Can Bill Callahan fix short-yardage problem?

OXNARD, Calif. – If you want to see Bill Callahan really smile, mention short-yardage and goal-line running to the Cowboys' offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.

“One of my favorite situations in football,” Callahan said. “It begins with an attitude and a conviction that players embrace the philosophy that you have. Whatever the package you have, whatever you have going into a game with, you got to have conviction you’re going to make that yard.”

Some people loved Al Pacino’s rendition of a football coach in Any Given Sunday because of his “fight for that inch” speech, but the Cowboys have had a hard time getting it done.

In the last three seasons, the Cowboys have been below average in third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 rushing, tying for 30th in the NFL last season, converting only 10-of-18 times running the ball. To quote our good friend here at ESPNDallas.com, Jean-Jacques Taylor: ridiculous.

Blame the offensive linemen, blame the running scheme, blame the execution of the plays or blame the defenses the Cowboys have encountered in those situations, but it’s something Jason Garrett knows must improve in 2012 if the team wants to be taken seriously.

The Cowboys have looked at the breakdowns in personnel and scheme.

“We’re trying to get better in that area,” Garrett said. “We think it’s really important. You don’t have a lot of short-yardage plays and you don’t have a lot of goal-line plays over the course of year, but all plays aren’t equal. These are really, really critical plays. We’ve done a god job there at times and other times we haven’t.”

To change their fortunes in 2012, the Cowboys added bigger guards in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau and fullback Lawrence Vickers in free agency, but Callahan might be the biggest addition.

Callahan has been good at it. In his four seasons with the New York Jets, they ranked 10th, second, tied for sixth and second in rushing conversions on third- and fourth-and-1 situations. He had a pretty good offensive line and some pretty good running backs in Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.

“You want to be physical,” Callahan said. “It’s an attitude. Again, we’re going to embrace a physical style of play at the point of attack no matter what the personnel group you’re in is and go. They’ve got to get off the ball, surge, uncoil and make things happen. Yeah, those are vital, but it’s an attitude.”

The Cowboys had a third-and-1 situation in Thursday’s practice and could not convert.

“When you do (situational work) like that, it’s more game-like,” tight end Jason Witten said. “You get nine, 10 guys up there, you’ve got to find a way to get it done. It’s good for us to practice those looks.”

Now they need to convert.