Passion, Penalties and Football

There’s been some discussion lately since Mo Claiborne and Terrance Williams had a little scuffle during camp on Saturday. Mind you, it was just a heat-of-the-moment skirmish that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. People seem to enjoy that kind of thing. I guess it’s because of the passion it takes to push players to the point of fighting. We want things heated and fierce, even in practice. We want the players fired up and ready for some action.

Lords knows that by the time training camp starts, the fans are on edge. We’re ecstatic just to see the offseason end.

My part in the discussion at DCN has been that of the antagonist. I think it’s great that these guys are getting caught up in it and getting angry over mistakes and failures. But I also believe that sort of fire leads to more mistakes, specifically penalties.

We’re all caught up in the stats of the game. We debate the elite status of Tony Romo and can do so until the cows come home. But I tend to side with former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells – You gotta play mistake-free football.

There are lots of ways to count mistakes on the football field, and many are quite debatable. But the one mistake above reproach is that pesky little yellow flag.

Right or wrong, if the refs throw it and call it, it’s done. Another tally in the only stat column nobody wants marked. But much like the discussion about the effects of a bad, good or great running game, I wanted to see how penalties-per-game measured up in the big picture for the Dallas Cowboys.

So here’s a chart of the average penalties-per-game and total wins for each season (ties are counted as wins), including denotation of years in which playoff appearances were made and championships won. I figure you just can’t get a good look without having some winning seasons and some losing seasons, so it shows 1990-2013 – Jerry’s team.

penpgame-wins-90-13bI noticed the years under Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells right away – both coaches enjoyed the lowest penalty average in their time with Dallas. The average of our yearly penalties-per-game since 1990 is 6.51 (the white line across the chart).

At first, there are no discernible patterns that just scream winning formula, but if you keep looking, you’ll find that Jerry Jones’ Cowboys have only won a single playoff game with an above average number of penalties. Perhaps you see it differently, but I don’t think the Eagles were much of a threat in the 2009 playoffs. And the stats seem to support Dallas lucking out with a weak Philadelphia team.

The NFL has a bad case of Goldilocks syndrome when it comes to execution. Too little, too much, too early, too late; if anything isn’t just right then it’s another yellow flag. When one mistake can blow the game – an errant throw in the 4th, a missed tackle at the eight yard-line, a muffed catch on a punt return – more and more games are becoming a war of attrition.

The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins.

And we’re pretty reliable defenders of those mistakes. We routinely defended DeMarcus Ware and his famous post-game referee chats about an errant call for being off-sides. It makes sense. Most of us would be bawling like babies after just one full-speed down with these guys. We excuse players because it’s a tough sport that takes an enormous amount of focus and physical ability just to achieve mediocre. Add to it that we favor the teams and players we like the most.

I look at that chart and all I can think is how much a penalty costs. How many times has Dallas driven sixty yards down-field only to reach the red-zone for just a moment before someone’s stupid knocks them back five or ten yards? No need to play favorites now. We all know you’re saying the same thing when it happens. For that matter, how many times has one stupid been followed up by another on the very next play?

Penalties nullify big gains and huge stops. They back the line of scrimmage up until the QBs ass is against the goal post. They obliterate momentum.

What’s the one thing you find in every penalty? A lack of focus. It’s not always possible to have enough focus to avoid being drawn off-sides by an excellent cadence and a loud stadium, but focus is the key element, or rather the lack thereof. Taking that focus and building fire and passion around it would be a neat trick, because otherwise those emotions might as well be lye poured on top – Goodbye Focus. You just can’t have both, not to any meaningful degree.

So yeah, I like to see these guys with some fight in them. So what if it’s only training camp? These guys are fighting for their job, especially on defense. But if they’re smart, and we’re to have any hope of advancing in the playoffs, then they had best get it out of their system now before a game is on the line.

It only takes a single mistake to crush a gridiron hero, and apparently, it only takes seven mistakes for Dallas to lose a game.

What do you think?

Bryson Treece

Written by Bryson Treece

Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC


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