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“grading The ‘boys” | The DC Times - Part 2

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Grading the ‘Boys: Jason Hatcher and Nate Livings 2012 Grades

My latest 2012 grades when to Jason Hatcher and Nate Livings.

On Hatcher:

The Numbers

The most astonishing stat for Hatcher in 2012 is that, had he played four more snaps, it would have been at least twice as many as every other defensive lineman on the team. Actually, Hatcher played nearly twice as many snaps as he did in 2011, so it’s not really surprising that he posted a career-high in tackles (51). While Hatcher’s total tackles seem to indicate improved play, his 6.5 percent tackle rate is actually the exact same as it was in 2011.

We see the same discrepancy when we look at Hatcher’s pass-rushing stats, too. Although he totaled only four sacks this year, down from 4.5 in 2011, Hatcher actually pressured the quarterback 29 times—over twice as many as any other season in his career. Hatcher did indeed reach the quarterback at a higher rate than in 2011, but not as much as the bulk pressure totals indicate. Hatcher’s 2012 pressure rate of 6.4 percent isn’t significantly higher than the 5.2 percent rate he recorded in 2011.

On Livings:

The Numbers

Allowing five sacks obviously isn’t good, but Livings also got a bit unlucky. The left guard allowed pressure on Tony Romo on just 1.9 percent of his snaps in pass protection, yet Romo went down 26.3 percent of the time Livings allowed his man to get through. In comparison, Bernadeau allowed pressure at nearly twice the rate of Livings—3.2 percent—yet Romo got sacked on only 20.0 percent of those pressures.

In this way, you can see why pressures are not only a better indicator of pass protection than sacks, but also a superior predictor of future protection. If we were to bet on who would allow the lowest number of sacks in 2013, it would be foolish to choose Bernadeau over Livings, even though the two were just one sack apart this year.

Livings also outperformed Bernadeau in the running game. As I mentioned last week, I track three players as blocking at the point-of-attack on each running play, and the Cowboys totaled only 3.18 YPC with Bernadeau at the point in 2012. That’s bad. With Livings blocking at the point, however, the ‘Boys were a lot better, averaging 3.92 YPC.

Head to Dallas News for Hatcher’s grade and Livings’s grade.

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Cowboys Links: 2012 Disappointments and a Grade for DeMarco Murray

My latest ‘Running the Numbers’ entry is a look at what went wrong in 2012.

They say a football team is only as good as its weakest link, but it doesn’t take much effort to dispel that notion. All other things being equal, you’d certainly rather have your weakest player at, say, offensive guard than at quarterback. In this way, certain positions are more vital to team success and, yes, some players are simply more important than others. There’s a reason you hear “The Cowboys will go as far as Tony Romo takes them” and not “The Cowboys will go as far as Mackenzy Bernadeau takes them.”

Prior to the 2012 season, I published a list of the Cowboys’ top five most crucial players, excluding Romo (who’s clearly the most essential piece to the puzzle each season). If you want to understand what went wrong for Dallas this year, look no further than the play of these five players.

5. Miles Austin

Preseason Analysis

Bryant will be the Cowboys’ top receiver this year, but Austin could be a tad bit more important. In my article on the team’s slot receiver position, I noted that Austin has played 15.5, 32.4, and 44.0 percent of his pass snaps in the slot over the past three seasons, respectively. Almost two-thirds of his 2011 targets came when he lined up inside. Austin’s versatility makes him more valuable than your average wide receiver.

2012 Review

This year, Austin actually played 69.4 percent of his pass snaps in the slot, but unlike past years, he simply wasn’t that effective. Despite all the time in the slot, fewer than half of Austin’s targets came there; he was actually targeted at nearly twice the rate when he lined up outside. That’s perhaps one reason the receiver posted only 4.6 yards after the catch per reception, the lowest of his career.

Check out the other critical players who underachieved this season.

At NBC, I posted a list of the Cowboys’ biggest potential disappointments next season.

3. Jason Hatcher

Hatcher had a breakout 2012 season, sacking the quarterback four times but pressuring him at a rate that would typically lead to seven sacks. Hatcher actually totaled more pressures than Anthony Spencer. The problem is that Hatcher will be 31 when the season begins, and interior defensive linemen tend to break down faster than any other position. Plus, Hatcher’s fit in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense is a question.

See the rest of the list.

And at Dallas News, I posted my 2012 grade for DeMarco Murray.

Previously Graded: Miles Austin, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, Mackenzy BernadeauTyron Smith,Doug FreeJermey Parnell

In the preseason, I published a few articles suggesting running back DeMarco Murray might not live up to the expectations of many Cowboys fans in 2012. That had more to do with Murray’s expected workload and efficiency than anything else—two aspects of his play that we saw decrease from his rookie year. Throw in Murray’s injury issues and you have the makings of a sub-par season for the second-year back.

The Numbers

Let’s start with the basics: Murray ran for 663 yards on 161 attempts (4.12 YPC), caught 35 passes for 251 yards, and scored two total touchdowns. In terms of pure bulk stats, Murray underachieved in a major way in 2012.

Of course, Murray played only 482 total snaps in 10 games due to injury. And when Murray was on the field, he wasn’t the same “workhorse” we saw as a rookie. Due primarily to game situations, Murray touched the ball on only 40.7 percent of his snaps—a rate that was way down from his 51.0 percent touch rate as a rookie. Thus, much of Murray’s poor bulk stats can be explained by simply not getting the ball—something that’s obviously out of his control.

See the analysis and grade at DMN.

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Grading the ‘Boys: Doug Free and Jermey Parnell

At Dallas News, I graded right tackles Doug Free and Jermey Parnell.

The Numbers

While Smith allowed three sacks and pressure on 6.0 percent of his snaps in pass protection, Free yielded seven sacks and a 6.2 percent pressure rate. Perhaps more concerning is that Free didn’t really improve as the year progressed; in addition to struggling badly in pass protection, Free also committed 13 penalties on the season, eventually splitting time with Parnell.

Parnell is certainly more athletic and possesses greater upside than Free, but he’s also raw as a right tackle. In just 267 snaps, Parnell allowed five sacks. However, Parnell yielded pressure on 4.2 percent of his pass snaps; that’s not an elite rate, but it was the best of any offensive tackle on the team. Thus, Parnell’s somewhat-low pressure rate suggests he simply got unlucky in allowing five sacks.

See the whole article and the grades.

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Grading the ‘Boys: LT Tyron Smith

At Dallas News, I continued my “Grading the ‘Boys” series with a look at Tyron Smith.

The Numbers

I tracked Smith as allowing only three sacks in 2012, but don’t forget that ‘sacks allowed’ is a low-frequency stat that’s rarely indicative of a player’s real value. Smith actually allowed pressure on 6.0 percent of his pass protection snaps; that’s nearly the same rate as Doug Free, albeit at the more difficult left tackle position. Smith also committed 11 penalties—second-most on the team—suggesting he went through some growing pains on the left side.

In pass protection, Smith took a step back in 2012, but the good news is that he showed improvement. He didn’t allow a sack in the entire second half of the season, and his pressure rate was actually about half of that in the first half of the year. Smith has the athleticism and intelligence to adapt his game to play left tackle—something he hadn’t done on a consistent basis since high school—and we saw that as the season progressed. Perhaps the most telling stat for Smith is that only two of his 11 penalties came after the Cowboys’ initial eight contests, and only three after Week 6.

See the whole article and Smith’s final 2012 grade at DMN.

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Grading the ‘Boys: Mackenzy Bernadeau

Continuing my “Grading the ‘Boys” series at Dallas News, I took a look at guard Mackenzy Berndeau.

The Numbers

One of the unique things I do each season is track the blockers who were at the point-of-attack on each run. There are typically three players at the point—the area where the play is designed to hit—although that’s not always the case. The Cowboys rarely pull their offensive linemen, so the players at the point are usually (but not always) the linemen who started the play in that spot. If the ‘Boys run a lead dive in the “2” hole, for example, the center, right guard, and fullback would all be listed at the point.

By tracking the blockers who are at the point on each play, we can get a pretty good sense of who is clearing running lanes for the backs. A lineman might get lucky or unlucky on a play or even a series, but those fluctuations tend to even out fairly well over the course of a season.

In 2012, I labeled Bernadeau as being at the point on 151 rushing plays. The Cowboys gained 480 total yards on those plays, or 3.18 yards-per-carry. Rushing efficiency behind interior linemen is typically worse than for offensive tackles, but 3.18 YPC is unacceptable for any player.

See Bernadeau’s grade at DMN.

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Articles: Cowboys’ 5 Worst Cap Values, Grade for Morris Claiborne

My latest Running the Numbers piece is a look at the team’s worst cap-based values.

5. Brandon Carr: $14.3 million ($16.3 million)

Let me start by saying that Carr is an outstanding cornerback and in no way would the Cowboys even remotely consider letting him go. Carr allowed 7.4 YPA and came up with some major interceptions in his inaugural season in Dallas. My point is that salaries can sometimes be oddly-structured, and Carr’s $16.3 million cap charge in 2013 is a hefty sum. The next-highest cap charge for an individual season in Carr’s contract is only $11.1 million in 2016. Carr is worth the overall value of his deal, but he’ll need an All-Pro year to truly be worthy of his $14.3 million base salary in 2013.

Cut or Keep: Keep

4. Mackenzy Bernadeau: $1.8 million ($2.5 million)

I charged Bernadeau with allowing six sacks this year and I provided him with the worst pass protection grade (by far) in my 2012 offensive line review. Although the overall value of his four-year contract is only the 14th-highest in Dallas, I graded Bernadeau so low that he might not even be worth the roster spot.

Cut or Keep: Cut

3. Miles Austin: $6.7 million ($3.6 million now, $6.8 million after June 1)

Take a look at Austin’s yards-after-catch per reception over the past four seasons: 7.3, 6.3, 4.7, and 4.6. While some of the decline can be attributed to regression toward the mean (we’d never expect Austin to continue to average 7.3 YAC per reception, so some decrease is inevitable), it’s also clear that the receiver has lost a little something.

The Cowboys could potentially money by releasing Austin early in the offseason because his cap charge will rise after June 1, meaning his spot on the team in 2013 is far from a sure thing. Nonetheless, I think you’ll see him in Dallas next year simply because he’s still a really talented wide receiver. Players who stand 6’2’’, 220 pounds, run sub-4.5, and have 1,300-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons under their belts don’t grow on trees. The Cowboys will likely try to renegotiate with Austin, using the potential cap space they could retrieve if they release him early as leverage in their talks.

Check out the other two at DallasCowboys.com.

Earlier this week, I posted the team’s best values. That included Morris Claiborne, who I graded today at Dallas Morning News.

The Numbers

In the preseason, I made five bold defensive predictions for the Cowboys in 2012, one of which was that Claiborne should fall in the range of four interceptions and 60 tackles in his rookie campaign. The cornerback picked off only one pass, which is low for a top 10 cornerback, but he also registered 55 tackles.

The truth is that Claiborne’s bulk stats, including his interception total, weren’t as high as many anticipated because opposing quarterbacks didn’t target the rookie all that much. Claiborne was targeted only 69 times in 909 snaps this year; in comparison, Brandon Carr was thrown at 87 times in 1,043 snaps—a much higher rate than Claiborne.

When Claiborne was targeted, though, he lost on a regular basis. The rookie allowed a 69.6 percent completion rate and 8.28 YPA—about average for a starting cornerback. Claiborne also gave up a 107.8 passer rating, due mostly to his poor 1:4 interception-to-touchdown ratio.

Check out the final grade at DMN.

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Grading the ‘Boys: Bruce Carter 2012 Grade

Yesterday I graded Miles Austin. Today, I turned my attention to Bruce Carter.

The Numbers

The most important number for Carter is 4.7 million, as in the number of dollars he’ll receive throughout the course of his four-year rookie contract. That’s a whole lot of money for you or me, but having a potential Pro Bowl-caliber inside linebacker for just over $1 million a year is a bargain in the NFL. With so much “wasted” cash going to guys like Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, and Doug Free, it’s the bargains the Cowboys find in the draft—the Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, Dez Bryant-esque players—that can keep them alive.

In 2012, Carter was able to parlay his freakish athleticism into a productive season in the middle of Rob Ryan’s defense. With 70 tackles on the year, Carter registered a tackle on 11.2 percent of his snaps. That’s not quite Sean Lee territory (17.5 percent), but solid nonetheless. In comparison, 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis—widely considered one of the league’s premiere inside linebackers—recorded a tackle on 11.9 percent of his snaps.

View the whole article at DMN.

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Grading the ‘Boys: Miles Austin 2012 Grade

My “Grading the ‘Boys” series is back. Over the next few weeks, I will grade each Cowboys player on an individual basis. At Dallas News, I started it off with Miles Austin.

With 943 yards on 118 targets, Austin posted only 7.99 yards-per-target in 2012. That’s similar to Austin’s 2011 mark, but down from 8.75 in 2010 and 10.56 in his breakout 2009 season. Austin’s 9.1 percent touchdown rate isn’t bad, but it’s still lower than his career mark of 12.3 percent.

The most concerning stat for Austin, however, is that he hauled in only 57.4 percent of his targets. With Dez Bryant drawing double-teams and Jason Witten working them middle of the field, that sort of efficiency is way too low. In comparison, Laurent Robinson caught 66.7 percent of his targets when he was the No. 2 receiver last year in Dallas.

Part of the problem is that Austin hasn’t displayed the same explosiveness after the catch as he did just a few seasons ago. At 6’2’’, 219 pounds, Austin is built like a tall running back, yet he seems to have lost a lot of the run-after-catch ability that made him so dangerous in 2009 and 2010. Take a look at Austin’s yards-after-catch per reception over the past four seasons:

  • 2009: 7.2 YAC/rec
  • 2010: 6.3 YAC/rec
  • 2011: 4.7 YAC/rec
  • 2012: 4.6 YAC/rec

Notice a trend? One potential explanation is that the Cowboys simply used Austin downfield too much. Although Austin certainly has the potential to beat defenses deep, he’s at his best when he can catch and run. The average depth of passes to Austin in 2012 was 12.35 yards. That’s actually greater than the 12.29 average depth of Dez Bryant’s targets. Bryant—whose deep looks increased substantially in the middle of the year—should probably be running deeper routes than Austin on most plays.

See the rest of the analysis and my grade for Austin at DMN.

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Cowboys Offensive Line Grades

At NBC, I took a look at the Cowboys’ run blocking thus far in 2012, handing out grades for each offensive lineman.

The results aren’t pretty. Below, I’ve listed the YPC for Cowboys running backs with each lineman at the point.
  • LT Tyron Smith: 4.20 YPC
  • LG Nate Livings: 3.68 YPC
  • C Ryan Cook: 2.81 YPC
  • RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 3.49 YPC
  • RT Doug Free: 3.58 YPC

Check out the grades at NBC.

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Cowboys’ Mid-Season Defensive Grades

Yesterday, I published my mid-season grades for each offensive player at Dallas Morning News. Today, I posted my defensive grades.

DT Jay Ratliff: B

Ratliff may not have much left in the tank, as evidenced by his absence in the lineup for much of 2012. When playing, though, Ratliff has been pretty efficient. His tackle rate of 5.5 percent isn’t bad, and he’s pressured the quarterback on 5.7 percent of his pass rush snaps. He’s still getting pushed around a bit in the middle, but he’s also been able to make plays on a more consistent basis than in 2011.

DT Josh Brent: C

Brent offered the Cowboys a big body to anchor the middle of their defense while Ratliff was out, and he played decently. He doesn’t give you much as a pass-rusher, but his 5.1 percent tackle rate is just below that of Ratliff. With low expectations, it’s possible that people perceive Brent as excelling when he’s really playing average football.

Check out more at DMN.