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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 VII: Offensive Line

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Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafeties, cornerbacks, and tight ends

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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.

Grades

  • 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.

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25 Responses to Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VII: Offensive Line

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Grading the 'Boys in 2010, Part VII: Offensive Line | Dallas Cowboys Times -- Topsy.com

  2. john coleman says:

    Numbers or not I can’t agree with this. Not saying I’m right, I just don’t agree. Kosier simply can’t be our best lineman. Free was clearly our best and his penalties are a nonfactor to me. He is the only guy in the bunch that has a multiple year future in Dallas.

    I do agree that Columbo is trash. I would also, without reservation put Davis in that bin.

    I believe I would move Gurode back to OG and play Costa. Cut Davis and Columbo. Kosier only comes back if he is cheap. That would read Free, Holland, Costa, Gurode, and Young. I know Costa raises some eyebrows, but at least he can snap it when he is supposed to and to where it is supposed to go.

    Pouncey could be a nice add with his ability to play both C/G. I look for OT/OG combo guys to be the way we go though. Guys who project better at OG but could possibly be RTs.

    I

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Keep Free and Gurode (centers are typically hard to find and require at least a year of grooming/teaching for proper blocking assignment call out – Pouncey is an exception). The Boys can let the other starts go – resign Kosier only if he’s REAL cheap. Why? Jonathans # somewhat support this (w/ the exception of Kosier). And, it’s been reported that if the league goes back to restricted free agency occuring at 4 years (like previous CBA), there’s supposed to be a reported 495 potential free agents where 170 are starters and 70 are pro bowlers (according to sbnation). That’s why Kosier might be cheap…

    And, since this year’s O linemen in the draft are nowhere near the talent of last year (while Dez Bryant was a true pickup, we should’ve addressed O line w/o a doubt) I like our chances of signing at least 1 possible RT starter:

    Ryan Harris – Broncos. Fairly decent (all pro in 2008) RT coming off of injury. Should be a possibility as it’s his 4th year and he’s 25 years old.

    Tyson Clabo – Falcons. Rated as one of the highest LT FAs on the market according to Yahoo.com.

    Khalif Barnes – Raiders. OK. Not stellar but definitely should be an improvement over Columbo (then again, who wouldn’t be).

    There will be more. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that trading down for a tackle isn’t smart strategy (as I once thought and mentioned in previous posts).

  4. JJ says:

    Jonathan- this may have been your best assessment to date. Not simply for confirming what we all know about the line…they performed poorly…but that you uncovered that ALL of the lineman were poor in run blocking.

    I understand why John C would feel the way he does about Free vs Kosier but I would like to see Free get a bit more physical and gain some strength. Look, the Steelers are in the Super Bowl with Flozell so, to me, we just need more youth and skill in the line even if we keep a couple of the veterans (not including Colombo, of course). Not sure Costa is the answer but a line with 3 young core studs and a couple of “older guys”…Gurode and Kosier maybe, would be a vast improvement.

  5. JC–I will admit the numbers surprised me a bit, and I DO think Free is the best OL on the team, but I don’t think he was put in the best spots to flourish. The Cowboys ran only 25 counters all year despite finding MAJOR success on them. On power plays, he just doesn’t get the sort of push that a dominant run blocker gets. I know others disagree with me on that. I think he’ll improve, but I couldn’t give him a higher run blocking grade.

    Tyrone–Thanks for the FA updates. I personally close both Harris and Clabo as options and it would allow the ‘Boys to focus on drafting an immediate starter at guard. Sign Harris/Clabo and draft Pouncey and all of a sudden things don’t look so bad.

    JJ–I like your OL assessment. Free, Kosier, Gurode, Pouncey, and Clabo/Harris looks good to me.

  6. John Madden says:

    Well Jack when you are running the ball well the other team may not even know your running the ball at all Let’s got to the monitors! We’ve got Free on the left you got kosier flipping to the right gurodes doing this thing… we got the rookie pouncey doing the best impression of squatting duck I’ve ever seen and then we got all pro in 08 harris pulling off what they call a hat trick in hockey but it all comes down to a well executed game of FOOTBALL! The Cowboys oline keeps playing like this not only will they get my Prilosec award but they’re going to Super Bowl it! FOOTBALL!

  7. Vince_Grey says:

    I actually wrote this several days ago, but I knew JB was going to be rating the offensive line himself soon, and I decided to wait and see how his stuff lined up (Or not) with mine.

    Ratings:

    Outstanding – One of the top players at his position in the NFL.
    Superior – Well above average player, maybe a step below legit Pro Bowler. Well satisfied here.
    Acceptable – Slightly above average player. Ideally, wouldn’t mind upgrading, but it’s very low priority.
    Adequate – Average player. Not a liability, but not a strong point either. Would like to upgrade, but it’s not an absolute necessity.
    Inferior – Slightly below average player. Needing to be upgraded soon, but it’s not an emergency.
    Abominable – One of the worst. Top priority to upgrade this position as soon as possible.

    Regarding the O-line, I see the breakdown as this:

    LT – “Acceptable”, and doesn’t need a whole lot of improvement to move to “Superior”, at least as a pass blocker. I can easily see Free becoming one of the better LT’s in the league very soon. I don’t think he’ll ever be an All Pro, but might well make a Pro Bowl or two at some point.

    LG – “Adequate”. Going through a tough camp, getting in better shape, and playing with more fire, might well bring Davis up to “Acceptable”, but frankly, he could also slide down to “Inferior” fairly quickly. It would strongly behoove the Cowboys to bring in some young, strong, competition, either as a replacement or at least to coerce better play.

    C – “Adequate”. Somehow Andre keeps making the Pro Bowl, which is either an indictment of Pro Bowl voting, or the sorry state of NFC center play. Gurode’s snapping, especially shotgun snapping, (The main job of a center) is actually “Inferior”. A real adventure (And NOT in a good way) on his worst days. His line calls, especially for blitz pickups, I rate “Inferior” as well. His blocking, always his greatest strength, has slipped a lot, but I’d still rate him “Acceptable” in this area. Thus, I averaged out and came up with his rating of “Adequate” overall. Frankly, his poor snapping irritates me so much I would love to see him replaced NOW, but I’ll concede the line has more pressing issues this year. Still, I’d like to see Dallas grab a center prospect at some point and start grooming him as Andre’s replacement soon.

    RG – ” Acceptable “. Kyle Kosier is one of those guys who never “wow”s you, but he does his job and does it effectively. You’d like him to be a better run blocker and both he and Davis are painfully slow, but KK isn’t a problem for this line.

    RT – “Abominable”. Not really much to say here. Columbo was possibly the worst starting RT in the league this past season. Just brutal. How bad? I wouldn’t even be comfortable with him as a backup. I’ve heard some say he was hurt, but I know of no major injuries he had that would have affected his play this badly. Let’s put it this way: If Marc Columbo is still the starting RT for the Cowboys next season, then there’s no hope of the Cowboy O-line improving as a unit. Marc’s play will absolutely drag this unit down if he’s in there.

    Depth – “Inferior”. Alex Barron was a sad joke. Dallas got him for a guy they were going to cut anyway, and still way overpaid. Holland is barely ok even as a backup. Costa and Young have potential, but that’s about it.

  8. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Nice scale VG. Although I’d probably upgrade Gurode to Acceptable. He did make the Pro Bowl and he IS the center (which is a more difficult position to play on the line). He’s not only asked to block middle linebackers (who are shorter, faster and often 3-4 yds off the ball), but he’s the one who calls the O line audibles.

  9. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Also, I think Davis is the RG and Kosier is the LG (but I could be wrong)…

  10. john coleman says:

    JB-I agree that they Need to get Free involved where he can get to the second level more. His passpro was adequate to good and he can be our best downfield run blocker. He IMO defintiely upgraded Flo at LT. However it would sure have been nice for big Flo to have been our RT.

    With that said, I’m glad for Flo to get in the Superbowl, although I “HATE” Pittsburgh. GO PACK! BTW kudos for picking the Pack to be there.

  11. john coleman says:

    VG I agree with TJ on your scale. Although I’m with you on Gurode. Not sure that him having to think is a good thing. He might have a little OG in him and let Costa be the man at C.

  12. Vince–I am going to make your grades into a post tomorrow…awesome thoughts and they actually line up quite well with my numbers and grades. Surprised you are “low” on Free (relatively speaking) like me.

    Tyrone–You’re right about Kosier/Davis switch…VG probably just mixed those up in the rush of getting the post up.

    JC–Thanks for recognizing the Packers pick, but overall my predictions were poor this year (compared to 2009, at least). GB just got hot at the right time, but they sure are a good team too.

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  14. Vince_Grey says:

    Yep, long story, but when I was typing the post, I did some last minute copying and pasting alterations and basically just screwed the right guard/left guard thing up. Oops.

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  17. Mont Seventeen says:

    Numbers don’t lie… You can’t blame the Oline for Romo’s ability or lack there of to beat the blitz. The Oline excuse is getting old, they can only block one guy at a time… Blitz pickup is on the RBs and the QBs ability to find the open man.

    Prime example… The Boley Blitz! The Rookie FB missed his block, but the veteran QB had no idea the Blitz was coming until it was too late. To compound the situation, instead of taking a sack, Romo chucks and ducks, leaving himself vulnerable to a pin and a season ending injury.

    No-one wants to fault Romo publicly bc of his popularity among the media and casual fans, so the blame the rookie FB.

    The nuances of the play are quite subtle, but being a divisional game Romo should have had some clue with a rookie FB on the field, where the Giants would expose protection. Before the snap of the ball, Boley’s body lean and head turned to the WR on his side, indicated he was in coverage… Romo showed sign he was aware of Boley’s blitz. Instead of standing tall and taking the hit, that might have drew an unnecessary roughness, Romo ducked to allow Boley to grab his arm on the way to the turf.

    Its called a “Pin”, the same hit that knocked Sam Bradford out at OU, and will be banned if a QB like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are ever foolish enough to get caught in one.

  18. Mont–I can’t disagree more. Romo is consistently one of the best QBs in the league versus the blitz. On the play you brought up, Romo completed the pass. He hung in the pocket and made the play. I think criticizing the way he fell is a bit over the top. I’m not one to hand out blind praise to players, but Romo did the right thing there. He isn’t supposed to take a sack to avoid injury (not sure how that would work out, anyway). He’s supposed to deliver the football, and he did. Statistically, he’s a tremendous QB in the face of pressure.

  19. MONT17 says:

    Romo, consistently one of the best QBs, against the blitz, bc of the skilled players around him. But I’m willing to bet his 2010 campaign was not a banner year in comparison to his previous seasons.

    The play I mentioned, he did not stand in… He chucked and ducked. But that is splitting hairs and a fundamental issue that you are not going to change in a 31 year old QB.

    The issue, with the play I mentioned. It appeared, Romo had no idea the blitz was coming, on his pre-snap read and protection scheme of back on backer… Meaning the Giants anticipated Romo would not recognize the Boley blitz.

    Romo performance facing pressure can be better, his 1-5 record in 2010 and his less than stellar playoff performances is evident of that…

  20. Mont–If there’s one thing you mention with which I agree it is Romo’s ability to recognize the blitz. I actually think he does recognize it, but one of my main criticisms of him is his ability to make a proper pre-snap judgment of where to go with the ball. He does well against the blitz anyway because of his feet, but he could be INCREDIBLE, IMO, with better pre-snap reads.

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