Cowboys much improved in red zone

IRVING, Texas -- One of the biggest areas of focus with the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason was red zone production.

In 2012, the Cowboys ranked 20th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency with 25 touchdowns on 49 attempts. They were not effective running the ball (just seven red zone touchdowns on the ground) and were penalized too often (11 times).

Through the first six games this season the Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency with 15 touchdowns in 23 attempts. They have four red zone rushing touchdowns.

Only Denver has more red zone points than the Cowboys, 167 to 120. In their last two games the Cowboys have scored touchdowns on eight of their last 10 red zone attempts. Dez Bryant is difficult to defend just about everywhere, but five of his six touchdowns have come inside the red zone. Tony Romo has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception from inside the opponent’s 20 thus far.

“When you can run the football in the red zone, you have a chance to be really good,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think as much as anything else we’re running it better down there, and then as a consequence you get some favorable matchups on the edges, and you’ve just got to cash in. I think Tony has been really good finding those matchups, delivering those throws, and guys have made a lot of plays.”

The penalty problem has not gone away with four in the first six games. A Tyron Smith false start against Denver at the Broncos 3 was a critical play in their 51-48 loss because they had to settle for a field goal.

“It’s happened a couple times this year, and the results have been similar to what they’ve been (in the past),” Garrett said. “It’s hard to overcome those. So when we’ve played cleaner down there, certainly from the mechanics-of-the-game standpoint, I think we’ve played better and given ourselves a better chance to be successful.”