The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Secondary

Jonathan Bales

Parts I and II of my quarter-season grades looked at the offensive line and front seven, respectively.  Today, I’ll examine a secondary whose performance was bound to improve from 2010 due to a more efficient pass rush.

Cornerbacks

  • Mike Jenkins

Quietly, Jenkins is rebounding nicely from his horrendous 2010 season.  He has been targeted 21 times in four games, yielding 10 receptions for 123 yards.  That’s good for 5.86 yards-per-attempt–an exceptional number for a cornerback.  I think Jenkins is benefiting from increased pressure from the front seven, but he’s also playing with a lot more confidence that last season.  Plus, his willingness to hit ball-carriers is evident under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

  • Terence Newman

Newman has played just over 120 snaps, giving up 73 yards on 10 attempts.  It is tough to give him a grade since he’s been in and out of the lineup so much already, but his play in the final 12 games is really important to Dallas.

  • Alan Ball

Ball has been horrendous this season, in my view.  He got picked on badly against the Jets and the Niners, and he’s yielded 176 yards on 15 attempts this season.  Ball is giving up 7.33 yards-per-attempt–the same as Newman–but he’s also been the only defender whose run defense is still obviously poor.

Safeties

  • Gerald Sensabaugh

I like how Sensabaugh has played this season, even though the stats don’t necessarily back me up.  He has given up nine completions on 11 attempts–good for a 81.8% completion rate.  That in itself wouldn’t be that bad if the majority of the throws were short, but they’ve totaled 122 yards.  He has 17 tackles and hasn’t missed a single one, though.

  • Abram Elam

Elam is a player I think is always going to “look” better than he plays.  He moves really well and just looks like a football player.  He always seems to be just a step too late, though, and reminds me much of Ken Hamlin.  He’s yielded 120 yards on 10 attempts–nearly the exact same numbers as Sensy.  The good news is he’s been a hell of a tackler, and that ability to come up and make hits from the safety position is one of the most underrated improvements to this defense.

  • Barry Church

The majority of Church’s playing time came last week after Sensabaugh went down.  He did a fine job, racking up five tackles.  He’s been targeted just three times in 91 snaps.

Grades

A few notes before looking at my grades:

  • The grades are weighted 3:1 in favor of coverage over run defense.
  • As always, some stats are provided by PFF.

Cornerbacks

Mike Jenkins

  • Coverage: B+
  • Run Defense: B

Overall: 88.8 (B+)

Terence Newman

  • Coverage: B-
  • Run Defense: B-

Overall: 80.0 (B-)

Alan Ball

  • Coverage: C-
  • Run Defense: D

Overall: 68.8 (D+)

Safeties

Gerald Sensabaugh

  • Coverage: B-
  • Run Defense: A-

Overall: 82.5 (B)

Abram Elam

  • Coverage: B-
  • Run Defense: A-

Overall: 82.5 (B)

Barry Church

  • Coverage: B
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 86.3 (B)

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Defensive Line/Linebackers

Jonathan Bales

Part I of my Quarter-Season Grades dealt with the offensive line.  Today’s article is in reference to a Cowboys’ front seven which has been allowed to freelance quite a bit more this season than last.  Let’s take a look at how it has worked out thus far. . .

Quarter-Season Review: Defensive Line

  • Jay Ratliff

Last year, Ratliff totaled 26 pressures despite sacking the quarterback just four times.  This season, he is on pace for the same four sacks, but 10 less pressures.  He’s also tallied only six tackles.  Rob Ryan’s scheme shouldn’t hurt Ratliff, so these numbers are a little concerning.

  • Sean Lissemore

In 52 snaps, Lissemore has just two less tackles than Ratliff.  His pressure rate isn’t outstanding (two), but he hasn’t made any critical errors either.  The best sign is that Lissemore is improving.

  • Kenyon Coleman

Coleman’s three pressures already topped the two from Marcus Spears in 2010.  Of course, this is a new year with a new coordinator, and Spears already has four pressures in 2011.  When you combine Coleman’s lack of pass rush with his six tackles, you get a pedestrian start for the veteran.

  • Jason Hatcher

The numbers on Hatcher are a great example of why you cannot always trust your memory when it relates to grading players.  Prior to looking at the statistics, I thought Hatcher was having a super pass-rushing season.  My memory was likely skewed by the 49ers game in which Hatcher recorded two sacks.  In reality, Hatcher has only one pressure to go along with those two sacks.  His seven tackles is solid for a defensive end, though, and he’s played the run quite well.

  • Marcus Spears

Four tackles, four pressures, no sacks.  If Spears isn’t stuffing the run, he isn’t of much use.

Quarter-Season Review: Linebackers

Outside Linebackers

  • DeMarcus Ware

With a league-leading 17 pressures, five sacks, and three quarterback hits, Ware is on pace for one of his biggest seasons to date.  Actually, he is getting a pressure on 12.8% of his rushes–up from 11.0% in 2010.

  • Anthony Spencer

Spencer is proof that sack totals determine perception.  In reality, Spencer is displaying the exact same performance as in 2010–a solid, but not great season in which the majority of analysts crucified him.  Now that Spencer is on pace for 12 sacks, he’s finally “turning the corner,” right?  Not really, since his seven pressures give him a 6.7% pressure rate which is nearly identical to his 6.8% rate from last season.  Spencer is also on pace for 48 tackles–four less than in 2010.

  • Victor Butler

I really thought Butler would see a significant increase in snaps this season, but that doesn’t appear as though it will be the case.  With only 48 snaps thus far, Butler is on pace to play just a handful more than in 2010.  Despite his lack of playing time, Butler has put up a sack and three pressures.  He’s only rushed the passer 34 times, so his three pressures mean he is reaching the quarterback 8.8% of the time.  He doesn’t have any tackles, but he’s also defended the run just seven plays.

Inside Linebackers

  • Sean Lee

We don’t need numbers to tell us that Sean Lee has been the Cowboys’ second-best player on defense (and perhaps the team) this season.  His 26 tackles leads the team by far, and he’s missed just two of them (7.1% missed tackle rate).  Lee even has three pressures, two interceptions, and two passes defended.  If there is an area of his game that must improve, it is actually pass coverage.  At a certain point, though, you have tot throw out his “awkwardness” in coverage because he just keeps making plays.

  • Bradie James

You probably noticed James’ decreased snap count, but did you realize he has played just one more snap than Keith Brooking?  James is a liability in coverage, cannot effectively rush the passer, and has just five tackles.  His days in Dallas are coming to an end.

  • Keith Brooking

One tackle in 93 snaps.

Grades

A few notes before looking at my grades:

  • The run defense and pass rush grades are weighted evenly for the defensive linemen,  weighted 3:2 in favor of the pass rush for the outside linebackers, and weighted 3:2 in favor of run defense for the linebackers.
  • Coverage is normally a component of the outside linebacker grades, but there haven’t been enough snaps for the sample size of plays to be great enough to draw conclusions.  DeMarcus Ware has been in coverage on just 25 snaps, for example.

Defensive Line

Jay Ratliff

  • Pass Rush: B-
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 85.0 (B)

Sean Lissemore

  • Pass Rush: C-
  • Run Defense: B-

Overall: 75.0 (C)

Kenyon Coleman

  • Pass Rush: D+
  • Run Defense: C+

Overall: 75.0 (C)

Jason Hatcher

  • Pass Rush: C+
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 85.0 (B)

Marcus Spears

  • Pass Rush: D+
  • Run Defense: C

Overall: 72.5 (C)

Outside Linebackers

DeMarcus Ware

  • Pass Rush: A
  • Run Defense: B+

Overall: 93.0 (A)

Anthony Spencer

  • Pass Rush: B-
  • Run Defense: B-

Overall: 80.0 (B-)

Victor Butler

  • Pass Rush: B
  • Run Defense: C

Overall: 81.0 (B-)

Inside Linebackers

Sean Lee

  • Run Defense: A
  • Pass Defense: B-

Overall: 89.0 (B+)

Bradie James

  • Run Defense: D+
  • Pass Defense: D

Overall: 68.0 (D)

Keith Brooking

  • Run Defense: F
  • Pass Defense: C+

Overall: 65.0 (D)

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By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VIII: Wide Receivers

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbacks, tight ends, and offensive line.

————————————

The 2009 season saw the simultaneous emergence of one star–Miles Austin–and the decline of another–Roy Williams.  2010 was similar in that the Cowboys discovered rookie Dez Bryant is the real deal, while Austin (many claim) plummeted in terms of efficiency.  Let’s examine.

My 2010 wide receiver rankings are based less on totals and more on efficiency.  A team’s No. 1 wide receiver will get more opportunities than the No. 2, who will get more than the No. 3, and so on.  Thus, reception and yardage totals (although very important to a team) are less indicative of a player’s efficiency than yards-per-attempt or reception percentage.

Notes

  • Chart Key:  TA=Thrown at, Yds/Att=Yards-per-attempt, TD and Drop %=Percentage of attempts which resulted in a touchdown or drop, respectively, YAC/Rec=Yards after catch per reception
  • The best stats are circled in blue and the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats are courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of receiving versus run blocking.

Grades

  • Roy Williams

Receiving:  C

Snap Counts: Williams-690, Austin-1019, Bryant-431, Hurd-214

Although Williams’ reception total decreased in 2010, he was much more efficient.  Williams was targeted only 59 times but recorded superior stats (as compared to 2009) in yards-per-attempt, touchdown rate, drop percentage, and YAC-per-reception.  There’s something to be said for a player who puts the ball in the end zone, and Williams’ touchdown rate of 13.5 percent is outstanding.

Run Blocking: B

Williams has always been an adequate blocker.  He doesn’t possess the ferocity of Hines Ward, but he does do a good job of positioning his body between the ball-carrier and the defender.

  • Miles Austin

Receiving: B

Although others are claiming Austin was horrible this season, that wasn’t the case.  Austin certainly took a step back, as he was targeted 23 fewer times and caught 23 less balls as compared to 2009.  Austin’s efficiency stats decreased as well, but not as greatly as some might assume (YPA down 1.3 yards, YAC/rec down 0.9 yards).

The real reason people are so down on Austin is his drops.  After dropping only three balls in 2009, Austin mishandled 11 this past season.  Even worse, they generally came at inopportune times.

Many of you know, however, that I consider drops to be a poor barometer of a receiver’s worth.  Not only are they not as costly as some people assume, but they’re also a fluky stat.  Austin doesn’t have the league’s best hands, but he certainly doesn’t have awful hands either.  My guess is that Austin dropped a few passes early and it got into his head.  Expect him to rebound in that department next season.

Run Blocking: C+

Austin has a good attitude when it comes to blocking, but for whatever reason he appeared to regress in 2010.  He missed a couple “easy” blocks and just didn’t seem to put himself in proper position at times.

  • Dez Bryant

Receiving:  B

Bryant is a future All-Pro who showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but there are still plenty of things he needs to work on.  First, he needs to get upfield immediately.  On certain passes, particularly quick screens, he tends to dance around too much, expecting to overpower defenders without first building momentum.  He possesses dynamite after-the-catch ability, but he needs to realize he’s not at Oklahoma State anymore.

Bryant did prove that his hands are as good as billed.  He led the receivers (in a good way) with a 4.2 percent drop rate.  Don’t worry about his yards-per-attempt and YAC-per-reception numbers–those stats will improve when Jason Garrett learns how generally ineffective quick screens are.

Run Blocking: B-

Bryant will need to work on this aspect of his game.  It isn’t that he’s not a willing blocker, but rather he needs to learn technique.  He too often goes for kill shots when, as a receiver, he really only needs to “get in the way.”

  • Sam Hurd

Receiving:  C-

We don’t have an amazing sample size here, but I think we’re all starting to realize that Hurd is a great special teams player and a good teammate, but an average (at best) wide receiver.  He doesn’t have great hands and doesn’t seem to ever create tremendous separation.

Run Blocking: B+

Hurd is the best blocking receiver on the team.  This is evidenced by the fact that he is the “closer” at receiver for Dallas.  In the few games that Dallas had a late lead, Hurd was the only receiver on the field in single-receiver personnel groupings because of his blocking ability.

2010 Cowboys Wide Receiver Grades

1. Dez Bryant: B (84.6)

2. Miles Austin: B- (83.4)

3. Roy Williams: C+ (77.0)

4. Sam Hurd: C (75.8)

Wide receiver is one of the few positions that isn’t a big concern for Dallas.  I personally think they could benefit from a small, quick slot receiver, but that need isn’t pressing.

Of course, that could all change in a hurry.  The futures of every receiver other than Austin and Bryant are cloudy.  Williams rebounded pretty well in 2010, but it wasn’t like he was incredible.  Rather, low expectations made people believe he played better than what was the case.  The Cowboys could go either way with him right now (and no, a trade is not possible due to his contract).

The same is true of Hurd, Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley, and Manuel Johnson.  Of those players, I believe Holley deserves a roster spot the most.  He possesses some upside as a receiver and his special teams play is great.  Ogletree has potential, of course, but he seems to have a poor attitude and doesn’t fight on special teams.  For a No. 4 or 5 receiver, that isn’t going to cut it.

Don’t rule out the possibility of the Cowboys selecting a receiver in the late rounds of the draft.  Although the ‘Boys generally favor big, strong pass-catchers, a small burner could really benefit the offense and return game (so Bryant doesn’t have to risk injury).  Kentucky’s Randal Cobb, USC’s Ronald Johnson, TCU’s Jeremy Kerley, and San Diego State’s Vincent Brown could all be possibilities.

By Jonathan Bales

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.

Grades

  • 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)

By Jonathan Bales

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.

Personnel

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

Formations

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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By Jonathan Bales

“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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By Jonathan Bales

“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

By Jonathan Bales

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

Jonathan Bales

I’ve done a lot of analysis of the Cowboys/Chargers game (what to watch, DOs and DON’Ts, initial post-game notes, what we learned, final film study observations, and so on).  The Cowboys really played quite awfully, although there were some good signs (the offense scored a red zone touchdown and Sean Lee showed flashes of play-making ability, for example).

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first two “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.

WR Miles Austin: A

He and Romo have the potential to be unstoppable on those back-shoulder fades.

FS Alan Ball: A-

Not sure if I mentioned this, but Ball looks much better tackling this season; brought down Darren Sproles in open field and looked solid elsewhere

RB Marion Barber: C

Barber’s first preseason grade; don’t see the added explosion and burst others are raving over

TE Martellus Bennett: B+

Showed why the Cowboys drafted him with freaky athleticism; always a great blocker; committed one false start; may have gotten “A-” if not for horrid post-touchdown dance

OT Robert Brewster: B+

Shocking performance; did receive some help from tight ends/running backs, but technique was much improved; one false start

LG Travis Bright: C

Just not seeing the same level of dominance from Bright as from Costa

S Barry Church: B+

He’s an “in-the-box” guy, but his tackling ability really stood out; if he can show adequate range, he’s got a shot



G/C Phil Costa: A-

Very impressive film; versatility will grab him a roster spot

RB Herb Donaldson: D-

Hesitant on runs and dances in hole; poor receiver

CB Cletis Gordon: A

Underestimated this guy; tremendous technique and coverage ability; displayed athleticism and ball skills on one-handed interception; also an emergency return man; will likely be Dallas’ fourth cornerback

FB Chris Gronkowski: D

Just can’t see how Cowboys will keep him on 53-man roster; loses balance and lunges at defenders; light years behind Deon Anderson

DE Jason Hatcher: B

Nothing extraordinary, but playing well this preseason against both pass and run; could unseat Spears for starting gig

LG Montrae Holland: A-

Really nice job in both run game and pass protection; showed good balance and is a “scrapper” inside

WR Sam Hurd: B

Stepped up with roster spot in question; probably more potential as a receiver than Jesse Holley

CB Mike Jenkins: C

Nothing to worry about, but got beat a few times inside; showed poor technique by losing leverage, missing on press

QB Jon Kitna: B

Others hate, but I am comfortable with Kitna as backup; has checked out of four plays this preseason, all with good results

LB Sean Lee: B-

Up-and-down night; lost track of ball a few times early (two run plays and a screen that I noticed), but responded well and made some tremendous plays to close out game

S Danny McCray: C-

Still not as impressed with this guy as others; blew assignment in third quarter to yield huge play; special teams ability could save him, but I prefer Church

RG Pat McQuistan: F

Next.

FS Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: C+

Hesitant on kickoff returns but showed burst and decisiveness on punt return; no obvious mental errors

QB Tony Romo: C-

By my count, was off-target on four of 11 passes; analysis of 2009 off-target passes shows he’s missed about twice as many this preseason; also made poor decision on interception

NT Junior Siavii:  B

Arrival of Josh Brent has lit fire under Siavii; would be nice to see him improve in pass rush

RT Sam Young:  D-

Really poor game after solid outings earlier; yielded only sack of game and got beat other times due to poor technique and lack of quickness; lined up off of line of scrimmage twice in period of a few plays

By Jonathan Bales

“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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2009 Player Rankings

We have concluded our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, with the final offensive player rankings below.  You can find each individual offensive position study here: quarterback, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, offensive line (run blocking), offensive line (pass protection), and each individual defensive position study here: defensive linemen, inside linebackers, outside linebackers,cornerbacks, safeties.

It all comes together in our final 2009 rankings.

A few notes before reading:

  • 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, but rather a list of the most important players to the team (as we see it) in 2009.
  • Lastly, players listed in blue are those we expect to improve in 2010.  We 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.

T1.  QB Tony Romo:  94.0 (A)

Threw only six interceptions over final 14 regular season games

T1.  Demarcus Ware:  94.0 (A)

Tallied a ridiculous 56 quarterback pressures last season–20 more than any other outside linebacker in the NFL

T3.  TE Jason Witten:  93.0 (A-)

Team averaged nearly two full yards-per-attempt better when he was in route (9.3 yards) versus blocking (7.4)

T3.  WR Miles Austin:  93.0 (A-)

Dropped only 2.2% of balls and tallied an incredible 10.4 yards-per-attempt

T3. RG Leonard Davis:  93.0 (A-)

Average of 4.57 yards-per-carry when at point-of-attack is outstanding for guard; also gave up lowest negative run percentage

6.  Anthony Spencer:  92.0 (A-)

Racked up 28 more tackles and 1.77 times the hits-per-rush as Ware

7.  C Andre Gurode:  91.0 (A-)

Solid in the run game and yielded least pressures and hits of any lineman–could be most crucial component of line in 2010

T8. Mike Jenkins: 89.8 (A-)

Allowed just 49.1 percent completion rate and led all cornerbacks in yards-per-attempt, deflections, and interceptions

T8. RB Felix Jones:  89.8 (A-)

Surprisingly the team’s top runner after contact (3.3 yards-after contact per run); averaged an incredible 10.0 yards-per-carry on 22 counter runs

10. Terence Newman: 88.2 (B+)

Thrown at less than any cornerback in 2009 (9.49 percent of all snaps) and a supremely underrated tackler (65 tackles, 8.5 percent missed tackle rate)

11.  Keith Brooking:  87.6 (B+)

Solid numbers against both the run and pass (led all inside linebackers in tackles, tackle rate, and yards-per-attempt against), but most important grade was ‘A’ in leadership

12. RB Tashard Choice:  87.3 (B+)

Team-high 31.8% of runs up the middle and 5.8 yards-per-carry in that area could make him the 2010 short-yardage RB

13.  Jay Ratliff  87.0 (B+)

Led all linemen with a .82 percent sack rate from the nose tackle position

14.  LG Kyle Kosier:  85.4 (B)

Perhaps offense’s most underrated player–led offensive line with just one sack yielded in 2009

15.  Igor Olshansky 85.0 (B)

Probably higher on this list than others would like, but acquired a solid 33 tackles last season–11 more than Spears

16.  Bradie James:  84.1 (B)

Missed only three tackles (3.4 percent) all season

17.  Deon Anderson:  83.0 (B-)

Team averaged a remarkable 5.6 yards-per-carry with him on the field–only 3.7 with John Phillips at fullback

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