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Cowboys news: Penalties remain story from Denver as team looks ahead to Chargers

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

17 penalty-game shows continuation of Cowboys’ undisciplined play under McCarthy - Todd Brock, The Cowboys Wire

Whatever the Cowboys are doing to clean up penalties clearly isn’t working so far.

The Cowboys were flagged 17 times against the Broncos, most in the NFL over the weekend’s worth of games.

While it was admittedly a meaningless exhibition contest (and a couple calls were notably questionable), the 129 yards conceded on those flags are emblematic of a bigger problem that just won’t seem to go away in Dallas.

“Penalties, clearly, are way too much,” McCarthy said after Saturday’s 17-7 loss, in which Cowboys gaffes led directly to 10 of Denver’s points. “We’ll look at those and keep going through it as far as combative [penalties] versus discipline [penalties]. That’s clearly the biggest negative.”

It’s been the biggest negative, actually, for McCarthy’s entire tenure in Dallas.

ESPN’s Get Up pointed out that the Cowboys have been flagged 266 times since McCarthy took over. That’s also the most in the league.

“Something is not being addressed,” host and former Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said on Monday’s show. “This has now become a Mike McCarthy issue. This ain’t about the preseason game.”

The coach, though, was quick to shoot down reporters’ comparisons between Saturday night’s flag-filled performance and anything that happened in 2021.

“This is preseason, and I don’t think this has anything to do with last year. Obviously you guys get to write what you want, but it’s a starting point,” McCarthy explained.

Cowboys 2022 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 2 - Jess Haynie, Inside The Star

Will Grier may have helped his case for QB2 without even playing at the Broncos, while the Cowboys have some tough decisions upcoming at running back.

We’ve switched from Cooper Rush to Will Grier as QB2. This isn’t just about Rush’s play in Denver but the consistent reporting from camp that has Grier as the more impressive of the two. Assuming Grier maintains that once he gets into the preseason games, a switch feels imminent.

Remember, Rush is a holdover from the Jason Garrett era. Grier was claimed off waivers last September by this coaching staff and is only now really getting his first chance to compete. So far, he appears to be winning.

The RB3 and FB positions are getting much harder to project. Rico Dowdle looked good in Denver but so did Malik Davis. We didn’t really see much of Ryan Nall as he deals with a minor injury. Only one of these guys may actually make the final roster; it all comes down to special teams. For now, I’m deferring to Dowdle and Nall given their proven work there.

We hope that Michael Gallup and James Washington will return sooner than later but it’s a safer bet that they will begin the year on PUP and IR, respectively. Policy changes would allow them to come back after just four games and that lines up with their projected recovery timetables.

Cowboys’ Projected Winners of Key Position Battles - Kristopher Knox, Bleacher Report

Simi Fehoko built on a strong training camp by scoring the Cowboys only touchdown in the preseason opener.

Wide Receiver

Noah Brown vs. T.J. Vasher vs. Simi Fehoko

Dallas’s top three receivers for 2022 should be set. CeeDee Lamb is a lock, rookie third-round pick Jalen Tolbert is likely to start, and Michael Gallup will be on the field once recovered from last year’s torn ACL.

However, there is competition behind the top three—one that was complicated by James Washington’s recent injury. The Cowboys signed Washington as a free agent, but the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout suffered a fractured foot and is expected to miss 6-10 weeks, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer.

This leaves veteran Noah Brown, 2021 undrafted free agent T.J. Vasher and 2021 fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko vying for a prominent spot.

The prediction here is that Fehoko solidifies himself as Dallas’ No. 4 receiver—and third option for as long as Gallup remains sidelined. He made a strong case in the preseason opener—catching two passes for 18 yards and Dallas’ only touchdown—and has been a regular standout in camp.

“It’s now become habitual for Fehoko to make at least one eye-opening grab every day,” Patrik Walker of the team’s official website wrote.

With Gallup unlikely to be available for Week 1, expect Fehoko to be in the starting lineup.

Predicted Winner: Fehoko

PFF lists two young players as the ‘riser’ and ‘faller’ from Cowboys camp - Lauren Barash, The Landry Hat

Dennis Houston has commanded first-team reps in training camp.

Pro Football Focus names Dennis Houston the ‘riser’ and Connor McGovern the ‘faller’ of Cowboys training camp

Let’s talk about Houston first. The undrafted free agent receiver has taken advantage of the dwindling wide receiver room in Dallas. After losing Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson in the offseason and coping with the injuries to both James Washington and Michael Gallup, it’s safe to say the wide receiver room is depleted.

Jerry Jones ensured fans not to worry because he had faith in his young players. While it’s probably not smart to only count on players who have little to no NFL playing time, it is likely that players like Houston are the reason for Jones’s confidence.

Houston caught the eyes of many in Oxnard and it became clear that he turned into a favorite target. Reporters said quarterback Dak Prescott lit up when talking about the “tough, resilient” receiver and Mike McCarthy said “everybody was impressed” with Houston’s performance.

The 23-year-old will continue to compete with guys like Brown, Simi Fehoko, Jalen Tolbert, and T.J. Vasher (who are also performing well in camp) for a spot on the depth chart. Preseason game performance will also be very telling of Houston’s future with the team.

As far as McGovern goes, he represents some of the fears Cowboys fans have about this struggling offensive line. While rookie Tyler Smith is displaying strength and capability, the 24-year-old has not been showing his best stuff in offseason work.

Cowboys Bench DE Dante Fowler; Here’s Dallas’ ‘Discipline’ Reason - Mike Fisher, CowboysSI.com

Did McCarthy send the right message by benching a veteran player in his first game with the Cowboys?

Dante Fowler committed a foul that McCarthy considered so heinous that the vet defensive end was benched. And Fowler, the 28-year-old former Pro Bowler, wasn’t on this team last year.

So yeah. There is no connection in this particular example.

“That’s a discipline penalty,” McCarthy us after the game. “Frankly, that’s why Dante was done for the night after that. We can’t have that.”

The violation? The newly acquired edge-rusher got flagged for a personal foul when he tried to push an opposing player off a pile. The goof helped Denver score a touchdown in the second quarter.

So, after committing an NFL-high 141 penalties in 2021 (including 14 in their playoff loss to the Niners), the Cowboys did more of the same here, as Dallas got called for 17 infractions.

And while McCarthy vowed all offseason to do something about the problem, the problem hasn’t gone away. McCarthy acknowledged that 17 penalties “clearly are way too much” ... but what is the coaching staff supposed to do? Bench every guy who commits a foul? Bench 17 guys?

Maybe you bench one guy - and make it a vet - to send a message to the other 17, 53, 90 guys.

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