Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VII: Offensive Line
The ability and productivity of an offensive line is so often positively correlated with their team’s overall success. The play-making ability of the skill position players can be totally neutralized by the ineptitude of their offensive line. Similarly, great offensive lines can make decent skill position players appear extraordinary. Simply put, games are won in the trenches.
It’s not wonder, then, why the Cowboys struggled so much in 2010. The offensive line was unable to consistently open up holes for the running backs or provide adequate protection for the quarterbacks. While total rushing yards are often only correlated to wins (as opposed to a cause of them), rushing efficiency is vital in that it allows for offenses to generate big plays through the air. Perhaps the easiest way for the ‘Boys to garner a more potent passing attack is to, ironically, work on their running game.
As you analyze the player grades and stats below, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The number of rushes and yards listed below are nowhere near the actual final season statistics. I assigned each lineman with the results of run plays during which he was a blocker at the “point of attack” (see displaybelow). 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.
- The snap count totals are pass plays only (to more accurately assign sack, hit, and pressure rates).
- 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.
- Certain stats (such as average-yards-per carry or sacks yielded) are 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. Actually, I conducted an in-depth study on counters after Week 12, noting the Cowboys were averaging 8.71 yards-per-rush on 17 counters, compared to just 3.20 yards-per-rush on all other carries.
- The final grades were calculated using a 3:2 pass protection-to-run blocking ratio–approximately the same split of Cowboys plays.
- Doug Free
Run Blocking: C+
Others have commended Free on his run blocking in 2010, and while it wasn’t horrific, I think people are simply pleased with average play due to low expectations. In reality, the Cowboys averaged just 3.97 yards-per-carry when running behind Free–much, much too low for an offensive tackle. In comparison, the Cowboys averaged 4.54 yards-per-rush when running behind Free in ’09, and 4.98 behind Flozell Adams the same season.
The fact that 6.6 percent of runs behind Free went for 20+ yards is outstanding, but the ‘Boys need more consistency from their left tackle. Garrett could aid Free by allowing him to get in space on counters and tosses.
Pass Protection: B+
I originally planned on giving Free an “A” for his pass protection, but the nine penalties killed him. There were times when Free was out of position, but I think it is obvious to anyone who watched the ‘Boys that Free was generally doing his job in pass protection.
He yielded one-third as many sacks as Adams in 2009 and half the pressures. Allowing just three sacks when facing the opposition’s top pass-rushers (especially in the NFC East–Trent Cole, Justin Tuck, Brian Orakpo) is quite impressive.
- Kyle Kosier
Run Blocking: C-
Kosier’s run blocking numbers worsened across the board in 2010. Running backs gained only 3.73 yards-per-carry behind him, and only 9.4 percent of plays went for 10+ yards–the worst rate of any offensive lineman. I realize the Cowboys aren’t generally going to run behind a guard when they are looking for a big play, but that number should be better.
Pass Protection: A
It has become almost cliche to talk about the importance of securing a dominant left tackle, but I actually think guards (specifically left guards) are nearly just as important. Teams can acquire tremendous value by selecting the top interior linemen in a draft all the way in the back of the first round, or even early second (hello Mike Pouncey).
I attributed zero sacks to Kosier on the season, but more impressively, he allowed just two hits and 14 pressures (12 less than in 2009 when I gave him a “B+” pass protection grade). I know Kosier is a “boring” player, but he’s been the team’s most underrated one for quite some time.
- Andre Gurode
Run Blocking: D
The Cowboys averaged nearly a full yard less per run in 2010 when Gurode was at the point-of-attack (as compared to 2009). Even more alarming is the fact that Gurode led the team in negative plays yielded despite playing a position when he receives a ton of help.
In fairness, I think some of that has to do with Jason Garrett’s play-calling. When you continually run the same strong side dive from the same formation, defenders tend to catch on. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect Gurode’s run blocking numbers to be this poor.
Pass Protection: B+
Gurode has been an unpopular player in Dallas recently, particularly due to BSPN’s take on him (oops, I meant ESPN). Over the second half of the season, however, Gurode was excellent in pass protection. His numbers improved across the board from 2009, and he led the team with just a 1.20 pressure rate. I value pressure totals more than sack totals, so that’s an important number to me. This grade would have been an “A-” had Gurode not committed seven penalties and snapped the ball whenever the hell he wanted about five times this season.
- Leonard Davis
Run Blocking: C+
Davis’ run blocking numbers are similar to Kosier’s, except the Cowboys garnered more big plays when running behind the former Cardinal. It’s clear that Davis still has some value in the run game, but I hate how Garrett uses him. As I mentioned above, the strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong” kills the upside of certain Cowboys runs. I gave Davis a grade a bit better than what the numbers dictate because 1) the ‘Boys generally run the aforementioned strong side dive from “right-handed” formations, i.e. right up Davis’ butt, and 2) on film, I don’t see a “C” or “D” player. Davis still has tremendous strength and, while he needs to be more consistent, his play wasn’t as poor as many people believe.
Pass Protection: B-
This will probably be another unpopular grade, but Davis’ pass protection ability has been ripped because of a very small sample size of plays. He got absolutely thrashed against the Titans, giving up three sacks in about 20 minutes of play. He got benched, and everyone jumped on the “Davis is done” bandwagon.
The truth is that the big guy appeared to take that benching as a wake up call. He allowed just one more sack the rest of the season and even yielded nine less pressures than in 2009.
- Marc Colombo
Run Blocking: C
I’m sure you’re asking how I could give Colombo a grade worse than that of Davis and comparable to that of Free despite Colombo’s superior statistics. Well, let’s not forget Colombo plays right tackle–the position behind which the Cowboys should average the most yards rushing. The 4.31 yards-per-carry behind Colombo really isn’t that great. It simply looks better than it is due to the lackluster run blocking from the other linemen. Plus, Colombo quite often had the aid of the Cowboys’ top blocking tight end–Martellus Bennett.
Last year, the ‘Boys averaged 6.25 yards-per-rush on 52 runs behind Colombo. It’s impressive that the rate of negative plays Colombo yielded dipped quite a bit, but let’s not overreact.
Pass Protection: F
This is the kind of performance for which I reserve my “F” grades. We really don’t even need to talk about this. 40 pressures. . .are you kidding me!?
- Montrae Holland
Run Blocking: B
Holland’s sample size isn’t enormous so we have to use the eye test to grade him here. His skill set is made to be a punishing run blocker. Holland still struggles in space and I don’t think he’s the long-term answer at guard, but he was a viable fill-in for Kosier and Davis.
Pass Protection: C-
Again, not a humongous sample size with which to work. Holland appeared slow-footed at times and struggled with quick defensive tackles. He is a tremendous downgrade from Kosier in pass protection.
Final 2010 Offensive Line Grades
1. Kyle Kosier: B (86.2)
2. Doug Free: B- (83.0)
3. Leonard Davis: B- (80.6)
4. Andre Gurode: C+ (78.2)
5. Montrae Holland: C+ (77.8)
6. Marc Colombo: D- (63.0)
It’s pretty obvious the Cowboys need a new right tackle. If Colombo is still starting on opening day of 2011 (or even on the roster), I will go berserk. He is absolutely atrocious in pass protection and, quite honestly, he isn’t outstanding in the run game either. I would rather start Martellus Bennett at right tackle.
A lot of media types are calling for Gurode and Davis to be cut as well, but there’s simply no way the ‘Boys can part with three-fifths (or more) of their offensive line. Don’t forget that Kosier is a free agent (although his status is uncertain with the current labor situation). In reality, Davis and Gurode are both capable players who are no longer dominant. Their futures are probably linked to the Cowboys’ 2011 draft results, but there’s no reason to part ways with both guys.
The major problem for Dallas is the lack of depth on the line. Rookie right tackle Sam Young offers upside, but we really have no clue what he’s ready to provide. The same goes for guard Phil Costa.
With no top offensive line prospects in this year’s draft, the Cowboys might want to look to free agency to secure some aid. If they could land a quality right tackle and a capable guard/center in the second round, it would go a long way in solidifying a unit that has become extremely detrimental to the future success of the team.