Referees can have a huge impact on NFL games. The NFL has an extensive rule-book and the refs need to know, interpret, and apply those rules every week. They also need to do it in an even-handed way. On the other side, teams try to avoid getting penalized. If an organization can't avoid penalties, they get labeled as undisciplined, disorganized or eventually can become a "dirty" team.
Because of how important penalty flags are in the NFL, I decided to take a look at the Cowboys' penalty numbers since Jason Garrett took over as head coach. Not counting the 2010 season where Garrett took over halfway through the year, I looked at the seasons from 2011-2015.
Garrett has preached the importance of "Right Kinda Guy, RKG" ever since he has taken over as head coach in Dallas. The numbers are below (numbers are for penalties accepted).
|Defensive pass interference||8||5||8||9||6|
|Delay of game||5||7||4||5||3|
|Roughing the passer||3||5||3||2||- -|
|Offensive pass interference||2||0||5||1||3|
|Personal foul||- -||1||- -||- -||- -|
|Unsportsmanlike||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
It's interesting how the numbers tell the story and narrative of each season for the Cowboys. In 2014, the Cowboys had one of their best years in terms of low penalties when their running game was successful. 2015 was a sloppy year for Dallas and it's evident by the amount of penalties they had on both sides of the football, in particular on the offensive line. 2012 was another sloppy year in terms of offensive line play. In fact, 2012 was just an all-around poor year.
Playing smart football has been one of the mantras the Cowboys have continuously espoused in the past few years. If you look at the unsportsmanlike penalties from the past four years, it's worth noting that the team has gotten much better in that department. After all, the Cowboys haven't had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty since 2010. That's five years.
One interesting factoid from this look at penalties is that it's hard to correlate just one type of penalty or the overall number of penalties with won/loss records. But one number seems to stand out, in 2014, Jason Garrett's most successful year, the number of false starts were at their lowest. Fewer false starts allows an offense to stay on schedule and run the ball instead of being forced to pass. If the Cowboys hope to predominately run the ball in 2016, they will need to control those false starts to avoid longer down and distances.