The Referees-at-Practice Strategy Worked Out

Inviting referees to practice has helped the Cowboys during the past five games.

When the Cowboys traveled to Minnesota on October 17, penalties helped beat the Cowboys nearly as bad as the Cowboys beat the Cowboys. For the third time in five games, Dallas committed more than 10 penalties (11 vs. the Vikings) and gave up 91 yards. At that point, the Cowboys gave up an average of 80.8 yards per game in penalties, which led the league. Dallas gave up those yards by averaging 9.8 penalties a game, which ranked second.

Former coach Wade Phillips responded by hiring a team of referees to visit the Cowboys’ practices. Since that time, the Cowboys have averaged only 4.8 penalties and 36.2 penalty yards per game. Dallas now ranks 26th in penalties with 73 and 23rd with 605 penalty yards allowed. If Dallas had averaged the same number of penalties with the same penalty yardage as the last five games all season, the Cowboys would rank in the top three in both categories.

A benefit of the reduced penalties is that the Cowboys are not giving up nearly as many first downs because of those penalties. In the first five games, opponents made 12 first downs thanks to Dallas penalties compared with only five for Dallas. In the past five games, Dallas has made eight first downs off penalties while opponents have only made six.

Here’s a game-by-game look:

Week 1 vs. Washington: 12 penalties, 81 yards

Week 2 vs. Chicago: 6 penalties, 50 yards

Week 3 vs. Houston: 8 penalties, 49 yards

Week 5 vs. Tennessee: 12 penalties, 133 yards

Week 6 vs. Minnesota: 11 penalties, 91 yards

* * * Referees start visiting practice * * *

Week 7 vs. N.Y. Giants: 5 penalties, 42 yards

Week 8 vs. Jacksonville: 3 penalties, 20 yards

Week 9 vs. Green Bay: 5 penalties, 20 yards

Week 10 vs. N.Y. Giants: 5 penalties, 60 yards

Week 11 vs. Detroit: 6 penalties, 39 yards

Of course, penalties only tell part of the story. For instance, Philadelphia ranks near the bottom in number of penalties and penalty yards allowed, committing an average of 8.8 penalties and 80.6 yards per game. On the flip side, Buffalo has only committed a total of 52 penalties for 416 yards.

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