FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys enter the offseason with plenty of unanswered questions.
Will coordinators Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn get head-coaching opportunities elsewhere? How many of the club's 22 unrestricted free agents will be back in '22?
All of that is yet to be determined. But there's one particular area that head coach Mike McCarthy already knows the team must address for next season.
"Our No. 1 focus moving forward is the penalties. It's way too many," McCarthy said during Wednesday's season-ending press conference.
The Cowboys had an NFL-high 127 penalties during the regular season and tied for the second-most penalty yards (1,103), according to the Football Database. Their 14 penalties in last Sunday's 23-17 wild-card loss to the 49ers tied an NFL playoff record.
At times the team showed frustration with calls in post-game interviews during the season, but McCarthy said Monday the solution to the penalties starts internally.
"I think this about officials -- officials don't lose games. That's clear," McCarthy said. "I think comments after games, people are emotional, particularly when it doesn't go the way you think it should go. Players are asked questions and encouraged to give honest answers. I just did three days of exit interviews, talked to every member of our football team, and they're very accountable."
McCarthy identified pre-snap and holding penalties as the two biggest issues. The offense lead the league in holding penalties with 27 and tied for the seventh-most false starts with 18.
"We all spend time, particularly the position coaches, on technique and how you build into the individual drills and penalty prevention," McCarthy said. "We have common philosophies and approaches, (like) do not hold on a run play. We all understand that. There's no excuse to hold on a run play. It's simple math, minus-2 versus minus-10 (yards), do the math. But we've had too many holding on run plays, so that's something as a coach we'll continue to take a hard look at, by individual, by technique, by concept, situation and so forth. We'll react to it and we'll apply the teaching to it.
"I'm a big believer in ROI. You only have so much time in how you utilize all the way down to the individual time, so that process needs to be better. We've been coaching penalties since Week 1. It's something, particularly the holding and the pre-snap penalties, those are the two that jump off the charts. We definitely, definitely need to be much better in that area."
McCarthy believes there is a process to becoming a less-penalized team, particularly in finding a line between an aggressive, physical play style and avoiding flags. That was the case early in his time as Packers head coach from 2006-18, he said. From 2007-09, Green Bay ranked in the top-five in penalties. In 2010, their Super Bowl season, they tied for the third least, according to the Football Database.
"With the aggressiveness and the tenacity of the whole team comes a little bit more room for area in the combative penalties," he said. "Our combative penalties, we break them into three categories. They're too high right now. We need to do a better job as coaches, starting with me, emphasizing, teaching it."