After five games last season, when penalties were killing the Cowboys week after week, the team enlisted the help of local officials during practice. From that point on, the team's average number of flags per game dropped from 9.8 to 5.5.
If the same effects come from this week's installation of scoreboards at Valley Ranch to help the team play better, smarter situational football, the Cowboys will be in business.
Beginning with Monday's session, the Cowboys will train with digital boards on either end of the practice fields at team headquarters. In both losses this season, the Cowboys held a substantial lead in the second half, but gave the ball away. They've had a couple late drives to help win games, but the play hasn't been consistent enough, as running backs Tashard Choice and Felix Jones have each made mistakes on whether or not to get out of bounds toward the end.
Practicing inside at the Alamodome and Cowboys Stadium for training camp, the club utilized the scoreboards in those buildings, and will carry that over to Valley Ranch. Previously, time was kept on a stopwatch during situational drills, but now the score and clock will be clearly visible to everyone.
"We just feel like what we're trying to do as coaches is to simulate the game as much as we can in all parts of our practice," Jason Garrett said. "We've tried to do that from the start of training camp, and the scoreboards finally got in. And so we put them up over the bye week . . . We think it's valuable in recreating and simulating the game. When you have that scoreboard you have the time and everybody can see, and you understand what the situation is as concretely as possible."
Asked Monday about the identity of his team through four games, Garrett pointed out how close their games have been. Dating back to last season, the Cowboys had played a league-record nine straight contests decided by three points or less, a streak that was finally broken by the four-point loss to Detroit.
"I think we've played very well in situational football at times," Garrett said. "I think we've played not so well in situational football at times as well. And I think we are going about it the right way in terms of how we practice, in terms of how we bring that energy to the game. I think we need to be more consistent handling the different situations that come up in the game, and I think we need to do the things that winning teams do at crunch time."