The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Mid-Season Position Grades

At BR, I posted position grades for the Cowboys after Week 8. Here’s Romo’s:

Through Week 8, quarterback Tony Romo has turned in the worst efficiency of his career (excluding the 2010 season in which he got hurt) in terms of yards per attempt. That’s the bad.

The good is that Romo has 18 touchdowns to only five interceptions. He’s taking care of the football, sacrificing efficiency to do it.

Yards per attempt and interceptions are inversely correlated. In the past, Romo has typically played ultra-aggressively and you just kind of had to live with the interceptions. It’s the exact opposite in 2013, with Romo balancing conservative play with trying to attack downfield.

Romo’s high touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013 has positively affected his passer rating, but his play hasn’t been quite as good as those numbers suggest. He’s still certainly an above-average NFL quarterback, but his career-low YPA is one reason the Cowboys are 4-4.

In terms of advanced stats, Romo ranks eighth in the NFL in expected points added (EPA)—a metric tracked by Advanced NFL Stats that measures a player’s ability to produce points. EPA is a great way to measure production because it quantifies how many points each player’s contributions are “worth.”

Sitting at eighth in EPA, Romo is in the really-good-but-not-great category of quarterbacks in 2013.

Grade: B-

By Jonathan Bales

Final 2012 Cowboys Player Rankings

I just posted my final player rankings for the Cowboys in 2012.

On Monday, I published final 2012 grades for the majority of the Cowboys’ roster. You can see full analysis of select players at the links above.

Today, I’m going to rank each player and compare my grade with the grades all of you provided them earlier this year. For grades that differ by a wide margin, I’ll explain my reasoning. Remember, my grades are based on efficiency—how well each player performed while in the game—not on total production.

2012 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings

1. CB Orlando Scandrick: A

  • Your Grade: NG

Had the public provided a grade for Scandrick, I’m confident it wouldn’t have come close to approaching my “A” grade. Scandrick’s 2012 season was marred by a handful of poor plays that are easy to recall, but he allowed only 5.7 YPA and just over half of throws his way were completed.

2. LB Sean Lee: A-

  • Your Grade: A

3. WR Dez Bryant: A-

  • Your Grade: A

4. OLB Anthony Spencer: A-

  • Your Grade: A

5. S Barry Church: A-

  • Your Grade: NG

See the rest at Dallas News.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Links: Marty B, Jason Witten, and Final Grades

Do the Cowboys miss Marty B?

Prior to the 2012 season, I explained why Bennett’s true value was far greater than what most saw, even writing “With all the gags Bennett played on teammates and media during his time in Dallas, his biggest trick may have been convincing fans he wasn’t an integral component of the team’s success.” The truth is that Bennett was the best blocker in Dallas—even perhaps the premiere blocking tight end in the NFL.

Bennett was far more dominant in the running game and pass protection than just about anyone realized. Over his last three seasons in Dallas, Cowboys running backs averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry when Bennett was at the point-of-attack. Yes, I’m talking about the same team that averaged 3.6 YPC in 2012 and 4.5 YPC in the previous three seasons.

Read the whole post at NBC.

Jason Witten had a career year. Or did he?

Despite the increased targets, Witten’s efficiency wasn’t better than in past seasons. Actually, it was worse. One of the best stats we can use to determine how often a receiver gets open and makes plays is the number of yards they gain per pass route they run. It’s superior to yards-per-catch or even yards-per-target because it punishes receivers for failing to get open. In analyzing Witten’s past yards-per-route, there’s an obvious trend.

Witten’s efficiency has decreased every year since 2008. The fact that Witten saw his worst efficiency in a half-decade in a season in which he caught 110 passes is pretty alarming. There’s almost zero chance that the tight end will catch 110 passes again in 2013, yet it’s probable that the trend we see above, a decline in yards-per-route, is on the way.

Check out the whole article at DallasCowboys.com.

And at Dallas News, I posted the rest of my 2012 player grades.

Up to this point, I’ve provided analysis and grades for the 17 players listed above. That’s only a fraction of the roster, but the truth is that with all of the injuries the Cowboys suffered in 2012, only a handful of players received enough snaps to warrant an in-depth breakdown. The rest of my grades—for the John Phillips, Cole Beasley, and Sean Lissemore-esque players—are listed below. The only players to not receive grades are those who played fewer than 100 snaps.

Offense

  • WR Kevin Ogletree: D+

For someone who has Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten drawing coverage, a 58.2 percent catch rate is really poor.

  • WR Dwayne Harris: B+

Harris outperformed Ogletree in every aspect of wide receiver play and he offers return ability as well. He should enter 2013 as the No. 3 receiver.

  • WR Cole Beasley: C-

It’s really tough to make contributions at any position when you’re only 5’8’’. I was high on Beasley at one point, but he managed only 5.3 yards-per-target as a rookie and didn’t show a consistent ability to separate underneath.

  • RB Felix Jones: D+

Jones’ career YPC since his rookie season: 8.9, 5.9, 4.3, 4.5, and 3.6.

  • TE John Phillips: C-

Phillips lost his job to James Hanna due to poor development as a receiver, but his blocking isn’t nearly as good as most believe.

  • TE James Hanna: C+

Hanna needs to get stronger at the point, but he showed improvement as a pass-catcher as the 2012 season progressed.

  • FB Lawrence Vickers: C-

Backs averaged just over three YPC with Vickers at the point. He did a fine job as Romo’s “personal protector” on third downs.

Check out all of the grades at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys: Tony Romo 2012 Grade

My final in-depth report card of the year goes to Tony Romo.

We can debate the value of Mackenzy Bernadeau all day, but the intrigue and contrasting opinions surrounding any player on the Cowboys will never approach that of Tony Romo. The degree to which views on Romo differ is undoubtedly greater than it is for any player in Dallas, and perhaps anyone in the entire NFL. From “he’s an elite quarterback without much help” to “Where is Kyle Orton?”, we can’t seem to come to a consensus on Romo’s true value as a quarterback.

The Numbers

Fair or not, it’s become commonplace to grade quarterbacks solely on team wins. If that’s the only criteria we use to judge Romo in 2012, he obviously did a mediocre job in leading the Cowboys to an 8-8 record. It’s interesting that so many people value bulk stats when it comes to players like Jason Witten, but (quite accurately) dismiss those with quarterbacks. Romo threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and no one seems to care. Nor should they, really, because bulk stats are meaningless without an understanding of efficiency.

In terms of efficiency, Romo had perhaps his worst season in the NFL. Below, I charted Romo’s passer rating and YPA since 2006 in terms of how closely he was to reaching his career-high in each category.

Romo’s passer rating was the worst it has ever been in his career at only 88.3 percent of its peak. That’s concerning, but not to the same degree as Romo’s low YPA. Averaging just 7.57 YPA, Romo’s efficiency was the lowest it has ever been in a full season. Unlike passer rating, YPA isn’t skewed by touchdowns and interceptions—both relatively low-frequency events that are somewhat fluky. While there’s certainly reason to be concerned over Romo’s 19 interceptions, the fact that he turned in such a low YPA should be even scarier because it’s more representative of Romo’s true play.

Of course, Romo’s 2012 season will be marred by a recency bias—the tendency to inflate the importance of the most recent events—because he showed horribly against the Redskins in Week 17. Many will use that as evidence that Romo doesn’t play well late in the season (or late in games, or in close games), but they shouldn’t. Prior to 2012, Romo was just as good late in the season as he was earlier, and he even posted a higher passer rating in the fourth quarter than the first three.

See the rest, including the grade, at Dallas Morning News.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys: Ryan Cook 2012 Grade

My latest “Grading the ‘Boys” post is up at Dallas News: an analysis of center Ryan Cook.

The Numbers

As I did with every lineman, I tracked the average length of carries behind Cook in 2012. Cook was at the point-of-attack on 105 of his 293 run snaps, and Cowboys running backs averaged 3.41 YPC on those rushes. That number looks poor on the surface, but there’s one reason it’s better than you think. The majority of the runs on which Cook was at the point came with guard Mackenzy Bernadeau—and not Nate Livings—at the point. As I detailed in my analysis of Bernadeau’s season, the guard struggled mightily this year, dragging down the YPC of the blockers around him.

Cook was hardly dominant in the running game, especially when you consider his size, but he was superior to Bernadeau. There’s evidence of that in the location of runs behind Cook; those with Bernadeau also at the point averaged only 3.10 yards. In comparison, rushes with Cook and Livings at the point—and not Bernadeau—totaled 4.40 yards.

In pass protection, Cook was one of the Cowboys’ better performers. Earlier this year, I broke down the pressure and sack rates for Cook and every other lineman. Then, I compared those rates to top players at their respective positions, assigning them a rating of how they stacked up. In those 2012 linemen ratings, Cook—who allowed two sacks and pressure on 2.2 percent of his snaps—received the highest grade. Cook was actually on par with many other top 10 centers from around the league.

See the whole article and Cook’s grade.

By Jonathan Bales

Are DeMarcus Ware’s best days behind him?

At Dallas News, I posted my 2012 grade for DeMarcus Ware.

The Numbers

Ware’s value to the Cowboys can’t be understated; he still commands double-teams as much as anyone in football. Nonetheless, Ware posted the third-lowest sack total and lowest number of tackles (56) of his entire career. More important, Ware’s efficiency marks were down as well. Below, I’ve charted Ware’s tackle and pressure rates over the past four seasons.

Ware made a tackle on 14.8 percent of his run snaps in 2012—way down from in previous seasons. Ware’s pressure rate of 6.8 percent is also down quite a bit—over 25 percent from just one year prior. The numbers match up pretty well with what we see on film; Ware didn’t reach the passer nearly as often as in previous seasons, and he occasionally failed to get off of blocks. Let’s not forget that Ware also gets flagged quite a bit. He led the defense with seven penalties in 2012, and that number is actually down from nine in 2011.

None of this is to say that Ware is suddenly an average pass-rusher. He’s still one of the best in the game; don’t forget that the outside linebacker (and now defensive end) was hampered by injuries for much of the season. Ware has never missed a game, but he was out for over 15 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps in 2012. That’s not a good thing, of course—likely a reflection of Ware’s age catching up with him.

See the entire article and the grade at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys: Sean Lee 2012 Grade

My latest grade has been handed out to linebacker Sean Lee.

The Numbers

With 58 tackles in only 331 snaps, Lee’s 17.5 percent tackle rate might be the highest I have ever seen. In comparison, Bruce Carter recorded a tackle on 11.2 percent of his snaps—barely below All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis. The Cowboys’ defense was obviously completely different once Lee went down.

In coverage, Lee uses his smarts and proper angles to overcome being an average athlete. This year, he allowed 7.6 YPA on passes thrown his way—just about the same as Bruce Carter. Quarterbacks posted only a 77.5 passer rating when throwing toward Lee.

One area where we’ll likely see Lee’s game change is as a pass-rusher. In the past two seasons in Rob Ryan’s defense, Lee blitzed 142 times—or 11.9 percent of his snaps. That probably won’t happen as much in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme, although Lee has proven to be an effective pass-rusher despite zero career sacks; his 9.9 percent pressure rate is solid for an inside linebacker.

One stat many people overlook is penalties. Although they can fluctuate some from player to player, team penalty rates are actually relatively stable and a good indicator of overall talent. A high penalty rate—as the Cowboys have had for years—indicates players are out of position. Lee isn’t one of those players. He’s pretty much always in position, leading to one of the craziest stats I’ve seen over the past few years: Lee hasn’t committed a penalty—not even one that was declined—in his entire career!

See the full analysis and grade at Dallas News.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Links: Anthony Spencer, Free Agents, and a Grade for Jason Witten

At NBC, I posted a breakdown of the Cowboys’ 2013 free agents.

OLB Victor Butler

Butler has been a personal favorite of mine for years because he’s been productive whenever he’s played. In the past three years, Butler has pressured the quarterback on 8.1 percent of his pass-rush snaps. That’s superior to Anthony Spencer (7.9 percent), but Butler simply hasn’t gotten the playing time necessary to make a huge impact. At 6’2’’ 245 pounds, Butler won’t be an option for Monte Kiffin.

  • In or Out? OUT

DE Kenyon Coleman

In his two seasons in Dallas, Coleman has been an underrated player. On a per-snap basis, he recorded a tackle about 20 percent more often than Jay Ratliff. Time isn’t on Coleman’s side, however, and the Cowboys won’t re-sign the 33-year old.

  • In or Out? OUT

Check it out at NBC.

I also posted a more focused look at why the ‘Boys should franchise Anthony Spencer.

I’ve written on Anthony Spencer quite a bit over the past year because he’s a rather interesting player. In the preseason, I showed why Spencer’s past sacks weren’t representative of his true talent, i.e. Spencer had been underachieving in terms of sack totals prior to 2012. It was easy to project Spencer for a career year, but the truth is that he actually overachieved this season. He’s not a long-term 11-sack player, and I even labeled Spencer as one of my players who might disappoint in 2013.

The truth is that Spencer is a really talented but not elite player opposite DeMarcus Ware. In terms of how often he has pressured the quarterback, the “true” Spencer is somewhere between the 11 sacks we saw in 2012 and the four sacks he averaged in his first five years in the league.

See the whole post here.

At Dallas News, I published Jason Witten’s 2012 grade.

The Numbers

The number everyone will remember is the 110 catches, but don’t forget that a lot of those receptions came in garbage time when defenses were playing soft. That’s reflected in Witten’s 9.4 yards-per-catch—the lowest mark in his career—and his 73.3 percent catch rate. Witten’s career catch rate is 70.6, but the average depth of Witten’s 150 targets in 2012 was so short that he was bound to catch a higher rate of passes. By the end of the year, the average length of Tony Romo’s throws to Witten was only 7.96 yards and Witten had only six targets (4.0 percent) of at least 20 yards.

That’s not to say Witten didn’t have a good year, because he did. The point is that Witten’s numbers were a bit inflated by game situations. For example, at one point during his career, Witten stayed in to block on nearly one-quarter of all of the Cowboys’ passing plays. In 2012, he was used in pass protection only 85 times—11.7 percent of his passing plays—meaning he was free to be used as a receiver more often. Witten gave up one sack in his 85 snaps in pass protection.

See more analysis and the grade at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys: Dez Bryant 2012 Grade

At Dallas News, I graded Dez Bryant’s 2012 season.

The Numbers

If you want to understand Bryant’s struggles through three weeks, there’s really just one number you need to know: one. That’s the number of times Bryant was targeted downfield 20 yards or more. Yes, in the first three games of the 2012 season, Bryant—a wide receiver with perhaps the best ball skills in the NFL—had one deep target. That’s a major reason Bryant’s efficiency was so poor; he was averaging 12.6 yards-per-catch. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight since Bryant averaged only 13.9 YPC in his first two years in the league, primarily because he never ranked in the top 50 in the NFL in deep target rate.

Over the Cowboys’ final 13 games, Bryant saw 23 targets of at least 20 yards. Although the Cowboys made an obvious effort to get the ball to Bryant downfield, his total deep targets still ranked him only16th in the NFL by the end of the year. Bryant led the NFL in deep touchdowns with five, and Tony Romo posted 20.5 YPA (yes, 20.5!) when throwing deep to Bryant. Only one of Romo’s deep looks to Bryant was intercepted. Actually, Romo threw only one pick after Week 4 when looking toward Bryant. The Romo-to-Bryant connection produced the third-highest quarterback-to-receiver passer rating in the NFL in 2012.

Even though Bryant clearly became the Cowboys’ No. 1 option by midseason, he still wasn’t targeted enough. Bryant’s 137 targets ranked 11th in the NFL. The receiver caught 67.2 percent of passes thrown his way, and Romo averaged 10.1 YPA on all throws to Bryant. In 2013, the Cowboys will still need to make a better effort to get the ball downfield to Bryant; this year, the average pass to Miles Austin (12.35 yards) actually traveled farther than the average throw to Bryant (12.29 yards).

See the whole article and grade at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys: Brandon Carr and Gerald Sensabaugh 2012 Grades

At Dallas News, I continued my “Grading the ‘Boys” series with breakdowns of Brandon Carr and Gerald Sensabaugh.

Carr:

In the preseason, I predicted that Carr would end up with 60 tackles and four picks, not far off from his final line of 53 and three. Carr came out of the gate on fire, allowing only 56 total yards and no touchdowns in the Cowboys’ first three games. After a mediocre stretch during the middle of the season, Carr finished the season hot as well. In the final quarter of the year, the cornerback allowed an average of 32 yards per game, intercepting two passes—including the monumental overtime pick against the Steelers—and allowing zero scores.

By season’s end, Carr turned in a really good season. The most surprising stat is that he was targeted 87 times—more than rookie Morris Claiborne. Carr allowed 51 of those passes to be completed (58.6 percent) for 644 yards (7.40 YPA)—all solid numbers.

My favorite stat to analyze cornerback play is yards-per-snap—the number of yards they allow for each snap that they’re in coverage. It’s an even better indicator of cornerback efficiency than YPA because it rewards cornerbacks for not being targeted. Sometimes, elite cornerbacks allow higher YPA because they’re only targeted when their receiver is wide open. If a cornerback has outstanding coverage and isn’t thrown at, however, it won’t be reflected in YPA.

Carr ranked 25th in the NFL in yards-per-snap in 2012 at 1.16. Interestingly, that’s the same number allowed by Terence Newman in Cincinnati. Claiborne checked in at 1.21 yards-per-snap.

Sensabaugh:

The Numbers

In 546 snaps in coverage, Sensabaugh was thrown at 23 times. He allowed 16 catches for a 69.6 percent completion rate. The fact that Sensabaugh was targeted only once in every 24 snaps in coverage is a good thing, and the 9.74 YPA he allowed isn’t bad for a safety. Sensabaugh didn’t give up a touchdown all year. Of the 58 safeties who played at least half of their team’s snaps, only 10 others can claim that. Of those same safeties, Sensabaugh ranked in the top 30 percent in yards allowed on a per-snap basis.

As a run defender, Sensabaugh recorded 58 tackles—his lowest total since 2007. Sensabaugh made a tackle on 5.9 percent of his snaps. In comparison, his tackle rate last year was 7.5 percent and in 2010 it was 7.6 percent. I also tracked Sensabaugh as missing the most tackles of his career with 12. That means Sensabaugh missed a tackle on 17.1 percent of his attempts, which is way too high. Over the two prior seasons, Sensabaugh missed fewer than 10 percent of the tackles he attempted.

See the final grades for Brandon Carr and Gerald Sensabaugh.