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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.


  • 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.


Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part I: Tight Ends

Jonathan Bales

Last season, I graded every player on the Cowboys (who got a sufficient number of snaps) on their overall performance.  I called it “Grading the ‘Boys,” and enough of you seemed to like it for it to return this year.  Remember that these grades are based on efficiency, not total production.  We start with the tight ends. . .

Tight end is a rather difficult position to grade due to the varying nature of the positional responsibilities.  The league-wide transition to a spread offense has, on many teams, morphed the tight end position from one of versatility (a combination of strength and finesse) into pure finesse.  Great blocking tight ends are often passed over in favor of athletic pass-catchers.

On the Cowboys, however, versatility is still king among the tight ends.  If you can’t block, you can’t play tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.  I personally am glad the Cowboys seek versatility in their tight ends, as it is the characteristic which makes them so valuable.  A defense can implement their nickel personnel to effectively limit the production of a tight end who cannot block well.  The reason tight ends like Jason Witten are so efficient is that their blocking ability forces defenses to stay in their base personnel, providing the offense with mismatches.

Due to the method by which the team employs its tight ends, I will weight the players’ blocking and pass-catching grades equally.  This grading system may not be suitable for a team which uses its tight ends in a different manner, such as the Washington Redskins (yes, that was a knock on Chris Cooley’s blocking ability), but for the Cowboys it is the most accurate way to determine the overall ability of Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, and John Phillips.  A few of the stats (YAC and pressures/hits yielded) were provided by Pro Football Focus.


  • Jason Witten

Blocking:  B+

Witten struggled a bit in the run game early in the 2010 season, but he picked it up later in the year.  His sub-par blocking and limited production in the passing game makes me wonder if he was playing hurt to begin the 2010 campaign.  Either way, Witten quickly returned to usual form.

He yielded two sacks on the season, but not a single quarterback hit or pressure.  Although it may seem as though Witten is always out in a route on pass plays, that’s actually not the case.  Witten stayed in to block on 23.8 percent of passes in 2010, up slightly from 22.9 percent in 2009.  You can see to the left that the Cowboys were slightly more effective with Witten blocking as opposed to in a route, reversing a trend from last season (when the offense averaged nearly two full yards more when Witten was in a route).

Witten also cut his penalty rate down from 11 (in 2009) to five.

Receiving: A

Last season, I provided Witten with an “A-” receiving grade.  This year, his numbers are nearly identical, but he recorded seven more touchdowns (nine total) and half the drops (only three in 2010).  Witten is still below average after the catch (he averaged only 4.1 YAC/reception this season), but his 76.4 percent reception rate is stellar.

The increase in touchdowns should come as no surprise.  Last season, I wrote this in my “Grading the ‘Boys: Tight Ends” segment:

Expect Witten’s touchdown number to increase quite significantly in 2010.  Touchdowns can sometimes be a fluky statistic, and there is nothing inherent in Witten’s game that should make him unable to score.  With the loss of oft-dominating run-blocker left tackle Flozell Adams and the team likely to provide running back Marion Barber with less goal line touches, Witten should see a spike in scoring opportunities.

  • Martellus Bennett

Blocking: A-

Cowboys fans may be unhappy with Bennett’s production as a receiver, but he was dominant as a blocker again in 2010.  He didn’t allow a single sack and yielded only one hit and two pressures, despite being utilized as a blocker on the majority of his snaps.  I was quoted as saying I would rather put Bennett at right tackle than Marc Colombo, and that is still true.  He’s even better in the run game.

Receiving: B-

Bennett improved upon his 2009 receiving campaign by catching 75.0 percent of balls thrown his way (up from 51.7 percent last season).  That rate is right alongside Witten’s.  His 5.6 YAC/reception is also quite impressive, but his three drops (in 44 attempts) is too many.

The Cowboys may want to look at making Bennett more of a focal point in 2011, as he possesses the skill set to become a tremendous all-around tight end.  Right now, the largest reason he is considered a “bust” by fans is simply because he doesn’t receive many opportunities as a pass-catcher.  With Witten getting older, look for Bennett to receive closer to 70 looks next season.

Overall Tight End Grades

1.  Jason Witten: A- (91.0)

  • 2009 Grade: A- (93.0)

2.  Martellus Bennett:  B+ (88.0)

  • 2009 Grade: B- (80.0)


Dallas Cowboys 2010 Quarter-Season Player Grades

Jonathan Bales

In my 2009 “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I used math and statistics to create as objective of grades as possible for each player.  These grades are a bit different.  Not only have I not had adequate time to collect all useful data on each player, but those numbers would also be quite useless.  Through four games, no player has played enough reps for their statistics to be significant.  Instead, these grades are the culmination of what I have seen on film.

WR Miles Austin:  A

Austin has been the Cowboys’ best player all season, hands down.  No one is even close.  He’s caught the ball, run after the catch, and blocked well.  He’s one of the best in the NFL.

OLB DeMarcus Ware:  A-

He’s a beast.  There’s not really much I can tell you about Ware that you don’t already know.

CB Terence Newman:  A-

A healthy Newman has always been a productive one.  At his best, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the league.  Mike Jenkins’ tackling makes you appreciate how talented Newman is in that department too.

WR Roy Williams:  B+

Don’t forget that in March I proclaimed my support for Roy Williams, telling you to not give up on the former UT star just yet.  Well, he’s making me look good so far this season.  The ‘Boys are utilizing his strengths by using him on fades and in-breaking routes.  It’s clear he’s regained his confidence, displaying what have always been above-average hands and body control.

WR Dez Bryant:  B+

Bryant’s opportunities have been limited, but he’s made the most of them.  He has yet to drop a pass and he’s looked explosive after the catch.  The Cowboys need to find a way to get the ball to him more often, even if it means stealing passes from another receiver (anyone except Austin).  And let’s not forget his punt return touchdown.

TE Martellus Bennett:  B+

Bennett with a higher grade than Witten?  He’s earned it.  The kid’s blocking has been extraordinary (as it was last year) and he finally seems to be coming along in the passing game.  Don’t forget that if Bennett “gets it,” which appears to be happening, he’s a much, much more athletic version of Witten.

ILB Bradie James:  B+

James has been one of the lone bright spots for Dallas on defense.  He’s been everywhere, and I’m really shocked at how well he’s played when in coverage.  When he was out for a short time against the Titans, you saw how vital he truly is to the Cowboys.  His only weakness has been pass rushing.

LT Doug Free:  B+

Free has been tremendous this season, exceeding my own expectations by leaps and bounds.  I can only imagine how poor this offensive line would be if Flozell Adams was still here.

TE Jason Witten:  B

Outside circumstances have forced Witten to become less involved than usual thus far in 2010.  The Cowboys lost Marc Colombo early, forcing Witten to stay in to block often.  He’s also suffered a concussion and been forced to play fullback in Chris Gronkowski’s absence.  His blocking has been solid, but he has yet to dominate.

OG Montrae Holland:  B

I wasn’t confident in Holland in the beginning of the season, but he’s played well.  He held his own in the opener in Washington and looked really good after replacing Leonard Davis last week (before going down to injury).

NT Jay Ratliff:  B

Ratliff hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been his dominant self.  I think he’ll have a hell of a second quarter (of the season), as his motor makes it just a matter of time before he breaks out.

DE Marcus Spears:  B

Spears has been really solid against the run.  That’s all that the ‘Boys really ask of him.

QB Tony Romo:  B-

Romo’s play has been quite fluky this season, which is of course never a good thing for a quarterback.  He hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been the same play-making gunslinger to which we’ve become accustomed in years past.  I have confidence this grade will rise by the end of the year.

S Gerald Sensabaugh:  B-

Sensy has stepped up as more of a vocal leader this year.  He played well against Chicago, but he needs to make more plays.  The Cowboys do view their safeties as somewhat interchangeable, but Sensabaugh is usually put in a position in which he can make more plays than Ball, particularly against the run.

OLB Anthony Spencer:  B-

Spencer has always been great against the run, but this season seems to be a repeat of last: Spencer is getting pressure but unable to get the quarterback to the ground.  Hopefully this season ends as last year’s did as well, with Spencer going off in the second half.

RB Felix Jones:  B-

Jones had a tremendous game last week as the Cowboys finally utilized him in the proper manner: on counters and other misdirection plays.  He did look hesitant in the first three weeks of the season, though.

CB Mike Jenkins:  C+

Jenkins really struggled last week against the pass, which is rare.  Hopefully he doesn’t lose his confidence.  He really, really needs to improve his tackling, and that starts with just becoming more willing to do so.  At this point, it is detrimental to the defense.

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Kosier has gotten overpowered at times this year, but he’s been the ‘Boys most consistent lineman behind Free.  That’s sad.  He was the lone lineman to play well last week versus Tennessee.

DE Igor Olshansky:  C

Like Spears, Olshansky is a run-stopper.  He did well in that role last season, but this year he’s gotten blown off the ball at times.  Spears is the superior player at this time.

Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett: C-

Garrett’s play-calling may not look all that different, but trust me when I say it is.  It is far, far less predictable and, despite the outcries of “imbalance,” I actually like the timing of his runs and passes this season.  Note that the offense has not been aided much by the defense.  Still, Garrett’s grade can’t be that high since the Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily in the first two games.

RB Marion Barber:  C-

Barber does the little things like catching the ball out of the backfield and excelling in pass protection, but I just don’t think he’s regained the explosion and power that marked the start of his career.

C Andre Gurode:  C-

Gurode’s been bad.  As usual, he’s struggled with speed rushers inside and seems to get fooled easily by twists.  That’s not good for a player who is supposed to be the “quarterback” of the offensive line.

RG Leonard Davis:  C-

We all know how poorly Davis played last week, and it actually took a lot of guts for the coaches to bench him.  After reviewing the film, it was the right move, but I also think putting him back into the starting lineup is the correct call as well.  He wasn’t horrible in the first three games and hopefully he’ll come back more motivated than ever.

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Brooking hasn’t played very well in 2010.  He’s a vocal leader and a personal favorite of mine, but on the field he’s seemed lost.  He’s been just so-so against the run and horrendous in coverage.  He’s also gotten blocked virtually every time he’s blitzed, although I think that has a bit to do with the Cowboys’ predictable blitz packages.

DE Stephen Bowen:  C-

Bowen was incredible in the preseason, but that intensity hasn’t carried over to the regular season.

DE Jason Hatcher:  C-

I thought Hatcher would have a breakout season, but when was the last time you even heard his name called?

K David Buehler: D+

He’s shown the potential the Cowboys love, but the consistency just isn’t there yet.  His kickoffs have suffered as well.

RT Marc Colombo:  D+

Colombo has been awful.  Even before yielding two sacks last week, Colombo struggled against Chicago and Houston.  Even more concerning for Dallas is the fact that he hasn’t looked good in the running game (where he should thrive), to the point that the team has run to the left again and again.

CB Orlando Scandrick:  D+

Scandrick was a candidate to break out this year (for me at least) because he always seemed to be just a half-step behind his man.  Well, he’s still a half-step behind.  Some of that is due to the nature of the nickel cornerback position, but Scandrick has also exhibited poor awareness and ball skills–the two traits he needed to improve most in the offseason.

S Alan Ball:  D+

With the way Coach Phillips’ defense is set up, the free safety will never be the “ball-hawk” fans want.  The responsibility of Ball, and Ken Hamlin last year, is generally to limit the big play.  The Cowboys haven’t done that very well this season, and Ball’s tackling has been poor as well.

Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips: D

I’m one of the few who still supports Phillips, but my patience is wearing thin.  He isn’t properly motivating the players and he’s even struggled some as a defensive coordinator.  He needs to get this thing turned around fast or he’ll be gone by season’s end.

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Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Final Film Observations, Player Grades

Jonathan Bales

In case you missed it, check out my Cowboys-Texans post-game observations and “What We Learned” about Dallas in the football game.  Here are my more in-depth film study findings. . .

  • The Cowboys ran a variation of the same play four straight times in the fourth quarter.  They motioned into “Strong” formation and ran a strong side dive.  The only thing that changed was the type of motion.
  • I’m starting to notice that Jason Garrett tends to motion a lot in the beginning of the game, with that trend decreasing as the contest progresses.  The Cowboys have motioned 46 times in the first half as opposed to just 31 in the second half, but seven of those second half motions came in the last nine plays on Sunday (when the ‘Boys already wrapped up the game).  The reason is that the team’s first drive or two are scripted plays.  On the Cowboys’ three opening drives this year, they’ve motioned 14 times (4.7 times per drive).  That’s nearly twice the rate of other drives (2.5 motions per drive).
  • The Cowboys had just five red zone plays on Sunday, but they took advantage of their time in the area.  They ran the ball twice for one yard and a touchdown, and also threw three passes for 32 yards and a score.  Give Jason Garrett props for excellent red zone play-calling all year.


Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB): Seven plays
2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 18 plays
2 TE, WR, RB, FB: Nine plays
TE, 3 WR, RB: 22 plays
3 TE, RB, FB: One play


25 formations in Week One, 19 in Week Two, and 19 again in Week Three

3 Wide I (4), 3 Wide Strong Left (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (3), Double Tight Left/Right I (2), Double Tight Left/Right Strong (2), Double Tight Left/Right Twins Left/Right Ace (2), Gun TE Spread (15), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun TE Trips Empty (1), Gun Trips (1), I Formation (1), Power I (1), Strong (9), TE Trips Empty (1), Trips (3), Twins (1), Twins Right Strong Right (1), Weak Left (1)

  • You may have noticed on television how often Romo checked out of plays at the line of scrimmage.  He’s certainly been given a lot of freedom this season, and he utilized it on Sunday.  He audibled nine times, six times to a run (for 38 yards) and three times to a pass for 14 yards.  Four of the six runs were draw plays.  I noted that last season, 77.27 percent of Romo’s run audibles were to draw plays.
  • Think the Cowboys wanted to run the ball up the middle and to the right?  Check out the chart below.

  • As I stated in my article on What We Learned About Dallas in Week Three, the Cowboys decided to return to an old staple of the running game: the draw play.  After running only six combined draws in the first two games, Dallas ran 10 in Houston for 66 total yards.
  • After throwing 16 passes of 10+ yards against Washington and 13 against Chicago, the Cowboys attempted only nine in Houston.  However, they obviously threw far less passes against the Texans, so the ratio is actually about the same.
  • The Cowboys seven playaction passes totaled just 30 yards.  Five of the seven passes came with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.
  • The Cowboys attempted only one screen pass and it fell incomplete.
  • How awesome was Romo?  He threw two passes which I labeled as “off-target” after throwing 12 such passes last week.
  • Of Dallas’ 30 passes, Witten went into a route on 19 of them (63.3 percent).  That’s lower than last year’s rate.  I still think he needs to be in a route more often.

Player Grades

QB Tony Romo: A

Only two off-target passes all day–about one-fourth of his average from ’09

RB Marion Barber: B

Barber’s best game this season; showed some explosion and good field awareness

RB Felix Jones: B+

Still hesitant on some runs, but looks great on draws; appears to be improved in passing game

WR Roy Williams: A

His hands are back, and his releases were tremendous–all about improved quickness

WR Dez Bryant: B+

Hasn’t been asked to do much, but always seems to make a play

TE Jason Witten:  B

Classic Witten–solid in all aspects of the game

LT Doug Free:  A-

Really held his own against Mario Williams without too much aid

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Struggled a bit before going down with knee sprain; not as punishing in running game as usual

C Andre Gurode:  B

Cowboys ran behind him often, and he’s seemed to have recovered from Week One pass protection woes

RG Leonard Davis:  B

Two false starts (only one called), but great at point-of-attack

RT Marc Colombo:  B-

Still not as high on him as others, but he brings a nastiness to the line

OLB DeMarcus Ware: A+

Only Troy Polamalu may be a better defensive player

OLB Anthony Spencer: C

Similar start as in 2009; sacks will come with consistent pressure

ILB Bradie James:  B+

Still stout against the run but has really come on in pass coverage

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Poor day for Brooking, who looks lost in pass coverage lately; team needs to find a true nickel LB

NT Jay Ratliff:  B+

Hustle on Arian Foster fumble was incredible

S Alan Ball: B+

Gets a good grade due to one thing–no big plays

CB Terence Newman:  B+

Jenkins is a bigger play-maker, but Newman is the better all-around cornerback right now.

CB Mike Jenkins: B-

Great coverage, but his tackling is becoming a problem

K David Buehler:  A-

Want to see same distance on kickoffs as in ’09, but have to be thrilled with two long field goals

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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.


  • 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


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.


Player Grades


  • 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.


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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“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Four, Cowboys vs. Chargers

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial post-game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” film study observations, and what we learned from the Cowboys/Texans game.

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first three “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

Alan Ball: D

Didn’t look good in any aspect of the game; poor hips and awareness in coverage; got beat deep in Cover 1; missed a plethora of tackles

Alex Barron: C+

Looked over-matched in the run game; did decent in pass protection; better fit at left tackle

Robert Brewster: B-

The “bizarro” Alex Barron; did a solid job at left tackle but skill set better suited for right side

Travis Bright: B-

By far best game of preseason; still getting overpowered, but has shown improvement

Phil Costa: B

Eight Shotgun snaps with no errors; played much better than Gurode

Chris Gronkowski: C+

Gaining momentum from media, but I don’t see what they like; poor lead blocker whose pass-catching ability will make people think he’s better than he is

Andre Gurode: F

Worst game as a pro; two bad snaps; terrible stunt/twist recognition; unbalanced at times and beat with speed

Michael Hamlin: C-

Not making enough plays; looks tentative and afraid to make mistake

Bradie James: C

Good in pass coverage, but over-pursued on a number of occasions and got caught inside on others

Sean Lee: D

Blown backwards on most plays; long way to go as a run defender; not showing instincts

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: B+

Really promising on returns; great decisiveness and explosion

Tony Romo: C-

Missed a few throws he normally makes; failed to score in three quarters

Orlando Scandrick: C-

Got beat by every receiver he covered; really improved in run support and tackling receivers after catch

Roy Williams: B-

Misread one Romo back-shoulder throw, but otherwise looked solid; appears to finally be playing with confidence


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”: Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders

Jonathan Bales

My film study of the Oakland game is complete.  Thus far, I have posted my initial game reactions, things we learned from the contest, and final film study observations.

In my first “Grading the ‘Boys” from the Bengals game, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

WR Miles Austin:  A

Made a highlight catch and even got action on an end-around

NT Josh Brent: A-

Motor is second to none; I personally guarantee he makes this team

OT Robert Brewster: D-

Yielded another sack and looks over-matched at both left and right tackle

OG Travis Bright: D

Play must make Dallas extremely nervous about backup guard situation

LB Keith Brooking: A-

Lined up on tight end Zach Miller out wide and blanketed him

K David Buehler: A+

Looked sensational on field goals and kickoffs; struck the ball really well on all kicks

OLB Victor Butler: B

A small dip in production from Cincy game, but still solid outing

RT Marc Colombo: F

Gave up two sacks and didn’t dominate in run game

RB Herb Donaldson: C

Didn’t do much “wrong,” but lacks explosiveness

TE DajLeon Farr: B

Signed two days prior to game and no noticeable mental errors

LT Doug Free: C

Let Jon Kitna get sacked (although Kitna could have stepped up); must be more consistent

DE Jason Hatcher: B+

Really nice game after Stephen Bowen stood out against the Bengals

WR Jesse Holley: B

Stood out on special teams; always near the ball-carrier

LB Bradie James: A

All over the field, particularly against the pass

WR Manuel Johnson: D

Dropped pass led to pick-six in crucial situation

QB Jon Kitna: B

Getting flack, but did a fine job; made great audible to hit Sam Hurd on 32-yard pass

P Mat McBriar: A

So under-appreciated

CB Bryan McCann: B

Still shows poor technique at times, but looks natural in coverage; solid job on returns

QB Stephen McGee: C-

Leaves pocket too early; fails to hit check down in time; looks to be “thinking” too much

WR Kevin Ogletree: D

Two drops and poor field awareness once again

QB Tony Romo: C

Poor outing for Romo; held onto ball too long and missed a few open receivers

CB Orlando Scandrick: A

Has been Cowboys’ best cornerback through two games

NT Junior Siavii: B+

Showed toughness and plays the run nicely

CB Jamar Wall: C-

Can only play certain routes well; no way he makes 53-man roster in my opinion

LB Jason Williams: B+

Ironically flourishing in run support, but played pass better than Week One

LB Leon Williams: B+

Outplaying Steve Octavien and Curtis Johnson right now for roster spot

WR Roy Williams: C

Blanketed all night, but did face Nnamdi Asomugha


“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week 1, Cowboys vs. Bengals

Jonathan Bales

After reviewing the Hall of Fame game film so many times that I can literally name the play calls in order, I figured enough was enough.  Even after all of that, it is still impossible for me to watch every play for every player on the field.  With 11 players and 150+ plays a game, I would need to watch the film at least 1,650 times.  The problem is I can’t seem to crack the 1,640 barrier.

Instead of paying half-assed (is that a word?) attention to all of the players, I concentrate on certain players and report back on their play.  Below are the grades for those players to which I paid particularly close attention.

Preseason Week 1 Final Player Grades

LT Alex Barron: D

Repeatedly beat off the edge due to poor footwork; injured ankle and may not play Thursday

DE Stephen Bowen: A

Displayed incredible burst on pass rush; never stopped despite decent amount of reps

DT Josh Brent: B

Really impressive motor; consistent play will land him roster spot

RT Robert Brewster: D

Grade of “C” for his play at right tackle and “F” for left tackle; Cowboys could slide him to guard

G/C Travis Bright: C-

On a lot of 53-man roster projections but slow off the ball Sunday night

K David Buehler: C

Great kickoffs as usual, but shaky on field goals and extra point despite going three-of-four

OLB Victor Butler: A

Best game he’s played as a pro; biggest surprise was his superb run defense

RB Tashard Choice: C-

Ran hard, but struggled mightily in pass protection; too good of a player to not rebound quickly

RB Herb Donaldson:  D+

Showed burst and good vision on one run but looked tentative on others; lost a fumble

LT Doug Free: A

Perhaps most important game for any player; displayed tremendous footwork and even good strength in run game

FB Chris Gronkowski: C-

Missed quite a few blocks; long way to go to catch Deon Anderson

WR Jesse Holley: C

Up and down night; bad block in the back and poor field awareness at times, but made a few nice catches

QB Jon Kitna: B-

Played fairly well behind porous second-string offensive line; good job of checking down

QB Stephen McGee: B+

Surprised by quickness and arm strength; needs to work on pocket awareness and hitting underneath receivers

G Pat McQuistan: D-

Beat almost every play by Bengals DT Geno Atkins; would be shocked if he made the team

RB Lonyae Miller: B-

Impressive hands and route running; hard runner, but must make first guy miss

WR Kevin Ogletree: D+

Very poor field awareness; failed to drag feet once and caught another ball short of first down marker

TE John Phillips: A

Biggest heartbreak of the week; blocked incredibly well and obviously caught ball well before going down with ACL tear

QB Tony Romo: B

Missed a few throws, but overall solid night; good back shoulder throw; may call more audibles this season

TE Scott Sicko: B

“A-” grade for receiving but “C-” for blocking; obvious downgrade from Phillips but has potential

G Mike Tepper: D

Can’t see any way he makes the team

CB Jamar Wall: D-

Really struggled in both coverage and special teams; not bad versus the run, but won’t matter if he doesn’t improve coverage

OLB Brandon Williams: B+

Looks like Ware at times; good awareness on interception

LB Leon Williams: B

Great form tackling; a little weak in coverage

WR Roy Williams: B+

Good quickness out of breaks; used on “in-breaking” routes on which he excels

CB Teddy Williams: B

Shockingly good technique and overall play from track star who hasn’t played football in five years