Cowboys 2013: The Penalty Issue Revisited

Kid friendly, but not Cowboys friendly in recent years - USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few seasons penalties have been a bane of the Dallas Cowboys. In an effort to see if they are making progress toward resolving the scourge, I decided to take a look at how they are doing thus far in 2013.

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a promising drive brought to an early close by a needless penalty; unless it is seeing the defense seemingly go three and out, and then have your opposition get a first down courtesy of the gentlemen in the zebra skin shirts. Far too often over the past few years the Dallas Cowboys have been plagued by penalties that hindered their efforts. Over the last six seasons, Dallas has consistently been one of the six most penalized teams in the league. Over at the mothership they have been doing some research on the issue and it's effect on the team's record.

All told, the ’Boys have “lost” just under three extra games due solely to penalties, or about half a game per year. Put another way, Dallas has suffered a 50 percent chance of losing an extra game each season simply because of penalties.

Clearly, it behooves Jason Garrett and his coaching staff to place significant effort into rectifying the penalty issue. During training camp we saw them trying a new approach to combat the excessive number of yellow flags that were thrown in the team's direction.

Garrett explained if a member of the first-team group jumps offside or has a false start, they will be replaced by the second-teamers. If the second group has the same infraction, the third group goes in. And if that happens again, the third-teamers gets bumped by the first-group. Garrett said that scenario won’t go over well to the starters.

It was a necessary measure for the staff to take. In 2012, Dallas ranked 31st in false starts and 30th in offsides penalties. They averaged 1.75 false starts and 1.0 offsides penalties per game last year. Let's take a look at where the are in 2013.

By looking at NFLpenalties.com we see that so far it has been a mixed bag. Of the Cowboys 10 penalties thus far this season (which, by the way, makes them one of the top ten least penalized squads), five of those flags have been for false starts. Jason Witten, Ron Leary, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Dwayne Harris have each been flagged once. While this averages out to 2.5 false starts per game, a significant increase, I want to point out that in week 1 of the 2012 season Dallas had four false starts against the New York Giants and another one against the Seattle Seahawks. They are seemingly on the same pace thus far in the 2013 season. On a positive note, the defense has yet to be flagged for being offsides in the 2013 season. By contrast, last season Ware had been flagged for being offsides twice after two weeks. (Yes I am aware that Ware drew a flag against the Giants, but neither declined or offsetting penalties figure into the stats.)

While it is too early to draw any solid conclusions, it looks like the overall penalty situation in Dallas may be getting better, the pre-snap penalties from the offense are still an issue. Granted, three of the false starts came in Sunday's game at Arrowhead, a notorious place for causing such issues, but last year's second game was in Seattle, where the fans have a similar reputation. In that game there was only one false start. I'm not holding my breath, but perhaps some progress is being made.

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