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A Point About Penalties In The Cowboys' Game Against The Chargers

If you looked this good running the ball, you'd probably play without a helmet, too.
If you looked this good running the ball, you'd probably play without a helmet, too.

I liked a comment BTB-member Realist Larry made in an earlier thread: 

Everybody likes stats around here when they back up a point they want to make.  But when they’re contrary to what they want to say, they find an excuse why they can be ignored.  Just like in politics.

In an article leading up to the San Diego game, I talked about my hope that the Cowboys would cut down on penalties this season.  At first glance, the game Sunday night would appear to be a step backwards.  Dallas had seven flags thrown on them, versus six the first preseason game.  But in a skillful display of Realist Larry's observation, I am going to delve a little deeper into the penalties and show why I still see some signs that the penalty situation is still looking pretty good.  It's not exactly statistical manipulation, but I think it is certainly in the spirit of Larry's remark.

See the dazzling spinning of the facts after the jump

In preseason games, there are two main things going on.  First, the first team and key backups get to work against someone besides their own teammates, honing timing and finding out what is working and what isn't.  Second, the bubble players and camp bodies get a chance to prove themselves to the coaches and earn a spot on the final roster or at least the practice squad.  It makes sense to me that I consider the two parts of the preseason games in different ways. 

I made a list of the penalties and broke them down by quarter.

1st Quarter 00:30 Josh Brent encroachment.  A second stringer either gets pulled across by a hard count or just jumps too soon. 

2nd Quarter 02:19 Barry Church pass interference.  Another second stringer trying to make a good play.  Got there a little early.  Aggressive play, failure in the execution, but almost a good breakup.

Those are the only two penalties called in the first half.  And they are both on second teamers.  No infractions by the first team.  Although my math skills are not as good as some here, I can project that out to four penalties per game by the players that will be on the field in the regular season.  And maybe less, since these were, after all, backups who would not be likely to see a majority of the minutes played.  Also, these are defensive penalties, which I see as a little harder to eliminate completely because of the attacking nature of playing that side of the line.  No offensive penalties, which means no drive stoppers.  That is not a bad performance at all.

The second half is all backups and people trying to get the Star on their helmets, or to keep it (like Lonyae Miller and Igor Olshansky, for whom the reviews are not good from what I am seeing).  Here, as can be expected in preseason, things get a bit sloppy.  Look at the next three penalties.

3rd Quarter 12:13 Sam Young false start. 

3rd Quarter 10:19 Jesse Holley illegal formation.

3rd Quarter 09:10 Jermey Parnell holding.

Three of those frustrating, drive killing, offensive penalties.  All committed by backups that are trying to make a case that they belong on the final roster.  Rabblerousr has all three on his latest bubble list.  None of them exactly helped their case.  Any one of those penalties is the kind that has shut down Dallas drives in the past.

Except, there is one funny thing.  They all happened on one drive.  And none of them killed it.  Even with a bunch of seconds and thirds playing, including Stephen McGee quarterbacking, the team kept overcoming the penalties, converting first downs and keeping the drive alive (with a big assist from a San Diego infraction) until it is stopped by Lonyae Miller's fumble.  Hmm.  Didn't I mention that name above?  Oh, yeah.  And not in the best company if you are trying to make the team, I would think.

3rd Quarter 06:39 Orie Lemon horsecollar.  A tough call.  Given the speed with which things are happening, I can see how this is a hard one to avoid, and from a purely subjective viewpoint, it seems that the referees are really watching for this when Dallas is tackling.  Maybe some strange historical context going on there in calling a foul that entered the rule book because of a Dallas player.  Just sayin'.

4th Quarter 12:55 Illegal shift (I couldn't find the name this was called on and haven't had a chance to run the replay on it).  Another potential drive killer that wasn't, with McGee converting the third down and then losing the ball on a sack/fumble the next play.

Those are the basic facts of the situation.  Being who I am, I can't help but make inferences.  First, the starters are not making mistakes.  None of the penalties were called on any first stringers.  And related to that, the four flags on the offense did not stop drives.  Turnovers kept the team from succeeding on those series, but there was no quit in the team.  That is not the way I remember the Cowboys playing in the past few seasons, when a false start would suck the oxygen out of the offense or a holding call would turn into the pebble tossed on the slope that led to the avalanche of horror of 2010.  Not that I get ill thinking of Alex Barron or anything.  Maybe the team has a little more determination in it than it used to.  I know, it's hard to judge that based on the backups who were playing, but it still makes me wonder.

And at the very least it gives Jason Garrett something else to work on this week.  I certainly don't think this game was evidence that the Cowboys are playoff bound this year.  But I do think it hints at what the new culture is creating on the field.  I don't have any real firm idea what the record will be this year, and I suck at that kind of prediction anyway.  I do feel that this team is going to be better than it was at the start of last year, and that it will be fighting to win in every game.  Even with the issues on defense and the dropped balls by several people (funny how the drop by Dez Bryant got a little different reaction than the one by Martellus Bennett), the team has a better look about it, a feeling that these guys are going to go at it hard this year.

Is that a lot to read into the penalty stats?  Well, yeah.  But it is what I do.

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