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Grading the 'Boys in 2010, Part IV: Defensive Line | The DC Times

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Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part IV: Defensive Line

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Jonathan Bales

Grading defensive linemen is difficult due to the variety of roles that each player can fill.  The statistics among players at other positions are generally comparable due to the equality of their on-field duties.  For example, whether the Cowboys have Alan Ball or Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the game at free safety, their duties will likely be the same.

The rotation that is employed amongst defensive linemen, however, creates more situational roles for each player.  Defensive ends Igor Olshanksy and Marcus Spears, for example, are on the field a lot more during run downs than pass downs.  Thus, their statistics are not necessarily 100 percent compatible with those of Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen.

To combat this potential problem, we will weight each player’s overall grade to more properly reflect their personal contributions and duties.  The run and pass defense grades for both nose tackles (Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent) will be weighted equally in determining their final grades.  For defensive ends Spears and Olshansky, it will be 3:2 run-to-pass, and for Hatcher and Bowen it will be 3:2 pass-to-run.

As always, the charts below display the best statistics within a particular group circled in blue, and the worst in red.


Nose Tackles

  • Jay Ratliff

Run Defense:  C+

Ratliff has always been “out of position” as a 3-4 nose tackle, but he’s been able to use his athleticism to overcome his limitations in the past.  This season, Ratliff simply appeared worn down, particularly in the run game.  He recorded a slightly lower tackle rate than in ’09, but more importantly, he got blown off the ball at times.  Even though he’s undersized, that didn’t happen on a consistent basis before 2010.

Pass Defense:  B

Although Ratliff tallied more pressures this season than in 2009, his sack and quarterback hit rates were down.  The numbers seem to line up with what we saw in games, as Ratliff, at times, disappeared.

  • Josh Brent

Run Defense:  C

Over the second half of the season, I’ve been arguing that Brent’s impact on the Cowboys wasn’t as great as it seemed in 2010.  Brent certainly seems like great value as a supplemental seventh-rounder, but his low price also brought with it low expectations.  When Brent exceeded those expectations by garnering significant playing time (only one less snap than Jason Hatcher), everyone’s natural reaction was to sensationalize his performance.  If he was a high-round draft pick, however, we’d be calling him a bust.

Brent’s tackle rate of 5.5 percent was actually worse than that of former Cowboy Junior Siavii in 2009.  He did make some plays, but certainly not more than we’d expect from a player who received 256 snaps on the season.

Pass Defense:  D-

Despite playing on the nickel defense often, Brent could only muster a single quarterback hit and three pressures on the season.  Without much pressure inside, it was easier for opposing offensive lines to focus on containing the outside linebackers.

Defensive Ends

  • Marcus Spears

Run Defense:  B-

At times, Spears seemed like the only defensive lineman on the team who was capable of stopping the run.  His injuries were a big reason the Cowboys got gashed on the ground throughout the season.  Spears’ tackle rate of 6.1 percent topped that of last season.

Pass Defense:  D-

Spears’ inability to rush the passer is why the ‘Boys are going to have to let him go this season.  He recorded zero sacks, one quarterback hit, and one pressure in 263 snaps.  His absence from the lineup on passing downs is still no excuse for that sort of lack of production.

  • Stephen Bowen

Run Defense:  C-

Bowen appeared to disregard the running game at times this season in favor of getting a jump to reach the quarterback.  He tallied only 16 tackles on the season and didn’t do much to help the linebackers make tackles.

Pass Defense: C+

Bowen’s 27 quarterback pressures are impressive, but he still notched only two sacks on the year.  Actually, his sack and hit rates were both cut nearly in half from 2009 to 2010.

Snaps: Spears-263, Bowen-552, Olshansky-574, Hatcher-257

  • Igor Olshansky

Run Defense:  C

You wouldn’t know it from all of his celebrations, but Olshansky took a big step backwards in 2010.  His tackle rate was way down from 2009 and he simply wasn’t in on a lot of plays.  Olshansky’s average play against the run means this “run-stuffing specialist” needs to be out of Dallas next season.

Pass Defense:  D-

Olshansky was never incredible as a pass-rusher, but his inability to generate any sort of pressure makes it way too easy for the opposition to pass on first down.  Zero sacks in 574 snaps is debilitating to a defense.

  • Jason Hatcher

Run Defense:  C

I predicted big things for Hatcher in 2010, but he never really delivered.  He didn’t receive the number of snaps I expected (only 257), but I still thought I’d see a bigger improvement.  He did improve against the run, but not enough to give him a solid grade.

Pass Defense:  C

Hatcher’s hit and pressure rates worsened from 2009.  With the exception of a play here and there, his presence on defense went largely unnoticed.

Final Defensive Line Grades

1.  Jay Ratliff:  B- (81.0)

  • 2009 Grade: B+ (87.0)

2.  Stephen Bowen: C (75.4)

  • 2009 Grade: C+ (79.8)

T3.  Jason Hatcher: C (75.0)

  • 2009 Grade: B- (80.2)

T3.  Marcus Spears: C (75.0)

  • 2009 Grade: B- (80.2)

5.  Igor Olshansky:  C- (70.2)

  • 2009 Grade: B (85.0)

6.  Josh Brent: D+ (69.0)

  • 2009 Grade: None


The Cowboys’ defensive line is likely going to see an overhaul this offseason.  Jay Ratliff is the only certainty for the 2011 roster, with Josh Brent probable to make it as well.  Ratliff, however, could move to defensive end, particularly with the acquisition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who seems to prefer a space-eating nose tackle.

If Raliff does move to end, obtaining a true nose tackle will be a priority for Dallas.  They could do that early in the draft with a versatile player like Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, or through free agency with a guy like Shaun Rogers (who played under Ryan in Cleveland).

No current defensive end is safe, although it is unlikely the team would drop all four guys.  Spears and Olshansky’s days appear numbered.  I’d expect either Bowen or Hatcher to be back this season, although re-signing both guys isn’t out of the question.  Either way, the Cowboys need to see gigantic improvements from their defensive line if they want to return to the playoffs in 2011.

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27 Responses to Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part IV: Defensive Line

  1. Rick says:

    I agree that the D-line play was poor this year, but I didn’t know that it was this bad.

    Are you sure that Shaun Rogers can play nose tackle? I’ve talked to some Cleveland fans, and his best fit is as a 3-4 end or a 4-3 under tackle. He’s a lot like Ratliff; a penetrator, not a space eater.

  2. starred4life says:

    On the bright side, Josh Brent was a rookie, who didn’t have the benefit of an entire offseason conditioning program. While his performance/stats don’t really jump of the page, the fact that he held the fort as a rookie should be promising. Give him a full year under Joe Jurazsek’s training to improve his strength (and his strength WILL improve), and we should see a jump in his effectiveness.

  3. john coleman says:

    Get rid of Olshansky for sure. I can see one, if not two of the others making it. Not saying that I agree, but I don’t know how you replace 4 guys in the offseason.

    Why if Spears is an occupier and a run stopper couldn’t he play in the middle? He also has good size and could bulk up a little. His lack of passrush wouldn’t be quite as big of a deal at NT.

    If Spears could do that we would be free to take a Dareus with the idea of him playing end and could possibly get a space eater like ellis or Taylor a little later in the draft. Also a guy like Jarvis jenkins or Jerrell Powe might work in a relief rotation.

    Shaun Rogers is a possibility and is huge 6-4 340+. He is however on a contract of about 6.4 million per year. Not sure of the breakdown or if it was front end loaded. He also seems to be injury prone and is 31 now. So he probably has two or three years left. Rob should know him though.

    After watching yesterdays games, I’m more intune with going after Namdi Asomagua. We do desperately need a shutdown guy. So if non of the draft prospects are locks for shutdown guys, let’s make a deal.

  4. JJ says:

    Jonthan- sadly, pretty much what I expected. The comment that John brings forward on Spears was one that I never felt was answered when Wade toyed, but never pulled the trigger, with the the idea of moving Spears to NT. I suppose he is not physically suited there?

    Nevertheless, in several posts, I sense there is a streak of “once player X gets this and this, he’ll be pretty good.” Frankly, I don’t think the Cowboys can afford to hope a player gets measurably better. I think they plan on Brent being what he seems to be. An average backup and hope he can make a leap. Yet, I’ve seen that if Ratliff were to move to end, many feel Brent is capable of being a dominant NT. I’m not so sure.

    All season, there have been lesions on this team that have bothered me but are not as pronouced because issues with the OLine or secondary. One of them is the DEs. JB, your scoring proves this out. Hatcher, Bowen and Igor are what they are…we have enough of a sample size. Bowen, a third down specialist. Hatcher, an average player who occassionally makes a play that leaves you thinking, “maybe, just maybe” but it’s just a dream. And, Igor, vastly overrated and can’t dance.

    You used the term “worn” to describe Ratliff. The dude is a warrior but with the double teams and his lack of traditional size, this seems so true. We can only hope that Ryan comes in and finds a way to reshape this group.

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    D Line is always one of those positions that you want to add depth w/ youth. Getting rid of Olshansky and picking up Rogers is a wash IMO. I’d rather see Mathias Kiwanuka for DE (if he’s healthy) instead and leave Ratliff at NT.

    Or, Paea of Oregon St is a prototypical NT (330+ lbs). He’s projected for late 1st round for Dallas might consider him if they’re able to trade down to somewhere like 20-26.

  6. moses says:

    I agree with the assessment.

    What worries me is the number of changes that Ryan will want to make to implement his system.

    If we do not get the “right pieces”, will the defense flounder and become an even bigger liability?

    I hope Ryan’s scheme is a good fit for the current defensive personnel.

    What do you think?

  7. Rick–Not sure who told you that but Rogers is a pure 3-4 NT…he’s 350 pounds…a space-eater if there ever was one.

    Starred–I totally agree with Brent getting stronger. I’ve always been very pleased with the strength gains from the Cowboys’ second-year players.

    JC–Haven’t really thought about Spears at NT but I suppose it is a possibility. I guess I would say it is a little too late now that he’s set to be a FA…might as well sign a pure NT or draft one instead of forcing Spears to make the switch. I’ll take Rogers if possible.

  8. JJ–I think the key for the Ratliff move (which I think Rob Ryan will support with his 2-gap scheme) is securing a NT because, as you point out, Brent isn’t ready to be a starter. I do think he’ll improve a lot by next season, though.

    Tyrone–Paea is an option, but I don’t think he’ll be available that late. I could be wrong, but I think the increasing number of 3-4 teams will mean Paea will be a top 15 selection, especially with the number of squads that need a true NT.

  9. Moses–I think some little changes need to be made, but not so much so that it will become impossible. Moving Ratliff to end and securing a true NT is the top priority IMO. That move will improve two positions.

  10. john coleman says:

    The scouting reports that I have seen on Paea haven’t been overwhelming. He is supposed to be high motor and strong. However he is limited in his physical talent and would be a one gap guy.

    The Cowboys did have scouts at an Oregon St. game.

    Going back to the Parcell’s era he had Jason Ferguson who was a NT. Ferguson got hurt and Ratliff was pressed into duty. Since then we have had no true NT. IMO you MUST HAVE a big NT for a 3-4 to be it’s best. It’s like trying to run a 3-4 with OLB’s who can’t rush.

    In regards to Ratliff, I would expect him to be stronger and back to his old self next year. Remember he had some kind of elbow surgery and who knows if he ever got his conditioning routine going.

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