Cowboys' big problem is easy to flag: Penalties
10:37 PM CDT on Friday, October 15, 2010
Column by BILL NICHOLS / The Dallas Morning News | [email protected]
He gained 91 yards on 12 plays, including the game winner, in the opener. He added 99 yards the next two games and then 133 last week, when he assisted on the winning score.
Through four games, his 313 yards are 116 more than the Cowboys' leading rusher. Only 10 NFL running backs have more.
This imaginary player is what the Cowboys have created with their penalties. He has become a very real problem.
Penalties personify Dallas' precarious situation. The Cowboys have taken a lot of steps backward to reach 1-3.
The Cowboys have 7.2 more penalties and 52.3 more penalty yards than the league average. They have more than doubled their opponents in penalties, 38-16.
If you wonder how Dallas can outgain opponents, 422-305, yet be even in touchdowns (9-9), then consider:
The Cowboys have 189 nullified yards. Philadelphia, which has played one more game, is No. 2 with 121 nullified yards.
So instead of averaging 116.7 more yards than the opponent, the Cowboys are actually losing the yardage battle by 72.3 yards.
"You can't win with penalties and turnovers. They will kill you every time," Cowboys receiver Roy Williams said after last Sunday's loss to Tennessee. "We're a 1-3 team, that's the reality. Are we better than a 1-3 football team? Of course."
Well, not exactly.
That's like saying you played a great round of golf but you just couldn't make any putts. Penalties are part of the equation. They are the result of poor execution, or getting beat on a block, or losing a step on your receiver.
Penalties have directly affected the outcome of two Dallas games: Alex Barron's hold on the final play nullified what would have been the winning touchdown against Washington.
The Cowboys were flagged six times in the fourth quarter against Tennessee. Marc Colombo's excessive celebration penalty after the Cowboys tied the score forced a kickoff from the 15, leading to a 73-yard return. Add kicker David Buehler's 15-yard facemask penalty, enforced at the 11, and the Titans needed only 5 yards to drive for the winning score.
"If you're a good football team, you overcome penalties," quarterback Tony Romo said. "Those things end up costing us. We have to find a way to be perfect in other areas and we're not right now."
Since Wade Phillips took over, the Cowboys have been among the league's top eight in penalties and penalty yardage. This season, penalties have been particularly costly, resulting in 10 first downs for opponents. Eleven Cowboys drives have been stalled by flags.
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