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Cowboys' third-down issues dragging them down

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Tony Romo stayed on message this week when discussions the Dallas Cowboys' issues on third down in the last five games.

“If you convert one, two or three more of those, all of a sudden you’re back to where you’ve been most of the year,” Garrett said. “That’s the nature of this game. We got to find a way to make those plays.”

Said Linehan, “If we get two conversions that were very manageable -- I thought we were in manageable positions last week -- we would have been in good shape, but we didn’t. Our whole focus is on executing better.”

Said Romo, “The difference between a good third-down day and a bad one is sometimes just two third downs. We had some things that we did just mentally that weren’t very sharp that we have to tighten up.”

In the first seven games, the Cowboys made those plays. They converted a ridiculous 57.4 percent of their third-down chances. In their last five games, the Cowboys have converted 35 percent of their third-down chances.

The Cowboys were 6-1 in their first seven games. They are 2-3 in their last five.

Turnover margin is often cited as the most important statistic. Year after year, the teams that are the best at keeping the ball and taking the ball away are the best in the NFL. The Cowboys are a minus-3 in that department this season, but are 8-4.

The statistic that has directly related to their wins and losses has been third-down conversions.

Defensively, the Cowboys are giving up a 46.2 percent conversion rate on third down and in three of their last four games they have allowed rates of 60, 28.8 and 53.3 percent, respectively. The only loss in which the defense didn’t allow better than 50 percent was the overtime defeat against the Washington Redskins.

The Cowboys’ offense has to protect the defense. It’s really that simple. The more the defense has to play, the more it gets exposed. The better the Cowboys are offensively on third down, the less the defense has to play.

“Third downs are critical, you have to keep drive alive (and) you have to get off the field and you have to do it on a consistent basis,” Garrett said. “One of the best things we’ve done as a team offensively this year is convert on third down. It’s been a good thing for us. I think it’s helped our entire team. We have to get back to where we’ve been for most of the year. We have to get more stops on defense because just by nature it’s a turnover if you’re not able to convert, they’re getting the ball back. And similarly, if they convert you’re giving them another opportunity. It’s a huge point of emphasis for us."