Bye week study targets third-down woes

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys thought they had the secret sauce for championships at the start of the season, but they have lost the ingredients for a good third-down offense.

On the season, the Cowboys have converted 32.8 percent of their third-down opportunities. The only teams that are worse are the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars. A year ago, the Cowboys converted 43.9 percent of their third-down chances, which was fifth best in the NFL.

Much of the focus on the bye week has been on their third-down inefficiency.

"In the last few days we've done a lot of research on third down, we've broken it down into every category imaginable," offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. "We've looked at protections. We've looked at formations. We've looked at any kind of tendency we've created. We've looked at every route we're using, utilizing. So, without going any further into that, we've looked at every aspect. And we've got to do a better job as coaches, players, we all have to do a better job and come up with a better plan to put guys in positions. That's really the crux of it, coming back and doing a better job versus the coverages that we're facing, whether it's third and 2 or 3, 2-6, 7-10 or 10-plus, all of those areas are areas we're trying to improve.

"Trying to improve the route concept, trying to improve the timing and the positioning of the receivers as well. We've really done a lot of work in the last 48 hours there."

The Cowboys did not convert on any of their nine of third-down opportunities in last week's 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints. They have converted at least 41.7 percent of their third downs in only three games this season.

The lack of plays has led to a lack of yardage -- the Cowboys are 19th -- and the defense, which has been hit by injury and poor play, has been forced to play more.

"You're limiting your opportunities when you don't convert, especially what we did the other night," Callahan said. "Not good enough. Just not good enough. Sustaining drives is huge. Do the math. It's not difficult when you look at extending three more plays on each drive, those plays add up, those are opportunities we have missed and left on the field. We're really disappointed. We know it wasn't our best and we're doing everything we can to remedy that and fix every aspect of our third-down plan. Again, lot of detail, a lot of hard work in the last 48 hours trying to get that fixed and get it right again."