Grading the ‘Boys, Part II: Offensive Line (Run Blocking and Overall Grades)
In our initial “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we analyzed the ability of each lineman to protect the quarterback. A lot of interesting results came from that study, many of which confirmed the notion that the Cowboys’ tackles struggled in pass protection while the interior linemen excelled.
We would expect the tackles’ pass protection numbers to be inferior, of course, because they are facing opposing teams’ best pass-rushers. Flozell Adams in particular was often matched up against the defense’s most dominant sack specialist. Still, we would expect the gap between the positions to be less than that which we observed.
Overall, we assigned the linemen with the following grades in pass protection:
Pass Protection Grades
1. Andre Gurode: A
2. Leonard Davis: A-
3. Kyle Kosier: B+
4. Doug Free B-
5. Marc Colombo: C
6. Flozell Adams: D+
Our analysis of the linemen’s run blocking success provided much different results. A chart displaying each player’s statistics is below. There are a few issues we must address before assigning grades.
- The number of rushes and yards listed below is nowhere near the actual final season statistics. We assigned each lineman with the results of run plays during which he was a blocker at the “point of attack” (see display to the right). During each play, there are generally two linemen blocking at the “point of attack” (except on runs outside of the tackle box), and thus there are usually two linemen to receive the statistics from a single run.
- As we noted, one would expect the tackles to have worse numbers in pass protection. In a similar manner (but vice versa), we would expect the interior linemen to have inferior run blocking statistics. This is not only because the middle of the field is clogged with gigantic defensive linemen and linebackers, but also because teams will often run up the middle in short-yardage and goal line situations, thus limiting both the big play possibility and average yards-per-carry.
- The average-yards-per carry number is important within a position (LT vs. RT, for example), but less useful when comparing, say, a center and a tackle. Averages can be misleading because of outliers (in this case, long runs), so weighing the ability of each lineman to provide big plays yet still minimize negative ones may be a more effective method of determining their productivity.
- Dallas did a decent job of mixing up the direction of runs, although they may have been well-served running counters and tosses outside of the tackles a bit more. Expect the number of those sorts of runs to go up next season with the probable increased workload of Felix Jones.
- Penalty counts were dissected in our pass protection segment, but they were certainly a factor in both sets of grades.
And now for the run blocking grades.
LT Flozell Adams: B
While Adams did an atrocious job in pass protection, he was respectable in the run game. The 4.98 yards-per-carry average when running behind Flozell is decent but not outstanding. We actually expected this number to be a bit higher, particularly because the Cowboys ran inside so often in short-yardage situations. They did run behind Adams often in goal line situations, particularly when in the Wildcat, so that could contribute to the modest average.
The most surprising statistic is the very low percentage of 20-plus yard runs behind Flozell. In comparison, the Cowboys garnered a big run play over three times as frequently when running behind Doug Free. This could be taken as a positive, though, as Adams’ yards-per-rush was decent despite the lack of outliers.
Adams did do a fairly good job limiting negative run plays. Running outside generally holds a higher risk and higher reward than running up the middle, making his 9.24 percent negative run frequency respectable. The high rewards that often come with running outside, though, are also a reason Adams’ low big play percentage is so surprising.
LG Kyle Kosier: B-
Kosier gets nearly the same grade as Flozell, despite a lower average yards-per-carry, due to his position. While Dallas did run behind Leonard Davis a bit more frequently than Kosier, particularly in must-have short-yardage plays, Kosier was asked to do a lot more blocking than Flozell in situations with limited upside. Thus, we would expect his average to be lower.
We would still like to see Kosier raise that yards-per-carry number to about 4.5. Also, only 11.45 percent of runs behind Kosier went for ten or more yards– the lowest on the team.
Overall, Kosier was not quite as good in the run game as he was in pass protection, but still adequate.
C Andre Gurode: B
Gurode’s 3.72 average yards-per-carry was by far the lowest on the team, but that is to be expected. At center, Gurode is only in the “point of attack” on runs directly up the middle. The upside is very limited on these runs.
This limited upside is why the rate of big plays when running behind Gurode is so impressive. In fact, Gurode provided the second-most 10 yard runs on the team and the most runs for 20 yards.
RG Leonard Davis: A-
Davis’ 4.57 yard average is good for a guard, especially since he was nearly always a “point of attack” blocker during important short-yardage plays. Leonard did an excellent job providing big plays while also minimizing the negative ones.
The Cowboys ran behind Davis more than any other lineman, but Leonard yielded the lowest percentage of negative plays of any lineman. In fact, his 19:12 big play-to-negative play ratio was best on the team.
RT Marc Colombo: B-
Running behind Colombo was the ultimate risk/reward in 2009. Colombo’s 6.25 yards-per-rush average was outstanding, but his sample size of 52 runs is too limited for this number to be considered very significant. An incredible 17.3 percent of runs behind Marc went for 10 or more yards, by far the highest on the team.
Colombo also yielded seven negative runs out of those 52 attempts, making running behind him riskier than anyone else. These negative plays can be drive killers, which is why Colombo received a “B-” despite holding the highest average.
RT Doug Free: C+
Doug Free’s performance, like we anticipated, was about average in both the passing and running games. He was neither dominant nor a liability. His 4.54 yards-per-rush average, which was lower than Leonard Davis’ average, is much too low for a tackle. Further, blocking next to the lineman who we rank highest should increase your average, making 4.54 an even worse number.
Free did a decent job of providing big plays in the run game, but he also yielded too many negative ones.
Thus, we rank the performance of the 2009 Cowboys’ linemen, in terms of run blocking, as follows:
Run Blocking Grades
1. Leonard Davis: A-
T2. Flozell Adams: B
T2. Andre Gurode: B
T4. Kyle Kosier: B-
T4. Marc Colombo: B-
6. Doug Free: C+
In calculating our final overall grades for each lineman, we cannot simply combine our run and pass grades equally. Run blocking is certainly important and a dominant running attack can allow a team to control a game, but in today’s day and age, passing is king.
So how should we weigh each component? The most logical method, in our opinion, is to use the same run/pass ratio the team did during the season to determine our final grades.
Jason Garrett dialed up a pass play 585 times in 2009, while calling just 402 runs on the season. This equates to almost exactly a 60/40 split, meaning we will count our pass protection grades as 60 percent of the overall grades.
For example, Flozell Adams received a “D+” in pass protection and a “B-” in run blocking. We will give a 67 percent for the “D+” and an 83 percent for the “B-“. In weighting those percentages in a 60/40 manner, Flozell’s final grade is a 73.4 percent, or a “C-“.
Overall Linemen Grades
LT Flozell Adams: 73.4 (C-)
LG Kyle Kosier: 85.4 (B)
C Andre Gurode: 91.0 (A-)
RG Leonard Davis: 93.0 (A-)
RT Marc Colombo: 79.4 (B-)
RT Doug Free: 80.6 (B-)
Overall, the Cowboys line played fairly well throughout the regular season. The interior linemen outperformed the tackles, particularly Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. Our statistics seem to pass the eye test, as Gurode and Davis appeared to be the most consistent Dallas’ linemen all season.
As an entire group, we gave the line an 83.3 (B-) combined grade in pass protection, an 84.3 (B) team grade in run blocking, and an 83.9 (B) overall.
The offensive line imploded in the Divisional playoff game in Minnesota, and we all saw how vastly that can affect the offense. There simply is no way to be a consistently productive offense without an effective offensive line.
In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will analyze the productivity and efficiency of the running backs.