The first preseason game is for determining if your draft picks, free agent rookies, and second-year pros have what it takes to make your team and contribute to the organization. You don’t expect perfection; these are not seasoned veterans. But is there potential for them to fit into our schemes, to adequately fill the gap when a starter goes down, to provide depth and security in important ways?

The Dallas Cowboys’ rookies and second-year pros who played in Saturday night’s preseason opener in Denver looked like the starters in mid-season form, racking up 17 penalties for 129 yards in a sloppy 17-7 loss to the Broncos. Coach Mike McCarthy has repeatedly promised that penalties would be a “point of emphasis” after Dallas led the NFL in yellow flags a season ago and committed a record 14 infractions in their playoff loss to the 49ers. Whatever he’s doing, though, isn’t working. Clearly.

Seventeen flags Saturday night. Ten offensive penalties, five on defense, and two on special teams. First-round pick Tyler Smith had two holding penalties, one of them wiping out an eleven yard gain. Second-round pick Sam Williams cost the Cowboys 15 yards on a roughing the passer call. Dante Fowler was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Josh Bell committed two holding penalties on the same drive. Kelvin Joseph jumped offside on a missed 57 yard field goal attempt by the Broncos, resulting in a five yard penalty, resulting in a made 52 yarder.

Sloppy. Undisciplined. Typical.

But it’s only the first preseason game, you say. These weren’t the starters, these are the rookies and subs, you say. You can’t make any judgments based on the first preseason game, you say. Everybody has a lot of penalties in the opening week of the preseason, you say.

The Cowboys had 17. The NFL average last week during everybody’s first preseason games was 6.6 penalties per team. The Cowboys had 17.