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Dallas Cowboys: Cutting Down On Penalties In 2011?

Will the Cowboys be getting a lot less attention from the guys in black and white this year?
Will the Cowboys be getting a lot less attention from the guys in black and white this year?

Preseason. A time of dissecting plays, parsing statements from coaches and players, analyzing film, reanalyzing film, and examining goat entrails in the hope of figuring out how your favorite team will do. There are seemingly hundreds of things to go over. Some have major impact, others minor, but all add up in the end to form the whole of the team.

One thing a team wants to avoid is penalties. Yellow flags are probably the third biggest drive killer for an offense, after turnovers and quarterback sacks (OCC did one of his superb mathematical analyses on this a while back). And they can take the wind out of the sails of a stiff defensive effort by giving a gift first down to the opponent. Obviously getting penalized is never a good thing.

Something I noticed after the Denver game was that the Cowboys had only been penalized six times. This struck me as a pretty good number for a preseason game, which often see a higher than normal number of flags due to all the second and third stringers playing. I am hoping that the trend continues because I think it will mean good things for the regular season.

Why I feel that way after the jump.

Jason Garrett is placing an emphasis on cutting down the penalties down, as Brandon noted in an article a while back. He has had referees working practices in training camp to make sure the team is learning how to keep those flags tucked away. I believe I read that the zebras have been there since the first day of camp. I would assume that at least some of the motive is the memories we all share of Wade's patented look of befuddlement when an untimely call nullified a good play last year. That happened far too often for my liking.

Just to make sure, I went and checked the stats on team penalties last year. Dallas was tied for 26th in the league with Arizona with 6.8 per game. That means that the first preseason game is already an improvement. I did a minor bit of number crunching, and looked at the average number of penalties for playoff teams versus teams that didn't get into the postseason. The 12 playoff bound teams averaged 5.7 flags a game, while the 20 that stayed home for the postgame had a 6.7 average, or one penalty a game more. Given the state of parity that exists and the number of close games that happen, that differential might be fairly important. One of those drive killers or freebie first downs at the end of a game could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Of course, all that might seem self evident. But this is the preseason, remember, and I got to thinking a little more about what it all means. In Brandon's article, his overall theme was how the team is concentrating on the fundamentals. It fits in with the overall view of the Jason Garrett Cowboy Way, of having discipline and focus in all facets of the game. This includes practice as well as the actual play on the field. To me, seeing that first game being played cleaner than the average game last year was an encouraging sign. It is evidence that the new coaching philosophy is gaining traction and that the entire team is buying in.

This is another indicator I am going to be watching as the preseason winds on. It fits my particular approach to Garrettology, which looks for the little things that extend across the various positions and roles. Penalties are part of all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams. I believe that if this kind of thing is getting taken care of, then the chances are good that the bigger things are also improving. The discipline to not commit an infraction goes hand in hand with getting your blocking assignment right, running the right routes, staying in your lane, and making the right read.

I don't know for sure if this is a really good sign to watch for. Everyone has their favorite things they like to consider, and this is just one of mine. Maybe it is just a form of reading tea leaves. But that, after all, is what preseason is all about.

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