DENVER- The Cowboys led the NFL with 141 penalties last season and tied a team-high with 14 in their January playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
In Saturday’s 17-7 preseason loss to the Denver Broncos, they were penalized 17 times – the highest total in the league – in the first week of the exhibition schedule.
Head coach Mike McCarthy isn’t ready to draw a link between his bans in 2021 and an early start to 2022; after all, the Cowboys rested most of their projected starters and rotation players on Saturday, but he acknowledged that the 17 handkerchiefs for 129 yards on Saturday “are clearly too much.”
“I think we all recognize that this is not the regular season,” McCarthy said. “I understand your question, (but) last year was last year. I think last year as far as trying to establish a style of play and an identity, it took us a while to get there and once we did, we won several games. This is really the starting point that you go through every year.
“This is preseason. I don’t think this has anything to do with last year. But I didn’t like the amount of punishment. I made it clear. I talked about it at halftime and I talked about it briefly there (in the locker room). We’ll break it down. carefully.”
Despite the loss at Empower Field at Mile High, McCarthy was pleased with the number of quality snaps the young players got on Saturday. He liked the team’s rushing production (28 carries for 141 yards) and defense against the running game (1.8 yards allowed per carry).
But the high penalty count disrupted the flow of the game, and three flags in particular helped the Broncos finish all three of their scoring drives (two touchdowns and a 52-yard field goal by Brandon McManus late in the first half). Veteran defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was called for a personal foul that set up Denver’s opening touchdown early in the second quarter.
“That’s a disciplinary punishment,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, that’s why Dante stopped playing after that. We can’t have that.”
There were also “combative” penalties, as McCarthy calls them, that were problematic, particularly stopping calls on running plays.
Overall, though, McCarthy felt the penalty count was largely a product of young players adjusting to NFL competition.
“I think that’s how it works,” he said. “We played a lot of young players on Thursday (in joint practice) and today. And I have great confidence that they will improve with this opportunity.”
“Obviously, that’s something we have to improve on, and we will,” defensive tackle Neville Gallimore said. “Shout out to the young guys. I know what their first game is like, especially playing here with so many people. I know emotions were running high. … That first game, everyone wants to go out there and make a play, and sometimes you have to go back a little bit”.
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McCarthy: “Too much” penalties against the Broncos