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Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Defensive Line/Linebackers | The DC Times

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Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Defensive Line/Linebackers

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Jonathan Bales

Part I of my Quarter-Season Grades dealt with the offensive line.  Today’s article is in reference to a Cowboys’ front seven which has been allowed to freelance quite a bit more this season than last.  Let’s take a look at how it has worked out thus far. . .

Quarter-Season Review: Defensive Line

  • Jay Ratliff

Last year, Ratliff totaled 26 pressures despite sacking the quarterback just four times.  This season, he is on pace for the same four sacks, but 10 less pressures.  He’s also tallied only six tackles.  Rob Ryan’s scheme shouldn’t hurt Ratliff, so these numbers are a little concerning.

  • Sean Lissemore

In 52 snaps, Lissemore has just two less tackles than Ratliff.  His pressure rate isn’t outstanding (two), but he hasn’t made any critical errors either.  The best sign is that Lissemore is improving.

  • Kenyon Coleman

Coleman’s three pressures already topped the two from Marcus Spears in 2010.  Of course, this is a new year with a new coordinator, and Spears already has four pressures in 2011.  When you combine Coleman’s lack of pass rush with his six tackles, you get a pedestrian start for the veteran.

  • Jason Hatcher

The numbers on Hatcher are a great example of why you cannot always trust your memory when it relates to grading players.  Prior to looking at the statistics, I thought Hatcher was having a super pass-rushing season.  My memory was likely skewed by the 49ers game in which Hatcher recorded two sacks.  In reality, Hatcher has only one pressure to go along with those two sacks.  His seven tackles is solid for a defensive end, though, and he’s played the run quite well.

  • Marcus Spears

Four tackles, four pressures, no sacks.  If Spears isn’t stuffing the run, he isn’t of much use.

Quarter-Season Review: Linebackers

Outside Linebackers

  • DeMarcus Ware

With a league-leading 17 pressures, five sacks, and three quarterback hits, Ware is on pace for one of his biggest seasons to date.  Actually, he is getting a pressure on 12.8% of his rushes–up from 11.0% in 2010.

  • Anthony Spencer

Spencer is proof that sack totals determine perception.  In reality, Spencer is displaying the exact same performance as in 2010–a solid, but not great season in which the majority of analysts crucified him.  Now that Spencer is on pace for 12 sacks, he’s finally “turning the corner,” right?  Not really, since his seven pressures give him a 6.7% pressure rate which is nearly identical to his 6.8% rate from last season.  Spencer is also on pace for 48 tackles–four less than in 2010.

  • Victor Butler

I really thought Butler would see a significant increase in snaps this season, but that doesn’t appear as though it will be the case.  With only 48 snaps thus far, Butler is on pace to play just a handful more than in 2010.  Despite his lack of playing time, Butler has put up a sack and three pressures.  He’s only rushed the passer 34 times, so his three pressures mean he is reaching the quarterback 8.8% of the time.  He doesn’t have any tackles, but he’s also defended the run just seven plays.

Inside Linebackers

  • Sean Lee

We don’t need numbers to tell us that Sean Lee has been the Cowboys’ second-best player on defense (and perhaps the team) this season.  His 26 tackles leads the team by far, and he’s missed just two of them (7.1% missed tackle rate).  Lee even has three pressures, two interceptions, and two passes defended.  If there is an area of his game that must improve, it is actually pass coverage.  At a certain point, though, you have tot throw out his “awkwardness” in coverage because he just keeps making plays.

  • Bradie James

You probably noticed James’ decreased snap count, but did you realize he has played just one more snap than Keith Brooking?  James is a liability in coverage, cannot effectively rush the passer, and has just five tackles.  His days in Dallas are coming to an end.

  • Keith Brooking

One tackle in 93 snaps.


A few notes before looking at my grades:

  • The run defense and pass rush grades are weighted evenly for the defensive linemen,  weighted 3:2 in favor of the pass rush for the outside linebackers, and weighted 3:2 in favor of run defense for the linebackers.
  • Coverage is normally a component of the outside linebacker grades, but there haven’t been enough snaps for the sample size of plays to be great enough to draw conclusions.  DeMarcus Ware has been in coverage on just 25 snaps, for example.

Defensive Line

Jay Ratliff

  • Pass Rush: B-
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 85.0 (B)

Sean Lissemore

  • Pass Rush: C-
  • Run Defense: B-

Overall: 75.0 (C)

Kenyon Coleman

  • Pass Rush: D+
  • Run Defense: C+

Overall: 75.0 (C)

Jason Hatcher

  • Pass Rush: C+
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 85.0 (B)

Marcus Spears

  • Pass Rush: D+
  • Run Defense: C

Overall: 72.5 (C)

Outside Linebackers

DeMarcus Ware

  • Pass Rush: A
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 93.0 (A)

Anthony Spencer

  • Pass Rush: B-
  • Run Defense: B-

Overall: 80.0 (B-)

Victor Butler

  • Pass Rush: B
  • Run Defense: C

Overall: 81.0 (B-)

Inside Linebackers

Sean Lee

  • Run Defense: A
  • Pass Defense: B-

Overall: 89.0 (B+)

Bradie James

  • Run Defense: D+
  • Pass Defense: D

Overall: 68.0 (D)

Keith Brooking

  • Run Defense: F
  • Pass Defense: C+

Overall: 65.0 (D)

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11 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Defensive Line/Linebackers

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I think the case w/ Spencer isn’t his #s, but when he has done what he’s done. The forced fumble to seal the Redskins game was huge even though it counts as one data point…I’ve always been a supporter of Spencer mentioning that his game is solid (not elite but also not average). Given that he’s in a contract year, I’m not sure if he should get major $ but Dallas will most likely overspend as they continue to do (Leonard Davis, Scandrick, etc.).

    As far as Lee goes, right now he’s the 2nd best player ON THE TEAM. Yes, I actually think he’s playing better than Witten. An 89 seems low for him given this is his 2nd year, he’s in a new system, he recovered the Spencer FF mentioned above in the Skins game, has 2 INTs – one of which was almost a pick 6 – and he’s among the league leaders in tackles (and I actually think he has more than 35 combined tackles as teams count tackles for themselves and I don’t think Dallas has done him justice). If you say he can improve his pass coverage, I’m not sure how; 2 INTS in 4 games is HUGE and every game I watch, he’s always around the ball – just too bad he doesn’t play FS.

  2. JJ says:

    Thanks JB.

    I’ll use your data to make the case that the Cowboys LB (as one would hope in a 3-4) are the strength of the team. Also, I’ll go out on a limb and say that our DBs (when healthy) are more than serviceable (just keep Ball off the field).

    That being stated, I cannot help but wish the DLine were more well rounded. Granted, they may be taking on blockers to allow LBs to make tackles but would just like to seem them be more active in creating havoc. Imagine have just one DE who is a “beast” that would take pressure off the LBs.

    Yet, the most disappointing position in my estimation is ILB opposite LB. Brooking is now a liability and James (who I’ve always believed played above his ability in run support) is just average. So, I ask, is it unreasonable to think Bruce Carter could be starting by mid season? Add Bruce and put Buehler on IR.

  3. john coleman says:

    I will have to say that I must side with TJ in regards to Lee. 2 ints in 4 games is outstanding for any LB. I don’t recall him being beaten badly in coverage either. At least not any big hitters. If we go back to last year a factor in a pick and the fact that he “Jst makes plays”, what’s not to like?

    JJ- You have the million dollar question regarding Carter. Based on the competition, I think he could contribute. He must be 100%. We must realize he hasn’t played a snap in the NFL. Not even practice. If he could pull it off, we might have one of the better ILB duos in football.

    Article- Ratliff concerns me a little too. Especially since we just doled out a new deal. I think he gets better as the guys around him do. I like what I have seen in Hatcher and Spears is his usual solid self with a tad of upside.

    Considering the new scheme and injuries (Newman, Scandrick, and Hatcher), I’m happy with the D. I’m still saying this week to week 8 before we see a near finished product.

  4. valmont says:


    Maybe you can comment on the most interesting question this raises: how are the Cowboys doing it?

    Ratliff down, Hatcher not really providing pressure, etc.

    the only positive relative to last year is the emergence of Lee.

    So how is the defense so much better?

    and btw, it’s got me perplexed.

  5. chris stallcup says:

    hey JB how do you think solder is doing thus far into the season? the couple of pats games i watched he got beat by speed rushers off the edge a lot.

  6. In regards to Lee’s interceptions and pass coverage…not saying he has been poor, but I wouldn’t put much stock in those picks. Certainly he is in the right place and that is part of being a great LB, but INTs are so fluky that they are a terrible indicator of pass coverage. Lee hasn’t even been poor in that area…I’m just saying his skill set suggests he could have some trouble against certain types of players–he has average change of direction as best and isn’t a great athlete in general. Having said that, you could say the same about Jason Witten, and he’s doing okay.

    Valmont–I would say scheme. Same players, same talent, better scheme. MUCH better scheme.

    Chris–I only watched Solder play once and wasn’t focusing on him much, to be honest. Reports are that he’s doing fine, and PFF has him as their 14th rated OT so far (7th in run blocking and about average in pass protection). Without watching him much thus far, it is tough to tell how much help he is getting from Gronkowski/Hernandez (I know NE left Gronk in quite a bit last week).

  7. valmont says:

    “he has average change of direction as best and isn’t a great athlete in general”


    just as a factual matter, Lee is a tremendous athlete.

    his short shuttle (proxy for change of direction) was 4.16. VJ was 37.5″.

    those are exceptional measures.

  8. Valmont, when you watch Lee play, do you see a player who is fluid and explosive, or one who looks a bit stiff when he moves? Again, not saying he isn’t a great player, but he doesn’t possess the sort of fluidity of a guy like Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, etc.

  9. Tom H says:

    Decision time for Bruce Carter is approaching, I think they should go ahead and let Buehler go now that Bailey has clearly out kicked him, and get Carter activated to the roster. I don’t expect to see him active on game day anytime soon, but if he’s cleared medically, they should get him ready for 2nd half of the season. The Cowboys are very thin inside. If any of the current guys go down they only have Orie Lemon on the PS as insurance.

    What do you guys think?

  10. Rick says:

    Your grades seem pretty rough. Looks to me like the team has done an excellent job of stuffing the run and getting pressure.

  11. valmont says:

    “Valmont, when you watch Lee play, do you see a player who is fluid and explosive, or one who looks a bit stiff when he moves?”

    I see a player who is fluid and explosive.

    he’s pretty agile slipping through the OL.

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