FRISCO, Texas -- Jason Garrett likes to say turnovers are the single biggest difference in wins and losses.
A close second is third-down success.
One of the big reasons for the Dallas Cowboys' inconsistencies on offense through four games is their work on third down. They have converted just 20 of 52 opportunities in the first four games, ranking 17th in the NFL. A year ago, the Cowboys were 10th on third down (42.3 percent) and they were even better in the first four games of last season (27 of 54).
A deeper dive into the Cowboys' third-down numbers reveals the biggest difference in the first four games this year is on plays of third-and-10 or more. Last year, the Cowboys converted on 5 of 13 opportunities. This year, they have made good on just 2 of 15 tries in those circumstances.
Garrett said the Cowboys do not have an obvious trend in their third-down misses.
"I think what we've found is there is something here, there is something there, it might be this on this particular play and that on another play," Garrett said. "You have to somehow, some way execute. Those are big plays in the game."
It is easy to point to 30 points and 440 yards and absolve the Cowboys' offense of blame in their 35-30 loss last week to the Los Angeles Rams, but that ignores the team's formula for success. With how their defense is built, the Cowboys offense has to stay on the field.
Even if the Cowboys did not score on their first four possessions, had they chewed up the clock, the defense would not have been on the field for 39 plays in the second half.
The Cowboys ran 13 plays in the third quarter, gained 41 yards and picked up just two first downs. On their first possession after halftime, Dez Bryant failed to hold on to a low Dak Prescott throw on third-and-11. On third-and-7 from the Dallas 47 on the next drive, Prescott hit Cole Beasley for 5 yards. On third-and-6 from the Dallas 29 on their third possession, Prescott and Bryant failed to connect on a deep throw.
After the Cowboys were forced to punt on those three occasions, the Rams scored on the three ensuing drives to turn a 24-16 halftime deficit into a 29-24 lead.
In their first third-down try in the fourth quarter Prescott was hit by Michael Brockers, leading to a Mark Barron interception.
The Rams scored on the next drive and had a 32-24 lead.
On the Cowboys' only scoring drive of the second half they never reached third down.
Perhaps that was a good thing.