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A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VI: Cornerbacks

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Jonathan Bales

So far this offseason, I have handed out grades to the Cowboys’ defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackers, safeties, and tight ends for their 2010 play.  Today, I’ll take a look at the cornerbacks.

As is the case with every position in football, the success of the defensive backs is very dependent on the play of other positions, particularly those rushing the passer.  Thus, it can become difficult when comparing CBs from different teams because the efficiency of their respective pass-rushers is directly correlated to the cornerbacks’ own success.

It is easier to compare cornerbacks on the same team, particularly if they do not match up with specific receivers.  This is the case on the Cowboys, as Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins generally play one side of the field regardless of where the opposition’s receivers line up.

Playing in the slot can be a bit different, and so we must be careful when comparing Orlando Scandrick’s stats with those of Newman and Jenkins.  The percentage of snaps that Scandrick is targeted, for example, will be higher than the starting cornerbacks because he is on the field in all passing situations, but not necessarily on running downs.

Still, we can gather the numbers and effectively isolate a player’s success to the best of our ability.  Below are the results of the Dallas cornerbacks’ 2010 play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.

Notes

  • Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details my own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating.  It incorporates the factors I believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a cornerback.  The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score.  For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.

Grades

  • Terence Newman

Pass Defense:  C-

Despite being targeted less often in 2010, Newman yielded more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than in 2009.  Over 65 percent of balls thrown his way were completed, which was sadly the top rate of any cornerback.  That alone tells you everything you need to know about the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in 2010, as the worst completion percentage yielded in ’09 (62.9 percent by Scandrick) was still better than the best this past season.

Newman was targeted on 11 percent of snaps–a bit higher than in ’09.  The amount of yards he allowed per attempt (9.33) and snap (1.03) were also far worse than in 2009 (when they were 7.66 and 0.72, respectively).

Newman’s Pass Defense Rating (below) was 170.3–a far fry from the 236.4 mark he posted in ’09.

Run Defense:  A-

Some people don’t seem sold on Newman’s tackling ability, but I’m not one of those people.  Newman has long shown he’s capable of making difficult tackles in the open field.  Although he isn’t a punishing hitter, that’s one of the primary reasons I believe he could benefit from a move to free safety.  Newman missed only 5.1 percent of tackles he attempted in 2010.

  • Mike Jenkins

Pass Defense:  D

I gave Newman a “C-” for his pass defense this season, and Jenkins was worse in just about every category.  His 11.17 yards-per-attempt-against is horrific, as is the 1.07 yards-per-snap number.  Jenkins was still able to get his hands on some balls, but he wasn’t able to reel them in as he secured only one interception.  On top of all that, Jenkins’ seven penalties nearly led the league and is a huge sign that he was frequently out of position.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of Jenkins’ decline is the fact that he allowed over two-thirds of passes his way to be complete after yielded just 49.1 percent in 2009.

In my opinion, Jenkins became overconfident after his stellar ’09 campaign.  He disregarded technique and thought he could get by on pure talent.  He found out the hard way that’s not how it works.

Run Defense:  D-

The only reason I didn’t give Jenkins an “F” for his run defense is that, after the game in Green Bay, we did see an increase in effort.  Should we see 100 percent effort all the time?  Of course, but the fact that Jenkins took responsibility and played decently against the run for the remainder of the year is a good sign.  Plus, he actually missed tackles at a lower rate than in 2009.

  • Orlando Scandrick

Pass Defense:  B

Scandrick began the season poorly, but his play really picked up over the final 10 weeks or so.  His Pass Defense Rating is the worst of any cornerback, but that’s really due to the nature of his position.  He’s on the field during passing situations, meaning the rate of passes he is targeted will naturally be higher.  The 0.88 yards-per-snap that he surrendered was down from 0.95 in 2009.

Run Defense: C+

Scandrick tallied 11 less tackles last season as compared to ’09, but part of the reason for that is that he gave up fewer receptions.  His 11.4 percent missed tackle rate is neither stellar nor horrendous, although it could certainly improve.

Final 2010 Cornerback Grades

1.  Orlando Scandrick:  B- (83.4)

2.  Terence Newman:  C+ (77.0)

3.  Mike Jenkins: D (64.6)

The Cowboys clearly need an upgrade at the cornerback position.  Newman will be 33 this season and has already begun what appears to be a sharp decline.  While others may not like the idea, I think he could move to free safety.  He still has speed and he’s already a better tackler than Alan Ball.  Plus, it isn’t like he needs to be a wrecking ball back there.  A sound tackler who can be the team’s last line of defense is fine.

Also at free safety, Newman would be asked to do little man coverage and would be free to face the quarterback.  The majority of his struggles seem to come when his back is turned to the passer.  He has trouble turning, locating the football, and still maintain proper position to make a play on it.  Being “free” to read the quarterback and drive up on passes could help him.

Jenkins’ 2010 struggles are perplexing.  He certainly has the skill set to thrive, so the key with him will be regaining mental focus and confidence.  And he absolutely needs to become a more willing tackler.

I liked Scandrick’s improvement over the course of the season, but I believe any thoughts of placing him in the starting lineup are a misinterpretation of his skill set.  He’s a small, quick player who is really suited to play the slot.  I think he could get abused outside.

The Cowboys will certainly be looking for an upgrade at cornerback during the draft.  An early-round pick at the position seems likely.  First-round options include LSU’s Patrick Peterson (although he will probably be off the board) and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara.  The ‘Boys could also trade down and still secure a player like Miami’s Brandon Harris.

I personally believe the easiest way to obtain better cornerback play is to get to the quarterback faster.  Thus, acquiring a pass-rushing defensive lineman might aid the secondary just as much as a fresh face at cornerback.  Whatever method the Cowboys employ, an improvement from the secondary is absolutely vital to their 2011 playoff hopes.

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24 Responses to Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VI: Cornerbacks

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I understand your support for Newman to move to FS, but I still have to disagree. Tackling from that spot often entails hitting people straight on. Newman has proven to be a good tackler when chasing people down at angles or from behind but never in head on collisions – especially against those w/ lower centers of gravity (RBs) and bigger bulkier receives (TEs).

    When you get a chance to look at film, what “kind” of tackles was Ball making this year? It should have been full speed collisions to jar the ball loose (like Ed Reed, Adrian Wilson or Nick Collins).

    Last year, the Giants ran 480 rushing plays and 539 passing. Redskins ran 351 and passed 605 times. Eagles ran 428 times and passed 521. So roughly 40/60 splits for NFC East teams. That’s a whole lot of run tackling… Giants FS Antrel Rolle had 87 tackles last year. The SS, Phillips, had 77. Nick Collins of the Packers had 70 tackles. Point I’m making is if your safeties are any good, they’re around the ball a lot and are tackling guys. We don’t need another FS w/ 40 tackles total (like Ball). And I don’t think a 33 yr old 193 lbs converted CB is the answer for “that” type of head on collision/run tackling.

  2. john coleman says:

    JB I too believe Newman could play safety. No he is not a big hitter but he is a solid tackler.

    I read on brand X where Jerry says he thinks we are all right at CB. He is trying to say Rob Ryan thinks we are OK.

    Are Oscan’s yards per catch a reflection of covering inside routes?

  3. john coleman says:

    BTW- out of the guys you have surveyed as draft picks so far, I believe I personally like Jordan as the best fit. Although he may be a little high at #9.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    The more I think about it, I’m wondering of Dallas’ chances of trading UP – to within the 1st 3 or 4 picks. I think Peterson is worth it.

    Paul Soliai (Miami Dolphins) is a FA and will probably be in high demand this year after being graded in the top 15 DLs in the NFL. Would much rather go after him at NT than draft any of the DT/DE prospects in the 1st round.

    Obtaining him or someone like him, and getting Peterson are worth the #9 and our 2nd round pick as long as we get a lower 2nd (somewhere around 55-64) to get an O lineman.

  5. willis says:

    Tyrone, I would love to get solai or another 350 plus pounder for the NT position. As far as getting Peterson goes however, moving up in the top of the draft that far would be hardddd. Not saying it couldn’t be done, but I’m still in favor of moving down for a first and second, and either getting three players in the top two rounds which are scouted as pro ready or combining our two would be second rounders and getting two first round picks like JJ Watt, Carimi, Costanzo, or Brandon Harris

  6. Tyrone–The big straight on hits are a small part of playing FS, IMO. More important is a sure tackler who can bring a buy down in the open field, even if he gets decked in the process. I don’t care if Newman gets run over, as long as he makes the tackle (he might have different feelings on that). Now can he hold up doing that? That’s the question.

    And BTW, for what it is worth, PFF ranked Solai as the league’s 10th best DT (that is all DTs, not just 3-4 NTs).

    JC–I definitely think Scan’s YPA is partially the result of playing in the slot. He’s far more likely to be covering intermediate routes, like smashes, digs, etc, than the outside guys. Still, his YPA number is solid even for a nickel CB. And I agree on Jordan, although I’d love to see them trade down into the late teens and still grab him.

  7. Willis–Jordan and Harris sure would be a nice combo.

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    >>>>>>I don’t care if Newman gets run over, as long as he makes the tackle (he might have different feelings on that).<<<<<<

    Nice. That one made me laugh out loud, but I absolutely agree with your point. It ain't gotta be pretty or make the highlight reel, just get the guy down.

    You have to expect your corners to be cover guys first and tacklers second, but a CB who's really poor tackler and/or an unwilling one (RE: Mike Jenkins) will just kill your defense in the long run.

    There's little question in my mind that Jenkins will probably rebound as a cover guy. I agree that he likely just lost his confidence and/or came into this season with the big head and didn't work as hard as he should or could have.

    To me, the question is this: Will he tackle consistently? In my mind, tackling is like blocking, it's all a matter of desire and I see Jenkins sorely lacking in that department. Can Rob Ryan turn this wimp into a tiger? We'll see. I have my doubts. Serious doubts.

  9. Vince_Grey says:

    Ye gads, NO WAY would I trade up for a corner, or any player for that matter except a franchise QB or maybe, possibly, a superstud D-lineman like Reggie White or Bob Lilly.

    Give me a great defensive front and decent corners and my defense will beat any defense with a decent front and great corners. Every time. It’s not even a close call.

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  11. JJ says:

    I’m late to the table on this one. Anyway, I’ve bounced around ideas on Newman to FS and while I agree with Jonathan on the tackling…where I’ve landed is that Newman is just so fragile and oft injured. He’s also on the wrong side of 30. It would be nice to upgrade our DBs with a solid starter opposite Jenkins.

    Scandrick improved IMO late in the year and may be our best pass rusher outside of Ware (yes, it’s a joke but not by much). I hope Jerry is putting up a smoke screen on his assessment of the corners and i’ve not heard that Campo is not coming back…yet. The Cowboys need a new voice in the secondary.

    Last year Jerry convinced us all that the Cowboys were great at corner and at safety. While I agree that he wants to the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl, he either has the wrong people whispering in his ear or is very delusional. Newman’s greatest asset, his quickness and speed, has been compromised and Jenkins could really use some coaching.

    Let’s pray for a stellar draft and strategic FA crop.

  12. Vince–You know I agree that Jenkins will rebound in 2011. I also have reservations that he’ll become a willing tackler. The Cowboys don’t need him to be Antoine Winfield in run support–they just need him to TRY. If he becomes even a slightly below average tackler, his coverage will rebound enough for him to be valuable.

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