The 2021 Thanksgiving sport in opposition to the Las Vegas Raiders is memorable. However that sport was not memorable because of the consequence. You seemingly keep in mind that matchup because the week the place each groups mixed for 28 penalties for 276 yards. One of many 28 was an Anthony Brown go interference that allowed Daniel Carlson to knock via the game-winner.
However this sport was symptomatic of the 2021 Dallas Cowboys season. With a league-leading 141 penalties dedicated, they surrendered 1,192 yards on whistles and yellow flags. It appeared as if Dallas needed to overcome their opponent and their very own errors concurrently. With one other 14 penalties within the Wild Card spherical, they weren’t disciplined sufficient within the remaining week.
Or had been they?
The 2021 penalty downside was a results of how Dallas performed, not an absence of self-discipline
One factor ought to be shortly established, penalties are unhealthy. Permitting the opponent to advance the ball or inhibiting your offense from doing the identical is just not excellent. If Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn had the choice, they’d have eradicated all 141 Dallas penalties dedicated in 2021.
However, there are two misconceptions in regards to the laundry thrown on the sector final season:
- Dallas’ “self-discipline” was the principle motive they had been penalized
- Penalties performed a big issue within the consequence of the season
Let’s begin with the offense. The identical offense that led the NFL in penalties with 69 dedicated for 560 yards. What an undisciplined unit proper?
Effectively, not fully.
As a result of one other class the place you could possibly discover Dallas inside the prime two final season was offensive performs run per sport. With 67.9 per sport, they fell solely behind the Baltimore Ravens on this metric. It isn’t a stretch to say that groups that run extra performs will likely be penalized extra on offense. As a result of, all else being equal, there are extra alternatives to penalize the offense in the event that they run extra performs. Even the Ravens, led by John Harbaugh who is assumed to educate self-discipline, completed seventh in offensive penalties.
The principle motive that offensive penalties weren’t an actual difficulty is due to the referees. This isn’t going to show right into a tirade in opposition to the zebras, however the referee does make loads of judgment calls in a given sport. And a few referees usually tend to throw a flag than others. Dallas was really extra disciplined than their opponents on offense, they had been simply blessed with penalty-happy referees. Whereas Dallas accrued 69 penalties on offense, the Cowboys’ opponents had been flagged 70 instances on offense. And think about the truth that Dallas’ opponents ran almost seven performs lower than them per sport on common.
So, Dallas was penalized on offense. However their opponents had been penalized extra, regardless of operating fewer performs. This means that the Cowboys’ referee crews had been fast to throw the flag, however they known as it evenly. And whereas it won’t appear to be it, Dallas really got here out on prime with respect to their offensive penalties versus the opposition’s offensive penalties. This isn’t symptomatic of an “undisciplined” offense.
However there’s a discrepancy on protection. The Cowboys’ turnover-generating group led by Dan Quinn was penalized 52 instances on the 12 months for 487 yards. Dallas’ opponent protection was collectively flagged 43 instances for 355 yards.
This one can’t be defined by alternatives. As beforehand highlighted, the Dallas protection was off the sector extra ceaselessly than they had been on it. And with the Cowboys’ opponents receiving considerably much less punishment, this is not a results of flag-happy referees both.
As an alternative, defensive penalties had been a results of the sport state of affairs and sport plan.
In monitoring the highest twelve commonest penalties, the sport state of affairs that Dallas typically discovered themselves in was conducive to a high-penalty protection. In case you are a coach that wishes to keep away from penalties, hope that your opponent is keen to run the ball. As a result of when a staff is on offense, there’s a roughly equal likelihood they’re penalized on a run versus a go, 55% vs 45% by yardage respectively. However 85% of the 2021 penalty yardage for the commonest defensive penalties occurred on go performs (pre-snap penalties had been factored out).
8,670 yards of the 12 commonest penalties had been known as in opposition to the protection on passing performs, just one,509 had been known as in opposition to the protection on dashing performs. Which means that secondary college students who should ceaselessly defend in opposition to the go will likely be penalized extra.
And the Cowboys had been tied for seventh by the share of opponents performs that led to a go try. On 61% of Dallas’ defensive snaps, they needed to play the go. The Buccaneers completed first on this metric, and never coincidentally, in addition they completed first in defensive penalties. For probably the most half, groups who should defend in opposition to the go extra additionally accumulate a strong chunk of defensive penalties.
However that is not the entire motive. Baltimore was second in opponents passing play share they usually completed with almost 20 much less defensive penalties than Dallas. The second motive is sport plan. Opportunistic defenses, such because the 2021 Cowboys will likely be extra seemingly to attract penalties. Again to our instance, whereas Baltimore completed twenty fourth by defensive penalties, in addition they completed twenty seventh by interceptions per sport.
Defenses such because the 2021 Cowboys will likely be keen to provide opposing receivers separation, in an try and make a soar on the ball. However this does not at all times work, and naturally they’ll get beat. At that time, stopping a deep ball landing by holding or interfering with the receiver typically turns into the preferable choice. This isn’t a tough and quick rule. However Trevon Diggs, probably the most opportunistic defender within the NFL, led all defenders on penalties. This is not a coincidence.
The penalties weren’t fully justified. Randy Greogry’s seven penalties on lower than 500 snaps, Connor Williams’ 17 penalties, and Trevon Diggs main the NFL on penalties can not all be excused. Penalties are unhealthy. Dropping yards is unhealthy. However these flags are usually not fully attributable to a “lack of self-discipline” or “dumb errors.”
Perhaps you do not purchase into this notion. It was a foul season when it comes to penalties, and nobody would argue in another way. However did it actually matter?
When the 2021 season ended the penalty yardage seemed like:
- Dallas Cowboys penalty yards: 1,192
- Dallas Cowboys’ opponents penalty yards: 1,031
The Cowboys opponents dedicated 11 fewer penalties, and surrendered 161 fewer “free yards” over the course of the 12 months. Whereas which may appear to be quite a bit, it equates to about .7 penalties for 9.5 yards per sport. Lower than 10 yards per sport is equal to:
- 1.7 Tony Pollard dashing makes an attempt
- 1.3 Dak Prescott passing makes an attempt OR
- .7 CeeDee Lamb receptions
There have been some unhealthy breaks that stored drives alive for the opponent or ended Dallas drives prematurely. But when Dallas wasn’t capable of overcome a 9.5 yards per sport distinction, they most likely weren’t profitable the sport within the first place.
Some penalties had been extra detrimental than others, however some went there approach as properly. Everybody remembers the Anthony Brown go interference name in opposition to Las Vegas. However do you keep in mind when the Cowboys had been down 13-16 with two minutes left in opposition to the Vikings and Noah Brown fumbled to lose the sport?
After all you do not, as a result of it did not occur. As an alternative, Harrison Smith was known as for unlawful use of fingers to the face and the fumble was negated. This allowed Cooper Rush to proceed the drive that led to an Amari Cooper landing and a Dallas win.
The 2021 penalties had been unhealthy. Nobody will advocate that they really need the overall penalty to extend subsequent 12 months. However whereas they is perhaps damage in the meanwhile, the ache tends to stay with us longer than the enjoyment. Which means that you simply seemingly forgot how typically the flags got here out in opposition to Dallas’ opponents.
And for all the hurt the penalties triggered, they had been considerably anticipated. Between the Cowboys fashion of play, an opportunistic protection, and their opponents needing to go as a way to keep within the sport, it wasn’t irregular to be a extremely penalized staff. And whereas it’s a simple excuse, blaming a “lack of self-discipline” is perhaps misguided. With that stated, can we please in the reduction of on the laundry in 2022?