense. "By virtue of those things happening, do we have a problem with the running game? Yeah," Parcells said.

"But I don't think you can just pick out the running game and say 'You have a lousy running game.' One of the reasons why it's lousy is because you get penalties on it, you didn't convert some short third downs, the long-yardage situations weren't manageable for you the majority of the time and as a result you got some pressure and we just didn't move the ball as well as you should."

They couldn't run the ball, so they couldn't pass. They couldn't pass, so they couldn't run. And the bottom line is they can't score. It's all a vicious cycle the Cowboys need to stop before they undo their promising start.

"Sure, we're in good position," Parcells said. "But we're going to have to change some things around or that position won't be good for long. I told them I don't want them to get down on themselves, and that we don't have that luxury now of doing that. Hopefully we can come back and perform a little bit better than we have. That's what I'm hopeful of doing."

SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 7-1. The Patriots won the last meeting 13-6 in 1999. The last Cowboys win came in 1996, 12-6.

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