IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys increased their record this season to 3-1 when they commit 13 penalties and stayed at 1-4 when they commit seven or fewer.
Head coach Jason Garrett said for years the Raiders used to win plenty of football games while also being among the league's leaders in penalties, but he knows that's not the safest approach to take.
"They used to spin it like it was an aggressive nature that they had and that's the kind of team that they wanted to be," Garrett said. "I think there's a little bit of an element of truth to that. I don't buy that completely, though. You don't want to hurt yourself as a football team. Turnovers are a good example of that. Penalties are a good example of that. At times we've done a good job of that. Other times we haven't. I thought we hurt ourselves too much in the game yesterday, particularly on defense."
Ten of the Cowboys' 13 penalties were committed by the defense, including six that gave the Eagles first downs. Garrett said the most disappointing part of the high penalty total was their timing and how they extended Philadelphia drives.
"You have to be disciplined," Garrett said. "That has not been a huge issue for us throughout our football team. It has been for a couple of players at times. but for the whole group to have six offsides penalties was really disappointing. We have to correct that. We will try a few different things in practice this week to make sure our attention is right to handle that issue going forward."
The stat sheet states the Eagles were 1-for-10 on third downs, but that can be misleading. Those numbers don't take into account the five third-down penalties by the Cowboys, four of which resulted in first downs for the Eagles.
Six of the penalties came via an encroachment or offsides call, including two by Jason Hatcher on the Eagles' first drive and two by cornerback Morris Claiborne, who finished with five total penalties – just one fewer than the entire Eagles team.
Garrett said the offsides plays were infuriating enough that he turned to backup quarterback Kyle Orton halfway through the third quarter and told him he wants to hear 800 hard counts in practice this week.
"The best defensive lines are the ones that get off the football, and we do a pretty good job of getting off the football," Garrett said. "For the most part, we've been pretty good in this area, we just have to correct it. There were too many pivotal plays in the game where they got first downs and we gave it to them."
Claiborne's penalties were particularly significant in giving the Eagles first downs, which happened on both of his holding calls and his pass interference call.
"I thought he maintained his poise in and around that as best as he could," Garrett said. "It was a struggle, sort of like that third baseman when they bunt it to him, early on, the first inning, he picks it up and throws it 15 rows over the first baseman's head. The bunts keep coming, right? So they kept going after him."
Sunday was a learning experience for the rookie cornerback, who negated an interception by Anthony Spencer on one of his holding penalties. He'd only been called for three total penalties previously this season.
Claiborne struggled with the forceful Eagles receivers who darted off the line, particularly Riley Cooper. Garrett said Claiborne was unable to keep his poise and body control the same way he had in recent weeks.
"He was aggressive and too aggressive at the point of the ball," Garrett said. "Again, I think it all goes back to that initial release pattern that they were using on him being really aggressive with him and he was trying to deal with that throughout the rest of the down and didn't handle it well at different times. Again, he'll learn from it."
With cornerback Mike Jenkins inactive, Garrett didn't have the luxury of sitting his struggling rookie. Garrett said Jenkins tested his back prior to the game, but he wasn't healthy enough to go. Cornerback Vince Agnew only contributed on special teams after joining the 53-man roster, so despite all of his tribulations and misfortunes, it was going to be Claiborne on the outside.
"Mo had to kind of battle through the thing," Garrett said. "I don't know if Jenkins was up that we would've spelled Mo in that case. We might have. It would've been nice to have that option, but we didn't and Mo had to battle through it."