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Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Offensive Line

Jonathan Bales

The bye week comes at an inconvenient time for a Cowboys team that, although a bit banged up, would love to get the bad taste of a 24-point collapse out of their mouths.  For me, though, the timing is good to conduct a review of the first quarter of the season.  Over the next week, I will analyze the performance of each major player on the team, broken down into four parts (offensive line, offensive skill positions, defensive front seven, and secondary).

Quarter-Season Review: Offensive Line

  • Doug Free

After a very promising 2010 season, Free has regressed badly this year.  I really think there is something physically wrong with Free, and there have been rumors of a shoulder injury of some sort.  I have him “credited” with two sacks and a team-leading 10 pressures.  That puts him on pace to give up nearly three times the sacks and twice as many pressures as in 2010 (three and 21, respectively).  On top of that, Free has also been penalized three times already.

In the run game, Free has been poor as well.  He has failed to move well in space, and the offense is averaging just 3.0 yards-per-carry when running behind him.  Until Free picks up his level of play in a significant way, this offense will fail to maximize on their potential.

  • Bill Nagy

Nagy has been the Cowboys’ worst offensive lineman.  He has yielded seven pressures, which puts him on the same pace as Free since the rookie has played 70 less snaps.  The problem is that Nagy plays guard, not the more difficult left tackle position, so that rate is far, far too high.  As a comparison, Leonard Davis gave up 16 pressures last season to lead all interior linemen.  Nagy is on pace for 28+ if he plays the remainder of the year.

So Nagy must have been superior as a run blocker, right?  Not really, as running backs are averaging just 2.4 yards-per-rush when Nagy is at the point of attack.  Yikes.

  • Derrick Dockery

Dockery played hurt for the majority of his 70 snaps, so it is difficult to provide him with a definitive grade.  The good news is that, even hurt, Dockery has played better than Nagy.  Well, that might not necessarily be good news, especially since Dockery’s one pressure yielded in 70 snaps still puts him at around the same pace as Davis last season.  The ‘Boys have a real problem at left guard.

  • Phil Costa

We all know about the horrific snaps, and there is no real way to put a number on that.  What we can put a number on is Costa’s pressures: seven.  Freaking seven!  Andre Gurode gave up eight in all of 2010.  Don’t forget this article.

Costa has blocked fairly well in the run game (the team is averaging 3.5 yards-per-rush behind him, although I think he’s blocked better than the numbers indicate), but his pass protection has to be of major concern to Jason Garrett.  He’s perhaps the largest disappointment on the team to date.

  • Kyle Kosier

Kosier has allowed four pressures, which isn’t stellar, and his ability to get to the second level is in question.  I’ve noticed an obvious decline in production from Kosier this season as compared to 2010.  The major question for Dallas is if that loss of production stems from a decline in ability, or if Kosier has simply played worse than average.  I think it’s the latter, but the remainder of the season will be very telling in terms of Kosier’s future in Big D.  He has given up four pressures and a sack thus far.

  • Tyron Smith

Ah, the lone bright spot on the offensive line.  I’ve seen a few criticisms of Smith in the comments, but the rookie has managed to get off to quite the start, in my view.  Let’s start with the film.  Tyron has simply looked the part thus far in 2011, displaying great fluidity, power, and versatility.  He is truly a do-it-all offensive tackle who probably projects to be the favorite to start at left tackle in 2012.

Now to the numbers.  I have credited Smith with yielding one sack and four pressures.  For an offensive tackle, those aren’t poor numbers.  Actually, they’re quite good.  As a comparison, Marc Colombo gave up nine sacks and 40 pressures last year in the same position.  By the way, Colombo is again leading the league in pressures with 16 through four games, while Smith’s four rank eighth among tackles with 150+ snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

There’s really no question Smith has been the offensive line’s best run blocker, too.   The 4.0 yards the Cowboys are totaling on each rush behind Smith isn’t great, but it is the highest on the offensive line, unfortunately.  Let’s not forget Smith’s toughness, as he miraculously returned to play in the opener after hyperextending his knee just prior to the game.

Grades

  • As always, I will weigh the final grade for each player 60/40 in terms of pass protection over run blocking.

Doug Free

  • Run Blocking:  C-
  • Pass Protection: D-

Overall: D (64.0)

Bill Nagy

  • Run Blocking: D-
  • Pass Protection:  F

Overall: F (67.0)

Derrick Dockery

  • Run Blocking: C
  • Pass Protection: C

Overall: C (75.0)

Phil Costa

  • Run Blocking: C+
  • Pass Protection: F

Overall: D (65.0)

Kyle Kosier

  • Run Blocking: C-
  • Pass Protection: C-

Overall: C- (70.0)

Tyron Smith

  • Run Blocking: B-
  • Pass Protection: B+

Overall: B (86.0)

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Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part II: Outside Linebackers

Jonathan Bales

Last season, I argued that the Cowboys had the league’s top outside linebacker duo.  DeMarcus Ware’s dominance and the emergence of Anthony Spencer in 2009 made the Cowboys’ pass rush outstanding.

That changed in 2010, however, as Spencer was never really able to get going.  He recorded only five sacks on the season and, in the beginning of the year, even struggled against the run.  Meanwhile, second-year outside linebacker Victor Butler came on strong.  After receiving a “D+” run defense grade from me last season, Butler bulked up and proved he can be a complete player in the NFL.

As was the case last year, my outside linebacker grades will be composed of three parts: run defense, pass-rushing, and pass coverage.  Since pass coverage is a secondary focus of the linebackers, it will be weighted less in the final grades.  The small sample size of of plays in which 3-4 outside linebackers are in coverage means two things:

  • The final grade will be weighted heavily toward run defense and pass-rushing (5:4:1 pass-rushing : run defense : coverage).
  • Pass coverage grades will be one of the few grades we determine by the “eye test”, i.e. game film, as opposed to pure statistics.

As always, the charts below display the best statistics within a particular group circled in blue, and the worst in red.

Grades

  • DeMarcus Ware

Run Defense: A-

Ware played over 150 less snaps in 2010, yet he totaled more tackles and missed less than in 2009.  His dominance against the run is what makes him the best 3-4 outside linebacker in football.

Pass-Rushing: A

Ware led the NFL in sacks, recording them at a higher rate than in 2009.  His quarterback hits were down (likely due to stringent roughing-the-passer penalties), but his pressures increased by about 10 percent.  His 56 pressures tied last year’s mark and ranked second in the NFL behind Tamba Hali.

Pass Coverage:  A-

Ware isn’t asked to drop into coverage often (only 11.5 percent of all pass plays), but he’s solid when he does.  According to Pro Football Focus, Ware allowed just 27 yards on 11 attempts that came his way in 2010.  Not bad considering he covers players that are generally quicker than him.

  • Anthony Spencer

Run Defense:  B+

Spencer regressed in all aspects in 2010, but it wasn’t as if his run defense was atrocious.  He still recorded 11 more tackles than Ware, although that number (53) was down from 67 in 2009.  Spencer also missed 10.2 percent of tackles he attempted–not a horrible number, but not “A” quality either.

Pass-Rushing:  B-

Spencer’s pass rush clearly deteriorated in 2010.  I’m not exactly sure what caused it, but my guess is a combination of decreased productivity and a somewhat small sample size.  Remember, sacks (the glory stat for 3-4 outside linebackers) are somewhat fluky.  For example, Spencer’s pressure rate actually increased by 33 percent this season, yet his sack rate decreased by 30 percent.

Pass Coverage:  B-

Spencer was in coverage more often than ever in 2010 (29.4 percent of all pass plays–nearly three times the rate of Ware).  Spencer isn’t quite as athletic as Ware and it shows when he’s in space, as he is often a step or two behind the man he’s covering.

  • Victor Butler

MT% = Missed Tackle Percentage

Run Defense:  B+

Butler turned a blatant weakness into a strength in 2010, as his run defense improved substantially.  After missing 20 percent of tackles he attempted in 2009, Butler didn’t miss on a single tackle this season.  Actually, he recorded the highest tackle rate of any outside linebacker (he made a tackle on 7.6 percent of snaps, compared to 5.6 for Spencer and 4.5 for Ware).

Pass-Rushing:  A-

It’s no secret that I consider pressures to be a better indicator of a pass-rusher’s skills than sacks.  Sacks are incredibly important, but pressures more adequately indicate how often a pass-rusher is doing his job.  In 2010, Butler recorded the highest pressure rate of any outside linebacker and a sack rate near that of Ware.

Pass Coverage:  B

Butler was only in coverage 19 times this season, allowing 11 total yards on four completions.  He has the skill set to be the Cowboys’ most effective outside linebacker in coverage, but we need to see a larger sample size.

Final Grades

1. DeMarcus Ware: A (94.0)

  • 2009 Grade: A (94.0)

2.  Victor Butler: B+ (89.8)

  • 2009 Grade: C (76.0)

3.  Anthony Spencer: B (84.6)

  • 2009 Grade: A- (92.0)

Conclusions

In my opinion, the outside linebacker spot for the Cowboys saw the player with the greatest improvement from 2009, and a player with one of the biggest drop-offs.  Butler’s emergence as a complete player should be the impetus for more playing time in 2011.  If I was the coach of the Cowboys, there would be an open competition in training camp for the starting gig opposite Ware.  If that happens and Dallas gives each man a fair shot, I would expect Butler to come out the Victor.

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Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Final Film Observations, Player Grades



Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted my initial game reactions and post-film study Cowboys-Bears game review.  Today, I will discuss my film study and stat findings in even greater depth.

  • I’ve explained this before, but fullback Chris Gronkowski’s pre-snap alignment is a strong indicator of the Cowboys’ play-calls.  When he lines up closer to the tailback, he is lead blocking on a run play (or receiving the handoff himself).  Otherwise, he runs into the flat in a pass route.  He did this a few times from “Strong” formation on Sunday.

  • In my post-game notes, I remarked that the big reception by Johnny Knox down the field was the fault of both Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball.  I mistook Ball for Gerald Sensabaugh, though.  I’ve watched the play again and again, and Dallas appeared to be in a Cover 3 with Sensabaugh manning the deep middle portion of the field.  He bit up on a crossing route and is most to blame for the 3rd and 15 completion.  Overall, though, Sensabaugh played really well.

Red Zone Play-Calling

The Cowboys ran seven plays in the red zone: three runs for four yards and four passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.  I didn’t like Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling last season, but it has improved this year.

Personnel

  • Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB):  11 plays
  • TE 3 WR, RB: 25 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, RB, FB: 12 plays
  • 2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 19 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, 2 RB: 1 play
  • 3 TE, RB, FB: 2 plays

Formations

After lining up in 25 different formations in Week 1, the Cowboys used 19 on Sunday.

3 Wide Strong (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (4), Double Tight Ace (2), Double Tight Left/Right I (5), Double Tight Left Strong Left (1), Double Tight Right Weak Left (1), Full House (1), Gun 3 Wide Pro (5), Gun TE Spread (18), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun Trips (5), I-Formation (7), Strong (2), TE Spread (2), TE Trips (3), Twins (2), Weak (2), Wildcat (1)

  • The Cowboys motioned on 22 of 70 plays (31.4 percent).  They gained 111 yards on those plays (5.05 yards-per-play).  Here are last year’s motion stats.
  • After calling more draw plays than anyone in the NFL last season, the Cowboys have called just six in all of 2010.  Those plays have totaled only 13 yards.  In my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys draws, I proposed they run far fewer this season, but six may be a bit low.
  • It was obvious that Romo wasn’t himself on Sunday.  He threw 12 off-target passes.  In my 2009 study of Romo’s throws, I noted he threw just over seven off-target passes per game.
  • As you can see below, the Cowboys made an obvious attempt to run the ball inside.  Of their 19 runs, 10 were right up the gut.

Note: Romo's kneel at the end of the first half was not counted.

  • Of the 39 pass plays that Witten was in the game, he went out into a route on 29 of them (74.3 percent).  This is a little bit less than last year’s average, but the Cowboys made up for it by utilizing a lot of two-tight end sets.  Even before Witten went down with a concussion, Martellus Bennett was on the field for 39 of the Cowboys’ 58 plays.  That 67.2 percent rate is nearly double the 38.0 percent rate at which Bennett saw the field in Week One.
  • I suggested that Dallas not run playaction passes because I thought the Bears’ defenders (specifically Julius Peppers) wouldn’t bite on the run fake anyway, so it would basically be a wasted motion.  Nonetheless, the Cowboys ran 12 playaction passes for 80 yards (6.67 yards-per-attempt).

A side note: Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

  • After running 10 screens against Washington, the Cowboys called only two against the Bears: one to Chris Gronkowski for six yards, and one to Felix Jones that fell incomplete.
  • The Cowboys were in a true no-huddle offense on four plays–all passes for a total of 44 yards.

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Player Grades

OFFENSE

  • LT Doug Free: A-

Although he received some help from Martellus Bennett, Free quietly had a really good game.

  • LG Kyle Kosier: C-

Kosier got called for holding once and was generally overmatched at the point-of-attack.

  • C Andre Gurode: C-

Gurode was fine in pass protection but didn’t get much of a push otherwise.  He also had a premature snap.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B-

Davis had a rare false start, but he wasn’t bad on the day.

  • RT Marc Colombo: C-

Colombo is obviously a huge upgrade from Alex Barron, but that doesn’t mean he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

  • WR Miles Austin: A

He’s simply sensational.  Incredible leg drive and ability to come out of breaks, particularly on comebacks, curls, and so on.

  • WR Roy Williams: B

Williams and Romo had their weekly miscommunication, but Williams has played much better than last year.

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

He didn’t get on the field much due to the abundance of two-tight end formations, but he is electric once the ball is in his hands.

  • TE Jason Witten: B

Watching Witten caged up by the trainers on the sideline was excruciating, but he should be fine this week.

  • TE Martellus Bennett: A

Bennett had one hell of a game.  He pancaked defenders multiple times, provided ample protection for Romo, and performed well as a receiver when Witten went down.

  • RB Marion Barber: C

I’m just not seeing it yet.  He’s still great in pass pro though.

  • RB Felix Jones: C-

Jones has been hesitant to hit the hole, dancing too much in the backfield.  For all the hype about him as a receiver, he really isn’t much of a natural pass-catcher.

  • QB Tony Romo: C-

There’s no doubt about it. . .Romo played poorly.  He threw 12 off-target passes and made some poor audibles as well.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

I didn’t study the defense as in-depth as normal, but here are the grades for the players on which I focused.

  • NT Jay Ratliff: B
  • OLB DeMarcus Ware: A-
  • OLB Anthony Spencer: B-
  • ILB Keith Brooking: C-
  • CB Mike Jenkins: C-
  • CB Terence Newman: B-
  • S Alan Ball: C-
  • S Gerald Sensabaugh: A-
  • K David Buehler: D+

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“Grading the’Boys,” Week 1: Cowboys at Redskins

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys’ offense obviously didn’t execute well in Washington, while the defense was just the opposite.  Below are my individual player grades for the game, post-film review.

Player Grades

  • Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips:  C+

He gets an A- as a defensive coordinator, and a D as a head coach.  The Cowboys may have been prepared to play from an ‘Xs and Os’ standpoint, but not from an emotional one.

  • Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett:  C-

I actually liked the design of most of Garrett’s plays.  The Cowboys lined up in 25 different formations and, for the most part, ran unique, innovative plays out of them.  The reason this grade is low is because 1) the offense put up just seven points and 2) the decision to not take a knee before halftime was horrendous.

  • QB Tony Romo: B

Romo was good, but not spectacular.  He was off-target on eight passes, which is just about equal with his per-game average from 2009.  The decision to flip the ball out to Tashard Choice just before halftime may have been a poor one, but he also led a game-winning drive that turned out to be not-so-game-winning.

  • RB Marion Barber: B

Barber showed more explosion than he did in the preseason and his blitz pickup was solid, as usual.  Most importantly, he seems like he’s regained the fire which characterized his play from a few years ago.

  • RB Felix Jones: B-

I thought Jones would get used more than he did.  He received just 10 touches, and there’s really not much to report.

  • RB Tashard Choice:  C-

Normally I don’t put too much weight on any single play, but Choice’s fumble before halftime was a killer.  Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett should have called a quarterback kneel, but Choice has to play smarter as well.

  • WR Miles Austin: A

For anyone who was concerned about Austin’s play after receiving a big contract extension, Sunday night’s game is proof that Austin is the real deal and here to stay.  His blocking was good, too.

  • WR Roy Williams:  C

I’m convinced Williams is a receiver who can be good, but not in the Cowboys’ system.  He never gets particularly wide open, so he needs a quarterback who can put the ball on him and allow him to adjust.  Romo isn’t that–he scrambles and buys time to allow receivers to work their way open.

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

I thought Bryant had a really good debut.  I was shocked by how often Romo targeted him, but he displayed his patented hands and excellent body control.  His catches to start the final drive were clutch.

  • TE Jason Witten:  C+

Witten did well in the run game (and in pass protection), but it almost seemed as if he wasn’t a part of the game plan on offense.  For whatever reason, he just wasn’t getting as open as usual.

  • TE Martellus Bennett:  B

Bennett was really solid in the run game, which is primarily where the Cowboys employed him.

  • LT Doug Free:  C+

You didn’t hear Free’s name called too much against the Redskins, which is a good thing.  He got overpowered at times by Brian Orakpo, but he responded by doing what he does best: using his speed and athleticism to lead the way on counters, screens, and so on.

  • LG Montrae Holland:  B

Not a bad night for the backup.  He missed a stunt on one occasion, but I thought he blocked pretty well in the run game.  The running backs ran behind him quite often, too.  He’s really not much of a downgrade from Kyle Kosier as a run blocker.

  • C Andre Gurode:  B+

I know Gurode gave up a sack, but that stemmed from confusion on his assignment (as opposed to getting beat physically).  Neither is better than the other, but Gurode thoroughly manhandled Albert Haynesworth most of the night.  Let’s hope he can keep that up against players who are trying.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B+

I’ve heard that Davis is old and overrated, but he seems to be the Cowboys’ most consistent lineman to me.

  • RT Alex Barron:  H

For holding.  In all seriousness, Barron performed better than an ‘H’ grade.  He’s all the way up at ‘F.’

  • NT Jay Ratliff:  B-

Ratliff was good, but he got nailed for two costly penalties that really hurt Dallas.  You still want to see him keep his aggression up, though.

  • NT Josh Brent:  C-

Brent actually got a lot of snaps, but he didn’t make too much of an impact.

  • DE Marcus Spears:  B+

There’s a reason Spears is still starting.  He’s crucial to Dallas’ run defense.

  • OLB DeMarcus Ware: A

Ware was all over the place before going down with a neck strain.  Thankfully he’s okay.

  • OLB Anthony Spencer: C

The Redskins really didn’t double-team either outside linebacker that often, meaning Spencer had a rare off-night.

  • OLB Victor Butler:  C-

In his limited snaps, Butler was overpowered in the run game.

  • LB Keith Brooking:  B+

A high grade just for this.

  • LB Bradie James:  B

I’m not really sure why Coach Phillips blitzed the inside backers so often, but it didn’t seem to work.

  • CB Terence Newman:  B

Newman gave up a few completions to Santana Moss, but overall he played pretty well considering how much the ‘Boys blitzed.

  • CB Mike Jenkins:  B-

An ‘A’ in coverage and a ‘D’ against the run.  He’s quickly becoming Deion Sanders (kind of).

  • CB Orlando Scandrick:  B-

The entire secondary looked pretty good.  Scandrick still seems to be just a half step out of position, though.  He’s on the brink of a big-time game.

  • S Gerald Sensabaugh:  C

Sensy struggled some against Chris Cooley and wasn’t particularly devastating in run support.

  • S Alan Ball:  B

As was the case with former Cowboy Ken Hamlin, there really isn’t much to report on Ball.  He didn’t let anyone get deep, which is his primary objective, but he didn’t make any big plays either.

  • K David Buehler:  D

No touchbacks and 0-1 on field goals.

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Mailbag, 8/20/10: Sleepers to Make the 53-Man Roster


Note:  We’ve added a “Gameday” tab above.  Hover over it and you will find pre and post-game notes, grades, and film study observations for every Cowboys game this season.

Q:  How did Travis Bright perform against the Raiders?   Did his run blocking get any better?  How about his pass blocking?  For the strongest guy on the team, he wasn’t explosive against the Bengals.

Dusty McGuire

A: Bright struggled quite a bit against Oakland.  I credited him with giving up a sack, and he was dominated on a few other plays.  He was also over-matched in the run game.  Overall, I gave him a “D” for the game.

Bright’s struggles forced me to leave him off of my latest 53-man roster projection.  Instead, I opted for Phil Costa, whose versatility could be an asset to a Dallas team without a true backup center.  Kyle Kosier was the backup center before he went down with an MCL sprain, but even he never took a snap at the position in his career.

Q:  Who are some sleepers who could make the roster or players who are expected to make it but might not?

Kerry Delmas, Plano, TX

A: There are actually quite a few roster spots up for grabs.  I don’t know how many players are “sleepers” per se, but a few unheralded guys I expect to make the team are supplemental seventh-round nose tackle Jose Brent, cornerback Bryan McCann, tight end Scott Sicko, and guard Phil Costa.

Brent is a high-energy player who reminds me of Jay Ratliff.  I have personally guaranteed he earns a roster spot.  McCann is another one of my favorite players.  Behind the “big three” cornerbacks, he has the best cover skills.  Sicko is almost a necessity after John Phillips season-ending ACL tear, and like I said above, Costa has a great opportunity after Kosier’s injury.

There are also a few players I am not projecting to make the roster, yet still could sneak in with good play over the final three preseason games.  These would be fullback Chris Gronkowski, wide receiver Jesse Holley, safety Danny McCray, and cornerback Teddy Williams.

Gronkowski’s versatility is his biggest asset, although I’m not sure the Cowboys can retain fullback Deon Anderson, Sicko, and him.  Two fullbacks and three tight ends on a pass-first team would be strange.  Holley has been great on special teams and could take Sam Hurd’s roster spot.  I haven’t been as high on McCray as others, but he’s performed well in practice.  Finally, it will be tough for the Cowboys to part ways with the freaky athleticism, speed, and upside of Williams.

As far as big-time “surprise” cuts, don’t expect too many.  However, you could see wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver Sam Hurd, safety Michael Hamlin, inside linebacker Jason Williams, and up to three draft picks not make the squad.

Ogletree has looked terrible over the first two preseason games, although he has apparently turned up the intensity as of late.  If the Cowboys deem Holley ready for prime time, Hurd and his $1.75 million salary will walk.  Hamlin is very unlikely to get released, but he hasn’t shown much in the first two preseason games and there are talented rookies (McCray and Barry Church) breathing down his neck.  Jason Williams looked better in the second preseason game, but the Cowboys may opt to keep another Williams–Leon–over him.  Finally, don’t be surprised to see cornerback Jamar Wall, defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, and right tackle Sam Young not make the team, although Young has the best shot.

Q:  Do you think we will see more screen passes from the Cowboys this season?

Mark Owens, Jacksonville, FL

A: Yes I do, and for a few reasons.  First, the offensive line is obviously a bit suspect right now.  Left guard Kyle Kosier is already going to be out for the first couple of regular season games.  The unit does have the potential to play well, but they also have the potential to implode.  Screen passes are a great way to compensate for a struggling line.

Further, the Cowboys will try to get running back Felix Jones in the open field as much as possible.  While he has yet to show he is a totally natural pass-catcher, screen passes could be an effective way to get him the ball in a non-traditional way, if he can handle it.

The Cowboys also like to run screens to their wide receivers, and with great run-after-catch receivers like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, why not?  You could see even more smoke, bubble, and quick screens this season to combat the blitz, particularly against teams like the Eagles.

The key for Dallas will be being unpredictable in their usage of screen passes.  Last season, the rate of screens more than tripled following playaction passes.  If the Cowboys can utilize them in the right situations, such as when they anticipate a blitz or a heavy pass rush, screens could become an effective tool in their offensive arsenal.

Q:  How do you come up with your overall player grades for each game?

Jonathan Bales (I just wanted to answer this question)

A: Well self, the overall grades (as seen here) are a combination of grades from different components of each position.  For example, I give linemen a run blocking grade and a pass blocking grade.  Because the Cowboys pass 60 percent of the time, I have decided to weight the pass protection 1.5 times as much as the run blocking grade (to represent the 3:2 pass-to-run ratio).  I do a similar thing for each position, and the methodology is basically the same as that which I use for my yearly grades.

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Grading the ‘Boys, Part I: Offensive Line (Pass Protection)

Center Andre Gurode received our highest grade for any lineman.

The Cowboys line is a massive wall of human flesh– one of the largest in the league. The group is composed of five veterans who have great experience playing with one another.

Without looking at any numbers, we know that the ‘Boys line provided some of the biggest running lanes in the NFL. Their size and power made it rather easy, relatively speaking, to drive opponents of the ball.

From time to time, however, the group struggled in pass protection. You can’t have it all, and overall they are an above-average line. Still, providing better pass protection for Romo is essential to the Cowboys’ success. In Minnesota during the playoffs, you saw how poor pass protection can affect an entire offense’s rhythm and productivity.

There are some misconceptions about which linemen are the Cowboys’ most dominant. We believe the film doesn’t lie, and the numbers that are garnered from the tape are proof of that. Take a look at the numbers we obtained from our film study listed on the chart below.

Note: The best percentage for each category is in blue, the worst in red.

Note: Snap count numbers are only those plays in which the players were in pass protection. Also, sack numbers do not add up to total sacks yielded because some were given up by tight ends, backs, or unblocked. Finally, penalty counts are representative of all plays, not just passes.

And now for the grades.

Pass Protection Grades

LT Flozell Adams: D+

Adams struggled mightily in pass protection all season, giving up nine sacks and, perhaps more importantly, a devastating 42 quarterback pressures. It is certainly difficult to block a team’s best pass-rusher, as Flozell had to do more than anyone on the team. Still, we would expect his numbers to be better than this.

Further (and I don’t want to beat a dead horse so I won’t go into great detail), we all know Adams’ struggles with penalties. He had 13 this year, tied for 5th most in the NFL.

LG Kyle Kosier: B+

Kosier is sorely under-appreciated, often labeled by media as the “weak link” of the Cowboys’ line. He gave up just one sack all season, though, and had good numbers in both quarterback hits and pressures allowed. He obviously didn’t face the speed rushers that Adams, Colombo, and Free faced, but his ability to handle defensive tackles much larger than him is impressive.

C Andre Gurode: A

Gurode, in our opinion, had the best season of any Dallas’ linemen. He gave up just three sacks, but hits and pressures are more representative of how well a player performed. He allowed his man to pressure Romo just 2.27 percent of all pass plays, by far the best on the team, and did it while performing a task no other lineman was asked to do: snap the ball.

RG Leonard Davis: A-

It was difficult to determine whether to give Kosier or Davis a higher grade. We ended up giving Davis the slightly higher grade because, while he yielded three more sacks than Kosier, he gave up a lower percentage of quarterback hits and pressures, and also did a fantastic job of not racking up penalties. He allowed just four all season.

RT Marc Colombo: C

Colombo’s numbers actually came out worse than we anticipated. His sack numbers were respectable, but he allowed the highest percentage of QB hits on the team, and his pressures and penalties were nearly just as bad. These numbers also don’t include the Cowboys’ playoff game in Minnesota, where Colombo allowed three sacks and got manhandled all game (albeit probably due to injury).

RT Doug Free: B-

We were interested in discovering how well Free actually performed on the season and how his statistics compared to Colombo’s. As we presumed, his numbers were about average. He didn’t have the worst or best percentages in any category, but overall performed better than Colombo. His hits, pressures, and penalty percentages were all lower than those of the man he replaced (particularly the percentage of hits yielded, which was about 2.5 times as low).

So there you have it. In order of excellence, we rate the 2009 performance of the Cowboys’ linemen, in terms of pass protection, as follows:

1. Andre Gurode: A

2. Leonard Davis: A-

3. Kyle Kosier: B+

4. Doug Free: B-

5. Marc Colombo: C

6. Flozell Adams: D+

This is further evidence that Dallas should move up in the first round to select an offensive tackle for the future. The numbers don’t lie.

In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will grade the line’s run-blocking abilities.