Slow Starts Trouble Cowboys

Despite a 5-1 record, the Cowboys are trying to find explanations for their slow starts in games. They will try to fix that against the Vikings.

Beyond penalties and improving their third-down defense, the Cowboys are starting to get concerned about their habit of getting off to slow starts.

The Cowboys have been one of the league's high-scoring teams all season. But they have not scored a touchdown in the first quarter in six games.

That was certainly a problem against the Patriots when they fell behind 14-0.

And although the Cowboys battled back as the usually do to take a 24-21 third-quarter lead, the damage had been done against the Patriots.

The defense was worn down from being on the field too long in the first half. Credit its inability to get off the field on third down. But also credit an offense that started the game with a number of three-and-outs and did the defense no justice in a game against an offense as potent as the Patriots'.

"I don't think it can be explained right now," receiver Patrick Crayton said. "We are just trying to get out of that. We are 5-1, but our starts have been horrible. I don't know what it is about that. ... We aren't getting it done right now. We have to come out with a hunger early. We have to put people away early."

"I don't know what it is," Crayton continued. "I have no idea. We almost treat the first drive like a boxing match — trying to get a feel for the defense, you know, jab a little bit, don't throw too many punches. But we need to come out now throwing a few haymakers, throwing a few right crosses. Forget about testing. But I don't know what it is. Those first drives or two, man, we are just not getting it done. We have to do it. And it has nothing to do with the coaches at all. The game plan is fine, it's perfect. We just aren't executing."

The Cowboys have been outscored in the first quarter 33-6 this season.

The Cowboys have been able to overcome their slow starts early this season because of their own high powered offense. They have averaged 33.8 points a game this season.

Of course that was fine against Miami, Buffalo and St. Louis. Against a team like the Patriots, it's too much to overcome.

"We have to just not make key mistakes at the beginning of games," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "We've been successful at that coming out. We're a team that can put points on the board in stretches, for the most part."

"We're scoring 30-something points a game," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "The final result is what's important and we only scored 20 offensively this game. Still, 20 points is a pretty good ball game, especially as little as we had the ball - only 40-some plays.

"You'd like to see us start sooner, and we're going to work on some things that maybe we can help ourselves a little there. But the final result is how many you score in the game."

NOTES

  • QB Tony Romo said he is having no lingering problems with a shoulder sprain he suffered last Sunday against the Patriots. He is expected to practice on Wednesday without incident.

  • RB Marion Barber is recognized across the league as the best running back on the Cowboys roster. In fact, New England coach Bill Belichick called him a great back while referring to starter Julius Jones as a good back. However, there will be no change in the team's running back rotation, coach Wade Phillips said. Jones will remain the starter with Barber coming in as the backup. The carries however, have been split pretty evenly.

  • WR Patrick Crayton has taken a lot of heat for predicting that the Cowboys would be in the Super Bowl while suggesting there is still a question about the Patriots getting there. What he meant was there is still some question as to whether the Patriots are better than the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts in the AFC. He also believes the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, despite last Sunday's loss to the Patriots.

  • FB Oliver Hoyte has missed the last four games with a strained neck. But he might need "another week" to recover, coach Wade Phillips said. Hoyte has experienced a loss of strength in his left arm but is improving. Rookie Deon Anderson has played well in his stead.

  • LB Greg Ellis is seeing his playing time gradually increase. He played more against the Patriots Sunday than he has in any game this season since returning three games ago. He had been out since suffering a torn left Achilles last November. Ellis has been used as a situational pass rusher while rookie first pick Anthony Spencer starts on first and second down.

    "I understand the reason I'm not out there every single play or even half the plays," Ellis said. "When you're out there playing, though, you want to get in there. But they're trying to be smart."

    Despite missing three games and playing limited snaps, Ellis is second on the team with 2.5 sacks.

  • DT Tank Johnson is apparently not going to get his suspension reduced from eight games to six games. He had applied for early reinstatement. But the Cowboys got no word if Commissioner Roger Goodell was going to approve the appeal by late Tuesday — a day the Cowboys needed to know Johnson's fate so Johnson could practice with the team on Wednesday in anticipation for Sunday's game against the Vikings. So it's essentially a seven game suspension. Now the hope is Goodell allows him to return to practice next week so he could return for the Eagles game Nov. 3 after the bye. If not, he will be back for the Giants game the following week — fulfilling the eight-game suspension.



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