As the Cowboys sit idle on their bye week, we can reflect on where they stand, and where they’re going. When training camp began, there were myriad questions they had to answer. How would they respond to losing another home playoff game? Who would emerge in the absence of Randy Gregory? Was Mike McCarthy still the right choice to lead this team?
So far, the answer to those questions has been positive ones. Being 6-2, after Dak Prescott missed four games with an injury, is remarkable when you think about it and speaks to the character of the team. The offense in Prescott’s return is finding its footing, while the young offensive line is doing an admirable job. Meanwhile, their defense is as good as last year if not better.
The team has the look of a contender in the NFC, except for one issue holding them back - penalties.
If there’s been one Achilles heel for the Cowboys the last few seasons, it’s penalties. In last year’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys committed fourteen penalties resulting in 89 yards. The Cowboys are currently tied for the fourth-worst in enforced penalties against them with 55 and eighth-worst in most penalty yards enforced against them.
When you dive a little deeper into the timing of the penalties, it raises more concerns about the discipline of this team. For as stingy as the Cowboys’ defense is at times, they can be inexplicably charitable. 18 penalties committed by the Dallas defense have resulted in a first down. For those that remember, last week’s game against the Bears saw the Cowboys squander a 21-point lead due in part to a penalty extending a drive that resulted in a touchdown. As you may have guessed, the Cowboys are also among the league’s worst in that category.
Regarding the offense, they too have played a part in making mental mistakes. When Prescott was sidelined, the offense was struggling to score points and convert on third downs. This can be attributed to pre-snap penalties, specifically false starts. A challenged offense battling the opponent and themselves.
As we enter the second half of the season and beyond that, the team simply has to be better disciplined if they hope to make a deep playoff run.
For context, three out of the last four teams to win the Super Bowl were in the upper percentile for the fewest penalties committed in the years they won the title, two of them each with the third-fewest in their respective championship years. (New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams) Also, for what it’s worth, the last time the Cowboys were champions back in 1996 the defense was the third-least penalized in the NFL.
All that said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This year’s Cowboys are talented and boasting a premier defense led by Dan Quinn. Their special teams unit is as complete as they’ve had in several years. Their resilience through adversity speaks to the leadership of the team. Most importantly, these mistakes are correctable and that small adjustment could make them a super contender.