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Penalty Problem: Does Coach Mike McCarthy Have Cowboys Fix?

Said McCarthy at season’s end: “Our No. 1 focus going forward is the penalties. There were far too many.”

FRISCO - Often, the problem isn’t in identifying the problem.

The problem is finding a solution to the problem.

And head coach Mike McCarthy thinks his Dallas Cowboys are in the process of doing just that.

At the end of last year, McCarthy disagreed with what we had termed to him a "dangerous habit'' of blaming the referees for losses. But he did in his season-closing media meeting here at The Star concede that his team's penalty problem is an offseason priority.

Said McCarthy: “Our No. 1 focus going forward is the penalties. There were far too many.”

mcc ref

Dallas committed an absurd number of errors in that category in the Wild Card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, with undisciplined play being a part of the fact the Cowboys committed 14 penalties in the 23-17 loss.

That ties the NFL record for the most by any team in a playoff game. ... following up a regular season during which Dallas led the league in penalties.

The Cowboys finished with 127 penalties on the season. Their 1,103 penalty yards were second in the league. All told, the Cowboys committed 10-plus penalties in five games during this 12-6 (counting the playoff game) season.

"It's penalties, and it was self-inflicted," TV analyst Tony Romo said after the game on CBS Sports HQ. "It was a lack of a mental approach almost, it was careless. So many penalties before the snap, and you can't have that many and expect to beat good teams. The Cowboys really hurt themselves."

So, now that we’ve all agreed on that … What to do about it? 

During OTAs and minicamp, the Cowboys cranked up their participation of and interactions with the refs hired to attend practices. The other day, McCarthy named checked three guys who work with NFL officiating, including supervisor of officials Gary Slaughter, who lives in DFW,

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"It was great to have the officials,'' McCarthy said of offseason workouts. "And really the biggest benefit that I've always felt when you have the officials at your practices, not as much having them on the field but having them in your meetings. So the ability to talk about the technique that we're teaching, what they're looking for, because all of those guys, Bill Vinovich all the way through, his whole crew, I thought they did a great job of communicating and interacting with our players and just telling them what they see.''

McCarthy is working to have his Cowboys "build relationships'' with the refs as a way to helping all involved.

"Like anything, group dynamics are about building relationships,'' he said. "You're going to build a relationship that's going to benefit you with the referees as far as how the call it but it does help you to talk to them.''

(Sidebar: Remember that QB Dak Prescott felt obligated to apologize for his anti-ref remarks after the Niners loss - a bad thing for "building relationships.'')

McCarthy said Slaughter is "more involved without the protocols; I think that will really be an excellent addition for us. His involvement as far as the communication and training of the local referees that we do use at practice, I think we'll definitely be better served there.'' He also mentioned that at training camp, the Cowboys will have NFL officials visit twice instead of once, and that when practicing against the Broncos in Denver and the Chargers in SoCal, the plan includes having two sets of officials on both fields.

"Our exposure to NFL officials and interaction with NFL officials throughout training camp is clearly the highest I've ever experienced it in my career,'' McCarthy said. You get to talk about situations. You get to talk about how we’re teaching game management situations and how they view them and so forth. ... I just think it makes us all better.''

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