28, 32, 29, 27, and 28. These numbers represent the Dallas Cowboys as one of the most penalized teams for the past five years. Over that same period of time, the Dallas Cowboys were known for their lack of discipline across the entire organization. From the top down, it was unbridled chaos. Then head coach, Wade Phillips, had lost complete control of his team. Jerry Jones, realizing Phillips was not the answer, named Jason Garrett interim head coach in November of 2010. Garrett finished those last eight games with five wins and finished the season 6 – 10. Not good in most people’s eyes, but it definitely was a move towards improvement. For his efforts, in January, 2011, Jones hired Garrett as the 8th head coach. Records aside, the Cowboys are STILL in the top five for most penalized teams. Is this a coaching problem or is it a player attitude issue?
Garrett began his reign with an immediate change to the dress code. Players were asked to dress professionally; donning a suit and tie. Marion Barber didn’t respect the coach enough to comply; he is no longer a Cowboy. Several other players attitudes were not on the same page with the new regime. They, too, have the privilege of playing somewhere else. It does seem like there are positive changes being made, but one thing stands out in every game…..an excessive amount of penalties.
Having played basketball growing up, I know a bit about making mental mistakes on the court. Walking / traveling was one of those repeat offenders. So, I practiced, over and over, dribbling and moving with the ball, so it would not happen again. Why is it that these professional football players continue to make boneheaded mental mistakes? Time and time again we hear the whistle for offsides, false starts, too many men on the field, unnecessary roughness, etc. I can understand a false start occasionally, just nerves acting up until they settle down, but many of these penalties are repeats every single game. And by the same player, every single game. Are these coachable or are they mental?
What would happen if, like the Tennessee Titan player who was fined thousands for showing up late to a team meeting, the players were fined for repeat mistakes? They may think twice about being so lax when it comes to potential infractions. If the coaches would put more emphasis on the penalty problem, there would be improvement, but no one seems to see the urgency in correcting this issue.
Over the past two years, here are a few statistics that stood out:
- Team penalties per game: Dallas #28 out of 32 teams
- 2010 6.8
- 2011 7.1
- Team penalty yards per game: Dallas #14 out of 32 teams
- 2010 53.9
- 2011 51.0
- Team penalty first downs per game: Dallas #2 out of 32 teams
- 2010 1.2
- 2011 1.1
- Team penalty yards per penalty: Dallas #1 out of 32 teams
- 2010 7.9
- 2011 7.2
- Team penalties per play: Dallas #28 out of 32 teams
- 2010 0.05
- 2011 0.06
It would not be surprising to say the Cowboys would have two to four more wins had penalties not killed momentum and field position. Just as we watched in the second pre-season game last weekend, Dez Bryant scored a touchdown (in one-handed Superman fashion), but it was called back due to holding. While holding can be very subjective, it is still a mistake that can be corrected. Coaches can reiterate the importance of not making these mental errors or they could start monetarily penalizing the players.
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.
-Vincent T. Lombardi
It all comes down to the individual and how much they want to be successful. Discipline begins with self. Coaches can garner respect; some do, some do not. But the elite have to want it and push themselves to have it. Everything we do in life, or on the field, needs to be our best effort. The Cowboys will get there, but it begins with the individual.