The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Rams, Preseason Week 3: Game Plan for Dallas

Over at Dallas Morning News, I just posted my first “DOs and DON’Ts” feature for the Cowboys’ Week 3 preseason tilt with the Rams. Here’s a preview:

DO run a lot of double-tight sets.

Through two preseason games, the Cowboys’ first-team offense has run just six double-tight end sets, representing only 29.0 percent of their plays. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Martellus Bennett equates to fewer two-tight end formations during the regular season.

On Saturday night, however, I’d place both John Phillips and rookie James Hanna on the field at the same time on numerous occasions. I know those guys aren’t Jason Witten, but the Cowboys’ offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with perhaps the league’s most underrated defensive end duo. That tandem is led by Chris Long, who pressured the quarterback more often than any player in the NFL last year.

Plus, double-tight sets with max protection could allow the ‘Boys to take some shots downfield—something they should be doing more often anyway.

Check out all of my DOs and DON’Ts here. I’ll once again be doing these throughout the regular season.

By Jonathan Bales

Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Chargers Film Study

Over at Dallas Morning News, I just broke down two plays from the first-team offense in the Cowboys’ 28-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers. One was a draw to DeMarco Murray, and the other was the 4th and 1 slant to Dez Bryant.

On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys faced a 2nd and 5 at their own 32-yard line. Jason Garrett called for “11” personnel—one running back and one tight end. The offense lined up in Tight End Trips Left.

Prior to the snap, Tony Romo issued a “Kill” call. The Cowboys often call two plays in the huddle; if Romo doesn’t like what he sees from the defense, he can “kill” the first play, alerting the offense to run the second one.

Many times, the second play called in the huddle is a draw. Actually, right around one-third of all of the Cowboys’ audibles since 2009 have been to a draw play. If the opposing linebackers and safeties line up deeper than normal, Romo generally checks to the draw.

Read the rest of the draw play analysis and my thoughts on the slant to Bryant over at DMN. Plenty more Cowboys coverage to come today, so check back.

By Jonathan Bales

How Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings Should Affect 2011 Draft Prep

Jonathan Bales

A couple of months back, I complete my 2010 Dallas Cowboys Player Grades, ranking the 35 players who received enough snaps for me to provide them with a “statistically-significant” grade.  Among the surprises were:

  • Victor Butler with a 89.8 percent, Martellus Bennett with an 88.0 percent, and Gerald Sensabaugh with an 87.0 percent–the third, fourth and fifth-highest grades on the team
  • Rating the outside linebackers as the second-strongest position on the team

I have pasted these rankings below.  If you’d like to go back to review individual position grades, here ya go:  Quarterbacks,defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbackstight endswide receiversrunning backs, offensive line.

A few notes before reading my 2010 Final Player and Position Grades:

  • This is not a comprehensive list of everyone who played last season, but rather those players who participated in enough plays to gather statistically significant results.
  • It is also not a ranking of the best players or those with the most production, but rather a list of the most efficient players to the team (as I see it) in 2010.
  • Players listed in blue are those whose grade I expect to improve in 2011.  I anticipate a decline in production from those players listed in red, and neither a vast improvement or deterioration in play from those listed in black.
  • Click on a player’s name to see in-depth statistics related to his 2010 play

1. DeMarcus Ware: A (94.0)

Ware had an “average” season by his standards.  He’s one of the best players–at any position–in the NFL.

2.  Jason Witten: A- (91.0)

Witten appeared to be slowing down early in the 2010 campaign but picked it up over the second half of the season.  I think you’ll see him as a “B” or “B+” guy in 2011, if for no other reason than a reduced snap count (under 1,000 is ideal).

3.  Victor Butler: B+ (89.8)

Butler’s improvement will be contingent on playing time.  The good news is new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has no loyalty to Anthony Spencer and will play the best outside linebacker.  Butler’s team-leading .118 pressures-per-rush should be in there on passing downs.

4.  Martellus Bennett:  B+ (88.0)

If it came down only to Bennett’s ability, I’d have him in the blue.  Until Witten is gone, however, Bennett simply won’t garner the enough opportunities in the passing game to compile big numbers.  By the way, he’s this high because of his blocking ability, which is probably the best on the team.

5.  Gerald Sensabaugh:  B+ (87.0)

Shocked?  Don’t be.  Sensabaugh was outstanding against the pass in 2010 and was one of the few defenders to show maximum effort all year.  He did overperform a bit, however, so this grade will probably slip in 2011.

6. Felix Jones: B (86.3)

Jones is clearly the Cowboys’ best running back.  His 9.38 yards-per-reception in 2010 was incredible.  He can be an “A” player he if improves his pass protection.

7.  Kyle Kosier: B (86.2)

Zero sacks yielded all season.  I know Kosier is a “boring” player, but he’s been the team’s most underrated one for quite some time.

8.  Tony Romo: B (85.0)

In my view, 2010 was about as bad as it can get for Romo.  Even so, he compiled a 94.5 passer rating and a 130.0 rating on throws of 20+ yards.  He will be an “A” player in 2011.

T9.  Anthony Spencer: B (84.6)

Spencer wasn’t as horrible in 2010 as people think, and I can all but guarantee this grade will be higher in 2011.  Expect at least .02 sacks-per-rush next year (he had .012 this season).

T9. Dez Bryant: B (84.6)

It’s pretty clear that Bryant will improve in 2011.  He led the team with a 4.2 percent drop rate (and I’d bet that will be even lower next season), and displayed an incredible overall skill set.

T11. Miles Austin: B- (83.4)

Austin came into the 2010 season with incredible expectations that he didn’t fulfill.  He wasn’t terrible, however.  His 9.09 yards-per-attempt and 6.32 YAC-per-reception numbers are still quite good.

T11.  Orlando Scandrick:  B- (83.4)

Scandrick will always be targeted more than the other cornerbacks because he plays in the slot, but he improved greatly in 2010.  Yielding 0.88 yards-per-snap is good for a nickel cornerback.

13.  Doug Free: B- (83.0)

I don’t know of anyone who would give Free this low of a grade other than me, but he still has some work to do.  The three sacks he yielded is outstanding for a left tackle in the NFC East, but he also recorded a team-high nine penalties and wasn’t close to dominant in the run game.

14.  Sean Lee: B- (82.4)

I was really impressed with Lee’s improvement as the season progressed.  He led the inside linebackers in tackles-per-play, missed tackle rate, and most coverage statistics.

15.  Jon Kitna: B- (82.0)

Some of you thought Kitna deserved a higher grade, but if Romo puts up a 4:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season, fans will go nuts.  Still, Kitna is a luxury as a No. 2 quarterback.

16.  Bradie James: B- (81.3)

James was worse in coverage than I thought, yielding an 83.9 percent completion rate and 7.6 yards-per-attempt.  He’s still stout against the run, but I foresee a decline in production in 2011.

17.  Jay Ratliff:  B- (81.0)

Many of you didn’t like that I gave Ratliff an 87.0 percent in 2009, so his 81.0 this year can’t be popular.  His play will improve in 2011, however, because a move to defensive end seems likely.

18. Leonard Davis:  B- (80.6)

Davis is by no means a Pro Bowl-caliber player anymore, but he isn’t as poor as fans believe.  He was abused in the Titans game, but other than that, he allowed only one sack and zero quarterback hits all season.

19. Tashard Choice: C+ (78.9)

Choice is going to improve upon his 2010 production because either 1) Marion Barber will be gone or 2) it will be for another squad.

20.  Andre Gurode: C+ (78.2)

Over the second half of the season, Gurode was excellent in pass protection.  I still think he has value to the ‘Boys, but his run blocking must improve.  When he was at the point-of-attack in 2010, Cowboys running backs averaged only 2.82 yards-per-carry.

21.  Montrae Holland: C+ (77.8)

Holland is a solid backup, but he is not the future at guard for Dallas.

T22.  Terence Newman:  C+ (77.0)

Newman has been one of my favorite players for awhile, but he looked bad in 2010.  He was targeted 98 times and gave up a 65.3 completion rate.  I don’t have him in the red, however, because 1) I think he underperformed and 2) I think a move to free safety could help him.

T22.  Roy Williams: C+ (77.0)

I just don’t think Williams fits in well with what the Cowboys do on offense.  He has a knack for catching touchdowns (13.5 percent touchdown rate) and led the team in yards-per-attempt (9.12), but how much value can he add to a receiver corps with Austin and Bryant ahead of him?

24.  Keith Brooking: C (76.7)

Brooking’s production may not have a chance to decline if he’s out of Dallas in 2011.  He tallied 23 less tackles in 2010 as compared to the prior season despite playing more snaps.

25. Sam Hurd: C (75.8)

I think it’s about time to part ways with Hurd.  He’s tremendous on special teams, but No. 4 receivers should possess the upside to potentially be a future starter.  Hurd doesn’t.

26.  Stephen Bowen: C (75.4)

Will Bowen even be a Cowboy in 2011?  If so, he seems to be the most likely defensive end to improve.  His 4.9 percent pressure rate was outstanding, so the sacks will come.  Rob Ryan reportedly loves Bowen’s game tape as well.

T27.  Jason Hatcher: C (75.0)

I predicted a breakout season for Hatcher, but it never came.  Receiving only 257 snaps will do that, but he did lead the defensive ends in sack and hit rates.  He’s probably in a battle with Bowen for a roster spot.

T27.  Marcus Spears: C (75.0)

Spears was the Cowboys’ only legitimate run-stuffing defensive end this season.  His tackle rate of 6.1 percent was well ahead of runner-up Jason Hatcher.

29. Marion Barber:  C- (71.3)

Barber would be a “D” player if he wasn’t so good in pass protection.  Still, he offers no value to the ‘Boys anymore as a runner or pass-catcher.  He’s actually a poor short-yardage runner now, converting on only 66.7 percent of plays with 1-3 yards-to-go.

30.  Igor Olshansky:  C- (70.2)

Olshansky is supposedly a stud against the run, but I gave him a “C” in run defense.  I’ll be pissed if he’s in Dallas next year.

31.  Josh Brent: D+ (69.0)

Brent wasn’t as good as people believe (due to low expectations), recording zero sacks, one quarterback hit, and three pressures.  I think he has potential to be a solid rotational player in the future, but right now he doesn’t possess starter ability.

32.  Alan Ball: D+ (67.7)

Ball yielded a 63.0 percent completion rate (despite playing deep on almost every play) and seven touchdowns (on only 27 targets).  I’m undecided on if Ball should stay in Dallas, but he damn well shouldn’t be starting at free safety.

33.  Barry Church: D (66.3)

I liked Church in the preseason, but he missed 28.6 percent of tackles and tallied a terrible 239.51 DCT Pass Defense Rating.  He has nowhere to go but up.

34.  Mike Jenkins: D (64.6)

I’d bet all the money I own that Jenkins will improve in 2011.  If he allows 11.17 yards-per-attempt again, I’d be in utter amazement.

35.  Marc Colombo: D- (63.0)

Nine sacks.  11 pressures.  40 quarterback hits.

————————————————

Last season, I handed out nine As, 13 Bs, 11 Cs, and two Ds.  The Cowboys’ lack of 2010 success was depicted in the overall player grades, as the number of As dropped to only two this season, while the number of Ds jumped to five (there were 16 Bs and 12 Cs).

Average Position Grades

T1. Tight Ends: B+ (89.5)
T1.  Outside Linebackers: B+ (89.5)
3.  Quarterbacks: B (83.5)
4.  Wide Receivers: B- (80.2)
5.  Inside Linebackers: B- (80.1)
6.  Running Backs:  C+ (78.8)
7.  Offensive Line: C+ (78.1)
8.  Cornerbacks: C (75.0)
9.  Defensive Line: C (74.3)
10.  Safeties: C- (73.7)

Although this list is a good baseline for talent evaluation, it isn’t actually how I would rate the positions.  This is because 1) the grades above are for the 2010 season only and 2) they are simply the averages of all players at a position (which may not be the best way to do things since the impact of one player isn’t necessarily the same of another. . .Alan Ball vs. Barry Church, for example).

Perhaps a more proper method of assigning overall position grades is to alter the weight each player contributes to his position by factoring in the number of snaps he played.  Thus, Ball’s grade would count 8.29 times as much as that of Church (987 snaps vs. 119).

After factoring in snap counts, here are the revised position grades:

Weighted Position Grades

1. Tight Ends: A- (90.0)
2. Outside Linebackers: B+ (89.3)
3. Quarterbacks: B- (83.0)
4. Wide Receivers: B- (81.0)
5. Running Backs:  B- (80.9)
6. Inside Linebackers: C+ (79.3)
7. Offensive Line: C+ (77.9)
8. Safeties: C (76.4)
9. Defensive Line: C (75.3)
10. Cornerbacks:  C (74.0)

No dramatic differences, but still interesting nonetheless.  The Cowboys’ 2010 decline is also evident in the number of players I labeled as ‘declining’ (in red), jumping from six (in 2009) to 10.  The good news is the number of players who I expect to perform better in 2011 is the same as last season–13.  A lot of that has to do with players like Jenkins, Bowen, and Austin who simply underperformed so much in 2010 that they’re bound to play better next season.

And finally, listed below are the most overrated and underrated players on the Dallas Cowboys (in no particular order).  These choices are based on a combination of the 2010 grades and public perception.  Thus, guys like Colombo and Ball aren’t overrated because everyone knows they are that bad, while players like Ware and Witten aren’t considered underrated because their talent is clear.

Overrated

Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Marion Barber, Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Barry Church, Doug Free

Underrated

Victor Butler, Martellus Bennett, Gerald Sensabaugh, Kyle Kosier, Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee

2011 Draft Analysis

So, how should these findings influence the Cowboys’ draft plans in 2011?   Well, the idea that the team should target an outside linebacker in the first round, such as UNC’s Robert Quinn or Missouri’s Aldon Smith, seems unfounded.   Anthony Spencer was by no means outstanding in 2010, but he wasn’t nearly as poor as most people believe.   The continued emergence of Victor Butler and the addition of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator should help Dallas’ defense quite a bit.   There are surely more glaring needs than a pass-rusher, at least.

Of course, it is possible that Ryan’s unique schemes that implement a multitude of pass-rushers at one time could have the team viewing outside linebacker as a larger need than usual.  Is the “need” and potential value of a pass-rusher enough to justify passing on a surefire starter at a position that is a gaping hole, such as right tackle?  Only time will tell.

While I do think Mike Jenkins will rebound at cornerback, I am scared about Terence Newman’s age.   He may not even be in Dallas in 2011, and Orlando Scandrick is best-suited for the slot.  Bryan McCann showed some good things last season, but it isn’t as if he is ready to take over a starting job.   Thus, the ‘Boys may want to take a really hard look at trading up for LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson if he drops to No. 6 overall.   As I explained in my article on all of the Cowboys’ potential draft day trade scenarios, that move would probably cost the Cowboys their third-round pick.   Is that too hefty a price?    Not if Peterson is the top player on your board.

Outside of those two positions, there aren’t many “surprises” in my 2010 player grades. We all know the offensive line, defensive end and safety positions need to be upgraded.   I do think the acquisition of a space-eating nose tackle and the subsequent move or current tackle Jay Ratliff to defensive end could upgrade to positions, but that is for another article.

A final thought. . .some might argue that my ranking of the defensive line behind the offensive line suggests the Cowboys would be smart to upgrade the defensive end spot in the first round.  I do not think that is true at all, even if the best player available is a defensive end.  I have explained this concept at length in past articles on selecting the best player available. Put simply, the quality of the offensive tackles who figure to be available in the second round is weak.  Meanwhile, there are legitimate options at defensive end who could very well fall to the 40th overall selection.  Thus, even if the Cowboys have a player like J.J. Watt rated slightly ahead of one like Tyron Smith, selecting Smith is the right move because the team can secure a starting-quality defensive end in the second round.  A Smith/Cameron Heyward combination, for example, is far superior to a Watt/Orlando Franklin one.

The lone exception to this idea is if the Cowboys feel confident they can trade back up into the first round (or top of the second) to secure an offensive tackle.  Thus, trading down to, say, No. 14 and selecting Watt could be justified if the Cowboys have confidence they can move up from the No. 40 selection to grab a player like Ben Ijalana.  Another option is trading down and selecting an offensive tackle anyway, then moving back up for a highly-rated defensive end or, as I prefer, Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor.  In that scenario, the ‘Boys would upgrade three spots (right tackle, nose tackle and defensive end) with just two selections.

I actually prefer a trade-down scenario because it allows for the acquisition of two instant-impact players.  At this point, it is actually looking as though a trade down may be the likely move.  I think it may also be the smart one.

There are bound to be some of you who disagree with these rankings and subsequent draft analysis.  Explain why below.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

 

By Jonathan Bales

Jason Garrett Tipping Plays Via Formation: ‘Double Tight Strong’ Usage in 2010

Jonathan Bales

Note that my results also include "Double Tight I," which is the same as above with the fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback.

In my study on the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of ‘Double Tight Strong’ (left), I noted that the Cowboys ran a strong side dive 71.6 percent of the time they lined up in the formation (83 of 116 plays), including 85.7 percent of the time when they motioned into it (42 of 29 plays).

Defensive coordinators clearly caught on to this trend, as the Cowboys’ yards-per-rush on the strong side dives decreased from 7.8 over the first five weeks of the season to just 4.4 over the rest of the year (including only 3.2 against all teams but the Raiders).  Thus, the opposition was fully aware of this trend of Garrett’s coming into the 2010 season.  The Cowboys’ efficiency on “Double Tight Strong/I” plays is representative of that.

The Cowboys lined up in the formation 81 times in 2010 (35 fewer than 2009, at least), running the ball 82.7 percent of the time.   Of those runs, 52 (77.6 percent) were strong side dives.  The overall strong side dive rate (including passes) was 64.2 percent–down from 71.6 in 2009–but still way, way too high.  Once again, when Dallas motioned into the formation, the rate of strong side dives increased (to 72.7 percent of all plays).

Unlike 2009, however, the Cowboys did not find success on these strong side dives at any point during the season.  The ‘Boys averaged just 2.15 yards-per-carry on the 52 strong side dives in 2010.  On all other runs (almost all to the weak side), the Cowboys averaged 4.87 yards-per-rush.  In 2009, Dallas also found far more success when running weak side out of “Double Tight Strong”–averaging 6.7 yards-per-rush–indicating that defenders truly have been keying in on the strong side dive.

Of course, Garrett loves to use this formation in short-yardage situations, so could this be the culprit for the lack of yardage?  Not really, as the average yards-to-go on “Double Tight Strong” plays was 5.94–lower than the overall rate, but not by an incredibly large margin.  Actually, 37 of the plays from the formation came with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That’s 45.7 percent.  An additional 15 of the plays came with 5+ yards-to-go, meaning 64.2 percent of the plays came in situations that were clearly not short-yardage.

And it wasn’t as if the Cowboys were thriving on the short-yardage plays either.  Of the 29 plays from “Double Tight Strong” with four or less yards-to-go (and nearly all of them were with exactly one yard-to-go), the Cowboys converted a first down or touchdown just 13 times.  That’s only a 44.8 percent conversion rate on very short-yardage plays. Kind of sick.

One might argue that some predictability can be good if utilized correctly.  The 64.2 percent strong side dive rate might be less detrimental to an offense, for example, if they use playaction passes to take some shots downfield on the other plays.  Thus, an offense could “concede” a strong side dive or two (or 52, apparently) to set up big plays in the passing game.

That sounds great in theory, but Garrett didn’t call many “high-upside” plays out of the formation at all.  Actually, the average distance of the Cowboys’ passes from “Double Tight Strong” was just nine yards.

Ultimately, this formation will continue to haunt Dallas until 1) the strong side dive rate decreases dramatically or 2) Garrett utilizes the predictability from the formation to set up big pass plays.  Garrett has improved in a number of areas as a play-caller over the past few years, but focusing on improving “Double Tight Strong” calls (or scrapping it from the playbook altogether) should be high on his list of priorities.

By Jonathan Bales

Tony Romo Versus Blitz, Perceived Blitz in 2010

Jonathan Bales

It is quite obvious that Tony Romo’s improvisation skills are vital to the success of the Cowboys’ offense.  He has used his quick feet and athleticism to make the offensive line look above average in pass protection–or at least superior to reality–for years.

The vast majority of Romo’s “schoolyard” plays–the ones where he jukes and dodges defenders, all the while keeping his eyes downfield in search of the big play–have come on blitzes.  Not only are there more defenders for Romo to elude (and thus less in coverage), but the quarterback is also underrated in his ability to diagnose defenses and promptly hit the open receiver.

Most of Romo’s reads get made before the snap.  How often do you see the play clock tick down to just one or two seconds before the Cowboys snap the ball?  This is because the team uses every available second to call the play(s), diagnose the defense, and make the necessary adjustments.

As I looked into my database of Cowboys’ 2010 offensive snaps, I noticed a trend that seemed to confirm these ideas.  I track not only when a defense blitzes, but also when they show a blitz pre-snap.  Most of Romo’s mistakes over the past few years have seem to come in two situations:

  1. When defenses don’t blitz and sit back in zone coverage, forcing Romo to make accurate throws, and
  2. When defenses show blitz pre-snap but back into a safe coverage

In the chart below, you can see that Romo was incredible against the blitz this past season.  His 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on blitzes is far better than the 5:6 ratio he displayed against “regular” defenses.  Romo is particularly outstanding when he knows a blitz is on the way, recording a ridiculous 136.7 passer rating in these situations.  His 9.45 adjusted yards-per-attempt is ridiculous.  (AYPA subtracts sack yardage and 45 yards per interception–the number of yards, on average, each interception is “worth” in terms of a team’s win probability.  Thus, AYPA is an awesome tool for assessing a quarterback’s value against the blitz).

When teams did not blitz Romo in 2010, however, he was slightly below average.  His passer rating his historically always been lowest when a defense shows blitz but then backs off, and that was again the case in 2010 (71.3 rating).  Romo’s 2.04 AYPA in such situations tells the whole story.

I think Romo’s failures stem from the importance he places on pre-snap reads.  When defenses show a blitz but then don’t come, Romo’s original read is usually taken away.  He can then sometimes panic, and although I truly believe Romo is a tremendous talent and a Championship-level quarterback, he does not possess incredible accuracy.  He makes a lot of his plays by buying extra time to allow receivers to become wide open.

This would explain why he still does well when teams do not show blitz but then end up coming after him.  What he sees post-snap may differ from his pre-snap reads, but he possesses not only a quick release, but also the athleticism to make good things happen that may not have been designed in the original play.

Overall, it seems clear Romo performs much better when he “knows” whether or not a blitz is coming.  When teams do not blitz, his passer rating is 15.3 points higher and his AYPA 3.53 yards better when teams do not show it as opposed to feigning a blitz.  When defenses do send extra defenders, Romo’s passer rating is 1.58 times as high and his AYPA nearly four yards superior if the defense “shows” it as opposed to disguising their intentions.

So you want to stop Romo?  Year in and year out, it had been proven to not blitz him often, but feel free to act as if you will.  When you do blitz, you better disguise that as well.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part X: Quarterbacks

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbackstight endswide receivers, running backs, and offensive line.

—————————————————

Tony Romo Passer Rating by Location

Thus far, I have dissected the 2010 play of the Cowboys players at every position other than quarterback.  I saved the best for last.

Grading quarterback is much different than doing so for the other positions in that statistics, while plentiful for the position, are less indicative of a quarterback’s success than for other players.  The primary responsibility of a quarterback is to lead his team to victory, no matter what it takes.  Some quarterbacks put up huge numbers, but simply are not winners.

Tony Romo is not one of those quarterbacks.  Yes, he has the ability to put up flashy stats, but he is also a tremendous leader.  While that statement is far from a consensus opinion, particularly among ill-informed fans, I whole-heartedly believe Romo leads by example and is even more vocal than most realize.

Romo’s detractors will point to the success of Jon Kitna this season as evidence that Romo thrives because of the offense, not any elite ability of his own.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Cowboys were successful with Kitna this season because they made acquiring a top-notch backup quarterback a priority.  Kitna is superior to many of the starting quarterbacks in the league, but he’s not on the level of Romo.

Nonetheless, I have compiled a wide range of statistics and analysis on both Romo and Kitna.  Some of these numbers are taken from previous articles, and some are unique.  The stats (representing on-field play), though, will only make up half of my final grade  for the quarterbacks.  The other half will consist of leadership and intangibles.

Grades

  • Tony Romo

On-Field Play: B

There’s no doubt that Romo struggled some during his 5+ games in 2010.  He threw seven interceptions–just two less than his 16-game total in 2009.  Still, it wasn’t as if Romo was horrible.  He was on pace to set a career-high for completion percentage (by far, at 69.5 percent).  Despite the pedestrian 11:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Romo’s 94.5 passer rating was on par with his 95.5 career rating.

Here are a few other notes on Romo’s 2010 play:

  • Romo was the most inaccurate when throwing over the middle of the field this season.  That stat seems to be susceptible to fluctuations, as he was actually the most accurate over the middle during the prior season.
  • His lack of accuracy over the middle is reflected in his location-based passer ratings.  The highest passer rating Romo recorded in zone over the middle of the field was just 96.0, compared to 118.2 on the left side and a perfect 158.3 on the right side.
  • Romo wasn’t very successful with his checks in 2010.  The offense averaged 0.72 extra yards-per-pass on Romo’s pass audibles, but a full yard less per carry on Romo’s run checks.

Leadership/Intangibles: B

Romo reportedly put in just as much time after his season-ending injury as he did before it.  He helped Kitna in any way possible.  Let’s not forget this guy also tried to return to the field just minutes after fracturing his collarbone.

  • Jon Kitna

On-Field Play: C+

Jon Kitna Passer Rating by Location

People tend to mold their interpretation of events based on preconceived notions.  I talk a lot about how fans tend to overvalue the play of rookies/undrafted players/backups due to low expectations.  Meanwhile, high-profile players get devalued because people think they should be at their peak at all times.  This phenomenon is why many have written off Anthony Spencer and, inversely, overvalued Kitna.

Don’t get me wrong–Kitna was really good in 2009 and proved he’s one of the premiere backup quarterbacks in the NFL.  But he’s not Tony Romo.  Not even close.

Kitna put up just a 4:3 interception ratio and 88.9 passer rating.  Let’s be real. . if Romo put up those numbers fans would be calling for his head.

Here’s more of Kitna’s stats in 2010:

  • Kitna was by far the most inaccurate when throwing to the right side of the field (27.2 percent of passes that way were off-target).

  • Kitna’s passer rating was generally superior to Romo’s on short throws, and vice versa on deep throws.  This seems to fit with the respective skill set of each quarterback.  Kitna is a more accurate quarterback who likes to drop back, plant his foot into the ground, and deliver the football in rhythm. It’s difficult to be incredibly accurate 20+ yards downfield, however.  Romo’s accuracy and passer rating is best on long throws not because of his arm, but his legs.  Romo’s mobility allows him to buy time so receivers can get wide open down the field.
  • Amazingly, Kitna threw nearly the exact same number of passes to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.
  • Kitna checked into a run the exact same number of times as a pass.  The ‘Boys averaged nearly a full yard more per rush on Kitna’s checks, but 0.40 less yards-per-pass.

Leadership/Intangibles:  B+

Kitna’s fire is contagious.  Nearly immediately after taking over the starting gig, Kitna became a much more vocal player.  This isn’t a criticism of Romo, but it sure is fun to see that sort of energy from your quarterback.

2010 Overall Quarterback Grades

1. Tony Romo: B (85.0)

  • 2009 Grade: A (94.0)

2.  Jon Kitna: B- (82.0)

  • 2009 Grade: None

I didn’t hand out a grade to third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, but I did see some positives during the season.  He’s very mobile, making things happen with his feet, and his arm is of adequate strength.  He needs to improve upon his decision-making and must become a more accurate passer when in the pocket, but there are signs for optimism.

Still, he’s not ready for extended playing time.  Everyone loves the bench players until they actually have to play.  I’ll leave you with the same Michael Irvin quote I posted in last year’s quarterback grades:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony?  Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part IX: Running Backs

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbackstight ends, wide receivers, and offensive line.

———————————————

In Part VII of my “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, I analyzed the efficiency of six Cowboys’ offensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection.  In doing so, I attempted to isolate one component of the offense as effectively as possible to determine the worth of individual players.

In reality, of course, offenses are holistic systems.  The productivity of each position indirectly affects the ability of players at each other position to properly perform.  In the running game, the success of linemen is affected greatly by the talent level of the running backs, and vice versa.

Today, I will study the productivity of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice.  These three players all contributed in different ways and in distinct situations, so keep that in mind when analyzing the statistics gathered from my film study.

Notes:

  • In this particular analysis, I will grade each running back on four components:  short-yardage running, overall running, receiving, and pass protection.
  • The four components of the overall grade are not all equal.  They will be weighted 15/45/20/20, respectively.
  • As always, the best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.

Grades

  • Marion Barber

Short-Yardage Running: C-

Barber’s short-yardage running was once again sub-par in 2010.  Other than a 5/5 day against Minnesota (which I think was due more to the Vikings’ defensive scheme than Barber’s ability), Barber proved he simply doesn’t possess the power he once did.  He frequently stumbles before even receiving the handoff and, for whatever reason, dances in the backfield instead of hitting the hole hard.  He converted only 75.0 percent of plays with one yard-to-go.

Overall Running: D-

Barber averaged only 3.7 yards-per-carry in 2010, including just 2.2 YAC-per-rush–down from 2.7 in ’09.  There were very few times when Barber appeared even somewhat explosive.  The numbers are really irrelevant here–anyone who watched Cowboys games this season knows Barber is done.

Receiving: C-

What was once a strength of Barber’s game is now a weakness.  Barber is sure-handed, but he appears extremely hesitant after catching the ball and turning upfield.  Barber should know he’s a power back (or was one) who shouldn’t try to make a ton of moves.  He tries to run like Barry Sanders, but he has the agility of Refrigerator Perry.

Pass Protection:  B+

This is really where Barber can still help the Cowboys.  I attributed zero sacks to him in 2010.  His success stems from a willingness to do the dirty work.  Barber appears to take pride in his blocking, which is admirable.

The problem now is that Barber’s diminished skill set as both a runner and receiver make it difficult to put him on the field on third down.  Sure, he can block, but if he poses no threat out of the backfield, why not put another tight end in the game?

  • Felix Jones

Short-Yardage Running: A-

Some readers were a bit stunned when I provided Jones with the highest sh0rt-yardage running grade last season, but in 2010 it became clear he’s the team’s best option with just a few yards left for a first down.  Jones converted 88.2 percent of runs with 1-3 yards-to-go.  Only 9.2 percent of Jones’ runs came in such situations, however–less than half the rate of Barber–so Jason Garrett would be smart to utilize Jones more on short-yardage plays.

2010 Snap Counts: Barber-292, Jones-571, Choice-220

Many fans, analysts, and coaches argue that you need a humongous running back for short-yardage plays, but I disagree.  Mammoth backs like Brandon Jacobs can sometimes get stuffed in short-yardage situations because they lack the lateral quickness to dodge defenders.  If the primary hole is clogged, it’s difficult for any running back, regardless of size, to power his way through.  Instead, the ability to make one quick cut to elude a defender and then get upfield seems to me to be a more effective method of converting short-yardage plays.

Perhaps that’s why you see Jones with a 13.0 percent broken tackle rate–by far the best on the team.

Overall Running:  B+

Jones’ 4.3 yards-per-carry isn’t stellar, but it’s certainly superior to the 3.7 average from Barber and Choice.  Jones’ big-play ability gives the Cowboys a much-needed explosive dimension on the ground, but I still think Garrett needs to do a better job of utilizing Jones’ skill set.  Jones averaged 10.0 and 7.3 yards-per-carry, respectively, on counters in 2009 and 2010.  The 35 total counters in that sample size is reaching the point where we can say Jones’ 9.0 overall yards-per-carry on counters is statistically significant.

In getting Jones out on the edge more often, I think you’ll see his yards-per-rush increase pretty significantly in 2011.

Receiving:  A-

Jones’ improvement in the passing game was extremely valuable to the ‘Boys this season.  According to my numbers, Jones caught a ridiculous 48 of the 50 passes intended for him (that’s 96 percent folks).  His 9.38 yards-per-reception average is incredible, particularly when you factor in the predictability of some of Jones’ catches.  Garrett often dialed up the same “flare/screen” from the formation below (Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace), but Jones’ explosiveness made up for it.

Pass Protection:  C-

If I was Jason Garrett, I would have Jones work on pass protection more than any other aspect of his game.  The Cowboys need Jones on the field on as many downs as possible, but Jones’ lack of pass protection makes that difficult.  I credited him with yielding three sacks despite being in pass protection on just 107 snaps.  Jones possesses the ability to be fine in pass protection, so right now it’s about his mindset.

  • Tashard Choice

Short-Yardage Running: B-

Choice’s sample size of 10 short-yardage runs isn’t enough for those stats to mean much, so we have to judge his performance with film.  To me, Choice did just an average job on short-yardage in 2010, but I think he’s a better player than what his numbers indicate (70.0 percent conversion rate).  He doesn’t have incredible explosiveness, but he always seems to be either elusive or strong enough to adequately perform his job.

Still, Choice’s yards-after-contact and broken tackle numbers need to improve.

Overall Running:  C-

Again, I don’t think Choice’s numbers match up with his actual ability.  I think Choice is the type of player who performs well as he becomes accustomed to the flow of the game.  He needs some time to get going.  Is that ideal?  No, but it does appear to be the case.

When Choice has received that extra playing time in the past, he’s done well.  He’ll never be a feature back, but I certainly believe he can be a very productive No. 2 option.  He’s solid in every aspect of running back play, but will Garrett even want him around in 2011?

Receiving:  B-

Choice is a natural pass-catcher.  Again, he’s not flashy and won’t take a screen pass 60 yards to the house, but he will consistently put himself in position to convert first downs.

Pass Protection:  B

I think Choice regressed just a bit in his pass protection this season.  He really struggled in the preseason, but he got it cleaned up (for the most part) during the regular season.  I attributed one sack and three pressures to Choice.

Overall 2010 Running Back Grades

1.  Felix Jones: B (86.3)

  • 2009 Grade: B+ (89.8)

2. Tashard Choice: C+ (78.9)

  • 2009 Grade: B+ (87.3)

3. Marion Barber:  C- (71.3)

  • 2009 Grade: C+(77.2)

In 2009, Barber received 54.3 percent of the regular season rushes, with Jones garnering 29.5 percent and Choice 16.2 percent.  In the offseason, I called for the breakdown to be 50/30/20 for Jones, Choice, and Barber, respectively.

The actual breakdown was remarkably similar (51/31/18), except Barber received the second-most carries.

In 2011, that breakdown is almost certain to change again, as either Barber or Choice will likely be out of Dallas.  Barber’s contract and diminishing ability make him the logical choice to go, but Garrett seems to still like Barber (and dislike Choice).

In my opinion, it will be a tragedy if Barber is still in a Cowboys uniform in 2011.  With Choice more than capable of handling third downs, there’s really no place for Barber anymore.  He’s poor in short-yardage situations and is terrible in the open-field.  To me, the only thing Barber can do better than a mid-round (or even late-round) draft pick is protect the quarterback.

The ‘Boys will obviously need to acquire another running back if either Barber or Choice leave.  Some mid/late-round draft possibilities include Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray, Cal’s Shane Vereen, Syracuse’s Delone Carter, Clemson’s Jamie Harper, and Wisconsin’s John Clay.

By Jonathan Bales

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

Jonathan Bales

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

——————————————

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.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part III: Inside Linebackers

Jonathan Bales

Thus far this offseason, I have graded the Cowboys’ tight ends and outside linebackers.  Today, I’ll take a look at the inside linebackers.

Inside linebacker can be a tough position to grade because the nature of the position varies so much from scheme to scheme.  In a 3-4 defense, inside linebackers rarely rack up a ton of tackles because they have just one defensive tackle to eat up blocks in front of them.

Despite the fact that 3-4 inside linebackers rarely receive much glory, the Cowboys’ inside backers received even less hype than normal for their 2010 play, and rightfully so.  Both Bradie James and Keith Brooking, who received the majority of the defensive snaps at the position, saw a sharp decline in their play from ’09.

To keep things consistent from that season, I will be using the same grading system (below).

  • Chart Key:  TA=Thrown at, Yds/Att=Yards-per-attempt, PD=Passes defended, Missed %=Tackles missed/Tackles attempted
  • The best stats are circled in blue and the worst in red.
  • The final grades for the inside linebackers are weighted 4:2:1 in terms of run defense, pass defense, and leadership, respectively.

Grades

  • Bradie James

Run Defense: B

James’ run defense numbers were comparable to that of last season.  He recorded a slightly higher tackle rate, but that small difference could be due to the Cowboys being down late in games, thus allowing the opposition to run the football.  Nonetheless, James still has something left in the tank as a run defender.

Pass Defense: C-

It’s really amazing how steady James’ pass defense numbers remained from 2009 to 2010.  He was thrown at almost the exact same number of times, yielding a comparable rate of receptions for nearly the exact same yards, making his yards/attempt and yards/snap nearly identical.

That doesn’t mean those numbers were good, however.  James struggles in the open field.  His 83.9 percent reception rate is far too high, as is the 7.6 yards/attempt.  He also recorded just one interception and not a single sack (despite a lot of early season blitzes).

Leadership:  B-

James is certainly an All-Pro in terms of his work ethic and mindset, but something seemed to be missing from his game in 2010.  He still showed the ability to fire up the troops, but that characteristic needs to be shown more when things are going poorly.

  • Keith Brooking

Run Defense:  C

In 2010, Brooking tallied 23 less tackles than he did in 2009 despite playing more snaps.  His rate of missed tackles also increased slightly.

Pass Defense:  C+

Brooking’s pass defense statistics have been the most surprising numbers I have gathered from any individual player so far this offseason.  I always go into my grading with as open of a mindset as possible, but in the back of my head I thought Brooking’s numbers must be awful.  He seemed to struggle mightily against the pass all season.

The reality is that, while Brooking was far from great, he wasn’t remarkably bad.  He yielded a lower rate of receptions than in 2009 and a comparable yards/attempt.  His sack total was down, but his five passes defended show he was, at times, in position to make plays.

Brooking’s pass defense is the perfect example of how a few big plays (positive or negative) can distort our view of a player’s true ability.

Leadership:  B-

See James, Bradie.  I was really looking for Brooking to step up and once again be the vocal leader of this team, but the fire and passion he displayed from 2009 seemed to be cooled this season.  He’s still a tremendous example of how to be a pro, but the Cowboys need to find someone to lead them through times of adversity.

  • Sean Lee

Run Defense: B-

Lee’s snap count is low enough that we can’t base the entire grade off of his statistics.  His numbers are great (his 0.12 tackles-per-play is outstanding), but I saw him get blown off the ball quite a few times this season.

The good news is Lee’s game improved dramatically from the beginning of the year until the end.  This kid is going to outwork everyone until he becomes the player the Cowboys need, which is all you can ask.

Pass Defense:  B

Pass defense figured to be Lee’s strength as a rookie, and it was.  Although he was thrown at just 11 times, he yielded a team-low 4.9 yards-per-attempt and 0.33 yards-per-snap.  If he can keep his interception rate high while playing more snaps, he’ll be the sort of big-play catalyst the ‘Boys seek on defense.

Leadership:  C

This is so difficult to determine right now.  Lee definitely took a back seat to the veterans in terms of vocal leadership, as he should during his rookie season.  His work ethic and practice habits are incredible, however, which are forms of leadership that may be just as important as the vocal form.

Final Inside Linebacker Grades

Sean Lee B- (82.4)

  • 2009 Grade: None

Bradie James: B- (81.3)

  • 2009 Grade: B (84.1)

Keith Brooking: C (76.7)

  • 2009 Grade: B+ (87.6)

Conclusions

Overall, the 2010 inside linebacker grades are quite shocking.  I would have rated the backers James, Lee, Brooking in terms of film study alone.  Lee’s numbers were surprising across the board.  I think he’ll make a big jump in 2010.

Brooking’s pass defense statistics weren’t as horrible as most people imagined, although they were far from great.  It’s pretty clear his leadership no longer outweighs his average (and now sub-par) play.  The Cowboys might be smart to part ways with him this offseason and let Lee show what he can do.

James still has value as a run defender, but he’s becoming a serious liability in the passing game.  The Cowboys should look at replacing him in nickel situations next season and allowing Lee to remain on the field.  Too much playing time for a guy with only 163 career snaps on defense?  The numbers indicate not.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Rushing/Passing Efficiency By Down

Jonathan Bales

I’ve talked before about why I believe the Cowboys should throw more often on first down, particularly out of running formations.  Despite the league-wide transition to an emphasis on throwing the football, defenses still tend to primarily defend the run on first down.

Well, I sorted through my 2010 play database today to determine the Cowboys’ efficiency on first down passes.  I quickly realized the numbers were relatively useless without a comparison to statistics on other downs, so I calculated those as well.  Then, I postulated that an even stronger down-to-down comparison of passing statistics would be accomplished by noting the team’s rushing efficiency too.  The result of all of this is below:

Note: I did not count QB spikes or kneel downs, and sacks/QB rushes are counted into the passing totals.

A few notes:

  • The Cowboys’ completion percentage remains relatively steady, regardless of the down.  I was really surprised to see just a 4.4 percent difference between first and second down passing.
  • You might think the Cowboys would run more on second down than first, but that’s actually not the case.  Nearly two-thirds of second down plays have been passes.
  • As expected, third down passing efficiency trumps that on first and second down.  I would speculate this is due to game situations–defenses don’t mind yielding a 10-yard gain on 3rd and 15.  Still, 8.01 yards-per-attempt is tremendous for any down.
  • The low rushing efficiency on third down stems primarily from 3rd and short situations.  Running on 3rd and 4+ is actually quite successful.
  • The greatest disparity between rushing and passing efficiency comes on third down (passing is 2.36 times as efficient), followed by first down (1.80 times as efficient), and then second down (1.56 times as efficient).  You might ask, “Why not just pass the ball every play?”  Well, aside from the fact that defenses would quickly adjust, running the ball also yields a higher percentage of positive plays–there are no incomplete passes.  A 3rd and 1 run is almost always superior to a pass for this reason.

There are a lot of other conclusions that can be drawn here.  I’d love to hear what some of the DC Times regulars think about this data.