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The Dallas Cowboys have what many would call a little bit of a penalty problem. Over the last three seasons, no team has been penalized more than the Cowboys.


The Cowboys have shown themselves to be an undisciplined bunch and there are several reasons for this. They are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to offensive holding. In two of the last three years, they’ve led the league in holding penalties. In 2021, they had a league-high 27 holding penalties, largely thanks to Connor Williams who led the entire league in penalties with 17 infractions. The Cowboys moved on from Williams in 2022, but his replacement wasn’t much better when he came to grabbing jerseys. Tyler Smith led the entire league with 15 total penalties in his rookie season. He didn’t improve much this past season and was one of the biggest reasons the Cowboys were once again leading the league in holding penalties.

But it’s not just holding that’s an issue for Dallas. They have this unusual inclination to have their pass catchers moving around when the ball is snapped. CeeDee Lamb and Jake Ferguson, who are both Pro Bowlers mind you, got flagged for three false starts apiece this past season. It’s a chronic thing for this offense to not be set or just leave early as the team struggled cerebrally with pre-snap penalties on offense.

And we can’t just point the finger at the offense. The Cowboys were disturbingly bad at jumping offsides. They led the league with 16 offsides penalties. The league average was 4.75.

The lack of discipline this team has shown in recent years is distressing, but there could be better days coming with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. In general, Zimmer’s squads have been miles better than the Cowboys over the years in terms of committing penalties. In fact, over Zimmer’s last 14 years of coaching, his squads have committed fewer penalties than the Cowboys every year except one. That’s crazy. And that one year when the Cowboys were better (in 2007) just so happened to be the only time in this span that the Cowboys finished inside the top 10 in fewest penalties while the Vikings were right behind them and ranked 11th. Here’s how Zimmer’s teams have stacked up against the Cowboys over that span (penalty data gathered from The Football Database).

Looking at that chart shows how the Cowboys were also really bad during the Wade Phillips era, improved under Jason Garrett, but then started stinking it up again under Mike McCarthy. The Vikings under Zimmer, however, were consistently good at keeping their penalties to a minimum as they finished 12th or better in each of his first seven seasons with the team before finishing 24th in his final season as their head coach.

While Zimmer is a no-nonsense coach who has very little tolerance for mistakes, he won’t be able to control what happens on offense. That’s an issue McCarthy is going to have to figure out for himself. But what Zimmer can do is fix this jumping offsides nonsense. Whether it was with Cincinnati or Minnesota, Zimmer’s defenses were one of the most disciplined teams in the league when it came to not jumping offsides.

The numbers in that chart are astonishing. It’s not just that Zimmer ran a tighter ship when it came to keeping his guys under control, but those high numbers for Dallas are just excruciating to see. The Cowboys have jumped offsides more times in the last two years that Zimmer has been out of the league than Zimmers’ Vikings did during his entire eight years coaching the team.

A new coach with a new approach should bring all kinds of new things to the Cowboys’ defense. We don’t know if things will be better or if they’ll be worse, but according to this data, there are reasons to be hopeful that the Cowboys might finally be able to show an improvement in the one area that has plagued them for the past three years.

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