Grading the ‘Boys, Part VII: Inside Linebackers
We have analyzed the 2009 play of the offensive linemen, running backs, cornerbacks, and safeties in previous “Grading the ‘Boys” segments. Today we take a look at the inside linebackers.
Grading the inside linebackers for the Cowboys may just be the most difficult of any position. Starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking are certainly great on-field players, but their biggest impact comes in the form of leadership. We have yet to speak with anyone who doesn’t emphasize the importance of the addition of Brooking. His emotion and die-hard attitude was perhaps the greatest difference between the team’s 2008 struggles and ’09 success.
Because of the inherent quality to lead of both James and Brooking (and inside linebackers in general), we will be assigning each LB a “Leadership” grade in this edition of “Grading the ‘Boys.”
- Chart Key: TA=Thrown at, Yds/Att=Yards-per-attempt, PD=Passes defended, Missed %=Tackles missed/Tackles attempted
- The best stats are circled in blue and the worst in red.
- The final grades for Brooking and James are weighted 4:2:1 in terms of run defense, pass defense, and leadership, respectively. Carpenter’s final grade is 4:2:1 in terms of pass defense, run defense, and leadership, respectively (due to him being a nickel linebacker).
- Bradie James
Run Defense: B+
James was quite stout against the run again in 2009. His tackles-per-play of .085 is a bit low, but remember that he is often taking on the blocks of centers and guards as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
Still, James led the team with a sensational missed tackle percentage of just 3.4. He missed just three tackles all season (out of 89 attempted)–among the best in the NFL.
Pass Defense: C+
The pass defense statistics of all Cowboys’ linebackers are a bit lackluster due to the superb play of the team’s cornerbacks. The Cowboys were attacked downfield less than any club in the NFL in 2009, meaning the linebackers were tested often.
James’ reception percentage of 86.2 is sub-par, but more indicative of a player’s success against the pass is the yards-per-attempt average. James’ 7.8 yards-per-attempt against is slightly better, but we’d still love to see it inch closer to 7.0 next season.
James has been an emotional leader of the defense for a few seasons. Brooking’s addition in 2009 only strengthened this quality.
- Keith Brooking
Run Defense: B+
We must admit we were extremely impressed with Brooking’s play in 2009. We knew he was a tremendous leader, but his on-field play was superb last season. He led the inside linebackers in tackles (93) and tackles-per-play (.103). He also missed just over one tackle per 20 attempts–an outstanding number.
Pass Defense: B
It was Brooking’s pass defense which surprised us the most last season. He led all Cowboys inside linebackers in reception percentage (73.2), yards-per-attempt (6.3), yards-per-snap (.39), sacks (4), and passes defended (4).
If there is one thing we’d like to see both Brooking and James improve upon in 2010, it is their ability to make big plays. The team’s lackluster interception total is frequently pinned on the secondary, but the inside linebackers are in coverage almost as frequently as the cornerbacks and safeties.
No inside linebacker had an interception in 2009. That must change in 2010.
There isn’t really much to say here that people don’t already know. We’ve all seen the pre-game huddles and the passion in Brooking’s eyes even during a “boring” Tuesday post-practice interview.
Run Defense: D
Although Carpenter is a nickel linebacker, his tackling ability absolutely must improve in 2010. He missed 18.4 percent of all the tackles he attempted last season–that is about 5.4 times the rate at which James missed tackles. If Carpenter doesn’t display marked improvement in training camp, he will lose his job to second-year player Jason Williams.
Pass Defense: C-
For a nickel linebacker, Carpenter doesn’t exactly excel in pass coverage. His 9.2 yards-per-attempt against and .85 yards-per-snap were by far the worst among the LB’s. Yes, Carpenter plays on a larger percentage of pass plays, but there is still no reason for these numbers to be so poor.
We would rate “Barbie” Carpenter as one of the worst leaders on the team. Players who aren’t vocal leaders need to lead by example. Carpenter does neither.
Final Inside Linebacker Grades
1. Keith Brooking: B+ (87.6)
2. Bradie James: B (84.1)
3. Bobby Carpenter: D+ (69.4)
Obviously the Cowboys could benefit from a play-making nickel linebacker. Is Jason Williams that guy? Only time will tell, but we fully expect him to beat out Carpenter in camp for the job.
Although the two veterans played outstanding last season, time is ticking on their stay as top-notch players. At a certain point, their leadership won’t be enough to make up for declining on-field play (let’s hope that time comes later rather than sooner).
Their age is one of the reasons we have been pushing the notion of Dallas drafting an inside linebacker, perhaps even as high as round three. In that area, Florida’s Brandon Spikes and Penn State’s Sean Lee are options.