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Cowboys at Commanders referee report: How zebras might impact high stakes season finale

Nobody has any passionate thoughts on the Cowboys and officials right now!

NFL: DEC 17 Ravens at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cowboys find themselves in an ideal spot entering Week 18. A road win over the Commanders would clinch the NFC East and guarantee a home playoff game in the Wild Card round and, should they reach it, the Divisional round. Of course, they’ll need to play disciplined football in order to avoid an upset from a division rival that now has the chance to play spoiler. Let’s review the Cowboys’ penalties over the season.

Cowboys Penalties Week by Week

Cowboys Penalties Penalty Yards Opponent Penalties Penalty Yards
Cowboys Penalties Penalty Yards Opponent Penalties Penalty Yards
at Giants 5 35 6 72
vs Jets 6 38 5 29
at Cardinals 13 107 8 69
vs Patriots 5 32 6 50
at 49ers 6 60 6 45
at Chargers 11 85 9 79
vs Rams 4 21 4 25
at Eagles 10 83 10 98
vs Giants 9 83 2 5
at Panthers 5 45 8 90
vs Commanders 7 48 4 25
vs Seahawks 9 127 10 130
vs Eagles 7 60 10 95
at Bills 5 48 1 15
at Dolphins 6 38 5 33
vs Lions 5 34 6 35
Total 113 944 100 895

The Cowboys enter Week 18 ranking second in total penalties, but things have been better as of late. Over the last three weeks, Dallas is averaging a little over five penalties a game after averaging nearly eight penalties a game prior to that. The Cowboys have been a much more disciplined team lately, and that figures to continue with this week’s officiating crew.

Shawn Smith is in his sixth season as a head referee and ninth overall season in the league. He has generally developed a reputation for trying to balance out the advantage that home teams have, often calling more penalties on the home team. However, that’s not always the case, and Smith’s crew has generally been unafraid to stray away from its tendencies when necessary.

So far this season, Smith’s crew is fifth in total penalties called, but their standing in total penalties has changed quite often over the years. For the year, Smith has called 11 more penalties on the home team, a disparity that makes this crew one of the toughest crews on the home team.

The same can be said for two other seasons for Smith. Even in the years when Smith has finished with more total penalties called on the road team, his crew has frequently had games in which the home team was more penalized, while a few statistical outliers in that season impacted the final tally.

All of this has coincided with home teams having one of the worst records when Smith calls their game, as the home team is 42-60 under Smith. In fact, with the exception of last season (when the home team was 10-6 in games called by Smith), the home team has had a losing record in each season that Smith has been a head referee.

This season has been the most lopsided result in Smith’s career, as the home team is 3-12 so far in games that Smith has called. Two of those three home wins featured the home team as the favorite while the other involved the Bengals, with an injured Joe Burrow, losing to the Titans. It’s usually a safe bet that the visitor will win when Smith is on the call, and especially when the road team is favored; the Cowboys are favored by nearly two touchdowns this week, an insane point spread for any NFL team.

Just in case all of this got your hopes up too much, consider this: Smith has only called two Cowboys games, both last season, and saw the inverse trend occur. The Cooper Rush-led Cowboys beat the Commanders in Dallas but then lost in overtime to the Jaguars on the road, making them one of the few teams to not only win a home game with Smith but also be winless on the road.

Of course, both of those games are what we would consider not very predictive. One featured a backup quarterback while another went into overtime and featured an improbable walk-off pick-six to end things. It’s worth noting that Jacksonville was the more penalized team in that game, with twice as many flags as the Cowboys had.

Things were already trending the Cowboys’ way in this game, with rumblings that many of Washington’s veteran players potentially not playing and the Cowboys being heavily favored, but Smith’s assignment is just one more positive. This crew tends to be fair, calling obvious penalties when they see them, but they also tend to be more strict on the home team. This doesn’t guarantee a Cowboys win on Sunday, but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.

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