The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Trade Scenarios: Your Ultimate Guide

Jonathan Bales

Despite a much earlier draft slot than usual in 2011, the fluidity of this particular draft class and the multitude of needs for Dallas has made predicting their draft choice a difficult task.  The “consensus” seems to be that they will end up with USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, but that is far from certain.  I actually think there is a solid chance that Smith gets selected before the ‘Boys are on the clock, either by a team currently ahead of them or another looking to move up (Washington, perhaps).

Either way, Smith is far from a sure thing.  I do think he’s the most likely of all the prospects to come to Big D (as evidenced by my last 32-team mock draft and Cowboys-only mock draft), but the abundance of targets and draft scenarios shifts Smith’s potential arrival from ‘likely’ to ‘most likely.’

So what are the Cowboys’ true plans?  I really think it depends on how the top of the draft plays out.  I wouldn’t rule out a trade up, a move down, or remaining at No. 9.  Each situation could present the best value depending on how the prior picks pan out.  Listed below are potential targets for the Cowboys if they do decide to make a move, along with suitable trading partners.

Moving Up

  • Possible Trade Partners

Cleveland Browns No. 6

To move up three spots, the NFL’s draft value chart suggests the Cowboys would need to relinquish their third-round pick.  Is it worth it?  Perhaps for P-Squared.

San Francisco 49ers No. 7

If you have not deciphered it yet, I am writing the team names in their uniform colors.  Why?  I honestly don’t know, but enjoy it while it lasts.

The Cowboys would probably need to relinquish their third-rounder to move up to San Fran’s spot, but they would receive a pick in return (likely a fourth).  Not a bad exchange if the right guy is still on the board.  The problem is that the Niners will likely have interest in the same sort of prospects as Dallas.  Why would they move back if Peterson or Dareus fell, for example?

  • Possible Targets

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

The Cowboys are rumored to have Peterson at the top of their board.  I don’t think he will fall, but if he drops to Cleveland, look for Dallas to at least inquire about a trade.  The Browns could very well have interest themselves, but it is highly unlikely the Niners would move back if Peterson drops to them.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

This is a tough call for me.  I have Dareus rated as the No. 2 overall player on my board, but I don’t think the Cowboys should trade up for him.  My reasoning for this is lengthy, but I previously wrote an in-depth article on why selecting the best player available is a myth.  In short, it deals with position scarcity.  There aren’t any elite offensive tackles likely to be around in the second round, so grabbing one in the first (with such a huge need at right tackle) makes more sense.

Is Dareus’ value too much to overlook?  It depends on how highly the Cowboys have him rated, but I am hearing they like Smith just as much, if not more.  Thus, moving up even two spots for Dareus doesn’t seem that likely to me.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

No one is talking about this, but I don’t think Smith’s presence when the Cowboys select at No. 9 is a foregone conclusion.  With all of the Smith/Dallas connections floating around, why is it implausible to think a team will look to jump the ‘Boys for the USC tackle?  The most likely candidate to do that, in my mind, is Washington.  They could easily move up two or three spots to secure Smith.  If the ‘Boys catch wind of this and truly covet Smith, they will need to make a move themselves.

Moving Down

  • Possible Trade Partners

Minnesota Vikings No. 12

According to the chart, the Cowboys could swap their current fourth-rounder for Minnesota’s third if they elect to move back in the first round.  The Vikings haven’t been mentioned as a potential trade partner for Dallas, but it could happen if either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert shockingly falls.

In my opinion, any move down all but eliminates Smith from contention, so the Cowboys will need a backup plan.

Detroit Lions No. 13

The difference in compensation between Minnesota and Detroit highlights a flaw in the NFL’s draft value system, in my opinion.  Instead of swapping third and fourth-round selections, the Cowboys would simply acquire the Lions’ third-round pick if they alternated first-round selections.  With the Lions possibly interested in Prince Amukamara or even Robert Quinn, they appear to be a more likely trade partner for Dallas than Minny.

St. Louis Rams No. 14

Can you even read the yellow font?  Oh well.  The Rams are known to have interest in Alabama receiver Julio Jones and may want to jump Washington to secure him.  They are the most likely partner for the Cowboys, in my view, and would need to relinquish their third and fifth-round round picks to make the move.

New England Patriots No. 17

Am I even choosing team’s true colors at this point?  In any event, the Patriots are known to stockpile draft picks, but they already have a bunch, including two first-round selections.  To swap first-rounders with Dallas, they would need to yield their second-round pick.  Like St. Louis, a possible target for New England in this scenario is Julio Jones.

  • Possible Targets

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Carimi is listed first for a reason–if the Cowboys move down, it is Carimi who I think they will target.  I have heard this “rumor” from a number of sources.  I would personally rather have Anthony Castonzo or even Ben Ijalana, but Carimi is no slouch–he’s still No. 14 overall on my latest board.

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

I find it hard to believe the Cowboys have divulged as much information (about their views on Smith, for example) as they have without a reason behind it.  I have heard very little linking Castonzo to Dallas, however.  Of course this shouldn’t be used as evidence that the ‘Boys are definitely interested in him, but he will certainly be on their radar if they have him rated as I do.

J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin

Watt is considered a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, and only one team (Washington) between the Cowboys and Miami at pick No. 15 runs a 3-4 defense.  The ‘Skins have a bunch of holes, so Watt may not be a priority for them.  I don’t personally want Watt in the first round, but if he is the player the ‘Boys covet, I think he will still be around at St. Louis’ 14th overall selection.

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

See Watt, J.J.

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Cowboys need to be flexible in their draft plans.  They should have a list of players for whom they would be willing to trade up, a group they would select at their current spot, and a list of prospects to target if they slide back.  Those lists need not be long.

I wouldn’t consider trading up unless one of two scenarios plays out.  The first is if Peterson drops to Cleveland.  If the Browns are willing to deal, I would sacrifice a first and a third for the top player on my board.

More likely, Peterson won’t drop, and the Cowboys will target Smith.  If he is truly the No. 2 rated player on their board, I would actually trade up for him (if possible).  I think the depth of this draft class is solid enough that yielding a third for an early fourth is worth the ability to acquire an elite offensive tackle with the ability to play either side of the line.  Here are four other reasons to target Tyron Smith.

If the Cowboys miss out on Peterson and Smith, I would desperately seek a trade down (assuming Dareus does not fall).  Castonzo would be the player I target, but the ‘Boys will probably seek Carimi.  The largest positive from a trade back is the possibility of moving up into the very top of the second of even the back of the first to acquire another instant impact player, such as Baylor NT Phil Taylor, Temple DT/DE Muhammad Wilkerson or Texas CB/FS Aaron Williams.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.


By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Motion Statistics

Jonathan Bales

Last offseason, I argued that the Cowboys should use pre-snap motion less often.  In my 2009 study on Cowboys motions, I found the offense was generally less successful on motion plays, averaging 0.7 less yards-per-pass and a full yard less per run.  As a result of those findings, I wrote:

Garrett should steadily decrease the motion rate until the defense compensates enough that the Cowboys’ yards-per-play reaches its peak.  My guess is that this is around 25.0 percent. At this point, it is likely the rate of big plays and negative plays will also be maximized and minimized, respectively, creating situations of generally optimal efficiency for the Cowboys’ offense.

Garrett used motion on 42.5 percent of snaps in 2009.  As I suggested, that rate dipped this past season.  Here are the Cowboys’ 2010 motion numbers. . .

Right off the bat, you can see the Cowboys’ motion rate dropped to 34.4 percent–not quite the 25.0 percent I suggested, but still an improvement.  With that fall came an increase in efficiency, at least in the passing game.  The Cowboys averaged over 0.8 “extra” yards-per-pass on motion plays and garnered a higher rate of big plays (10+ yards)–31.3 percent versus 22.3 percent on non-motion plays.

Once again, the Cowboys motioned on a higher rate of run plays than pass plays.  The 175:176 ratio is incredible, and those 175 runs represent 45.8 percent of all Cowboys’ runs–very similar to the team’s 48.9 percent rate from 2009.  Note that the “actual” run totals are slightly skewed because I count only “called” runs, not quarterback scrambles, kneel downs, etc.

The reason for the increased motion rate on run plays seems simple enough; the Cowboys frequently remain static pre-snap in situations where the defense knows they are going to pass.  For example, Dallas motioned on only 12 of the 197 plays they lined up in “Gun TE Spread” (left)–that’s a rate of just 6.1 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2009.

Thus, while the run/pass ratio after motions is a bit “off,” it creates no real competitive advantage for the defense.

So we know the Cowboys motion more on run plays, but is there any causation behind this correlation?  My initial thought was that the the drop in yards-per-rush was caused by a possible tendency to motion on short-yardage plays.  Thus, the upside would be limited and the averages would suffer.

However, on short-yardage plays (which I defined as three yards-to-go or less), the Cowboys motioned just 12 times out of a possible 97–only 12.4 percent of the time.  That’s far below the overall rate of 34.4 percent.  Thus, while it is good that Garrett effectively spreads out motions among various downs and distances, the low yards-per-rush on motions cannot be attributed to an abundance of short-yardage plays.

Another possibility for the lack of success on motion runs is predictability.  After watching as much film as I do, there are times when I can predict with great precision what play the Cowboys are going to run.  How and where they motion is a big factor in my ability to do this.  Dallas will frequently motion the fullback to the play-side just before the snap, for example.  Only rarely does the fullback motion to the side of the formation opposite the play-call.

If I can read these tendencies, NFL defenses can do it.

Of course, the Cowboys simply need to run the ball more effectively on all types of plays.  They weren’t particularly dominant on non-motion runs either.

Conclusions

I love that I saw a decrease in motions from Garrett and the ‘Boys in 2010.  The Cowboys found much more success via the pass on plays which invoked a pre-snap motion, and, although the team’s run efficiency plummeted, the relationship between motion and non-motion runs actually converged.

We also saw a greater rate of big pass plays and a lower sack rate (by far) on motion plays as compared to 2009.  The rate of total negative plays remained steady at 11.1 percent.

Ultimately, I still think 25 percent is the magic number.  If the Cowboys can motion around one-in-four plays in 2011, I think they’ll see an increase in overall offensive efficiency.

Of course, regression to the mean tells us we’ll probably see that anyway.

By Jonathan Bales

Why aren’t the Cowboys running more counters in 2010?

Jonathan Bales

In the preseason, I placed a point of emphasis on running more counters this season.  In many of my game plan articles, I suggested (over and over) that Dallas run more counters.

The reason was the success with which the Cowboys ran counters in 2009.  As you can see below, the ‘Boys averaged a ridiculous 7.9 yards-per-carry on their 36 counters last year.  Felix Jones alone tallied 220 yards on 22 counters.

While the rate of negative runs was a bit higher (as is to be expected with a slower-developing play), the percentage of 10, 20 and 40+ yard runs was all significantly higher on counters as compared to non-counter runs.

This season, the disparity between counters and non-counters is even greater.  The ‘Boys are averaging 8.71 yards-per-rush on their counter attempts in 2010.  That number is even more impressive when you consider the overall failures of the team’s running game this season.  While the Cowboys averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry on non-counters last season, that number has dropped to 3.2 in 2010.

What’s most incredible to me is the similarities in the counter stats from last year to this one.  Compare the chart above with the one below.  The counter average, negative play rate, and big play percentages are all remarkably similar from one year to the next.

Note: Only designed runs were included. Quarterback scrambles and fumbled snaps were disregarded.

Despite the continued success and overall consistency on counters, however, Jason Garrett is not calling them as frequently as he should.  While the team averaged 2.25 counters-per-game in ’09, that number has dropped to just 1.55 this season.

The struggles of the offensive line are certainly a factor in Garrett’s decision.  Counters are generally more “dangerous” than other run plays that take less time to develop and necessitate fewer moving parts.  With the inconsistencies the offensive line has displayed this year, Garrett might be scared to risk a negative run and put the offense in long-yardage situations.

With a negative run rate that is only three percent higher on counters, though, that potential fear appears unjustified.  Certainly the slightly higher risk of a negative run is offset by the gigantic increase in big play probability.  Take this stat for example:  of the Cowboys’ four 20+ yard runs this season, three have come on counters, despite only 7.4 percent of all runs being counters.  75 percent of big runs from 7.4 percent of run plays?  Something isn’t right there.

And with Doug Free replacing Flozell Adams at left tackle, the athleticism of the offensive line is even greater than in 2009–a trait that is suited for counter runs.  At least Garrett recognizes that the left side of the offensive line is the place to run, as 13 of the 17 counters in 2010 have been on the left side behind Free.  The ‘Boys are averaging 9.85 yards-per-rush on those 13 runs.

So Coach Garrett. . .please, please call more counters moving forward.  They will surely increase the offense’s rushing efficiency, which will make it easier to do the thing you love most–throw the football.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Game Day Manifesto: What to Watch, DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

Some members of the media have raised the possibility of the Cowboys finishing the season 7-0 and reaching the playoffs–that following a 1-5 mark over the last six games.

Look, I’ll never give up hope on the ‘Boys, but looking ahead is what got this team into trouble in the first place.  They don’t need to be concerned with the playoffs, or even the Saints on Thanksgiving.  They simply need to worry about having a solid Wednesday practice in preparation for the Detroit Lions.  If the Cowboys can continue to focus on the present, they’ll be fine.

What to Watch for Dallas

Will Dez Bryant officially overtake Roy Williams as the No. 2 wide receiver?

Bryant played more snaps than Williams last week already, but the two split duties as the No. 2 guy based on game situations and play-calling.  Let’s see if Bryant’s out-of-this-world performance against the Giants will propel him into becoming a full-time starter, as he should be.

Will we see any more “Pistol” formations?

Just before halftime last week, the Cowboys ran two plays out of the “Pistol”– a formation that places the running back directly behind the quarterback in Shotgun.

I actually hadn’t seen the look make its way up to the NFL at all until Garrett utilized it.  I love the move, as the defense has no pre-snap indication as to the direction of a potential run.  Let’s see if Dallas goes back to it.

Is Tashard Choice ever going to play more under Jason Garrett?

One snap last week, again.  Some DC Times readers still think Marion Barber should be the guy, but his best days are well behind him.  He has zero explosion and actually isn’t a particularly devastating short-yardage runner anymore.  The only thing he does better than Felix Jones and Choice, in my opinion, is block.

I’ll ask it again: with the Cowboys 2-7 and Barber likely to be out of Dallas next season, why isn’t Choice playing at all?

How will the Cowboys’ depleted defensive line perform coming off of a physical game?

Igor Olshansky and Stephen Bowen started at defensive end for the ‘Boys last week, while Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Jeremy Clark, and Josh Brent all got significant playing time.  All but Olshansky had fresh legs going into that game.  How will they perform after a week of punishment?

Will the Lions bring pressure on Jon Kitna after watching him torch the Giants’ secondary last week?

I counted only five blitzes for the Giants in the entire game on Sunday.  I was shocked at their refusal to bring extra defenders even after Kitna & Co. beat their “safe” coverages repeatedly.

I would expect the Lions to do what has worked for other squads against the Cowboys–disguise blitzes, run twists, and throw a lot of exotic looks at the Dallas offense in an attempt to confuse the O-Line.  Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis in particular struggle mightily with stunts and other things which force them to move their feet and be agile.

Will the Cowboys’ offensive line continue to provide proper protection for Kitna and drive defenders off the ball in the running game?

The offensive line was dominant against the Giants–by far their best game as a unit all season.  I think part of that was due to the Giants’ lack of aggression, but don’t forget the line also blew defenders off of the ball in the running game.

With Detroit likely to bring more pressure than New York, it will be interesting to see how the ‘Boys respond.  Perhaps one outstanding game was all they needed to regain their confidence.  Or perhaps they’ll fall back onto poor habits when faced with pressure.  As always, it will be the key to their success.

Will the Cowboys run any of their “predictable” plays?

Last week, the Cowboys ran the play below three times.  The formation (“Double Tight Left Ace”) was a completely new one.  If they line up in it again versus the Lions, they better have a new play-call.

Double Tight Left Ace

The Cowboys did a similar thing in the Vikings game with the play below.  This time, the formation is “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace.”  The Cowboys have since added new plays to the formation’s repertoire, but the one pictured below is still a staple.

Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace

And of course we can’t forget about “Double Tight Strong.”  Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation nearly three-fourths of the 100+ times they lined up in it (including 85.7 percent of the time when motioning into it).  The play basically disappeared early in the season, but it has reemerged since Kitna has taken over (perhaps in an attempt to simplify the playbook).

Can Orlando Scandrick put together back-to-back impressive games?

Scandrick played his best game of the season last week.  He was all over the place in coverage and even flew up to make some hits in run support.  I think he benefited from the absence of Steve Smith and (ironically) the injuries to Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman.  It isn’t brought up much, but I believe Scandrick plays far superior when lined up out wide.

Playing in the slot is completely different than playing outside, and although Scandrick does have speed and quickness, he always appears to be just one step late when playing the nickel.  I raised the question last week of whether it is time to move Newman into the slot in nickel situations.  Now is a better time than ever to experiment with it.

Is it time to leave Jason Witten in to block more often?

Last season, the Cowboys gained nearly two yards more per pass with Witten in a route as compared to when he stayed in to block.  Despite the fact that Witten was out in a route on 77.1 percent of pass plays, I urged for that number to increase in 2010.

Well, I have since changed my tune.  Even though the offensive line was magnificent last week, their overall level of play has diminished considerably from last year.  A lot of times, it seems like leaving Witten in to aid with the opponent’s pass rush is superior to having him in a route.  What good is his skill as a pass-catcher if the quarterback has no time to deliver the football?

Plus (and I know I’ll get a lot of crap for saying this), Witten’s talent has diminished.  He’s still an outstanding tight end and one of the premiere pass-catching/blocking combination players in the league, but his receiving skill set isn’t what it used to be.  He appears slower than ever this year, and with the emergence of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, there are better options in the passing game.

On top of all of that, the Cowboys have had a lot of success with throwing the ball downfield.  I can honestly say Dez Bryant has already shown me he has some of the best ball skills I’ve ever seen.  Just throw it up to him and let him make a play.  As you can see to the right, Dallas already obtained more big plays last season with Witten blocking.

It seems Garrett has caught on.  This year, Witten is going out into a route a bit less–72.5 percent of pass plays.  Last week, the Cowboys gained an astounding 140 yards on the five pass plays during which Witten blocked.

DOs and DON’Ts

DO run some twists and conceal intentions pre-snap on defense in an effort to get DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer rolling again.

It seems the Cowboys have come out with a few exotic blitzes to start games recently (with much success), but then they stray away from it.  New defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni needs to overhaul the mindset of the defense–from limiting big plays to creating some of their own.  That starts with disguised pressure, zone blitzes, and so on.  Plus, this could aid the Cowboys’ two outside linebackers who are in a bit of a rut.

DON’T place Keith Brooking or Bradie James on Jahvid Best.

This is pretty obvious.  James has been okay in coverage this season, but Brooking has been awful.  I’d prefer to see Gerald Sensabaugh on Best during most plays, or even Barry Church (during nickel situations).  Both matchups will be easier if the Cowboys play this coverage. . .

DO implement the same defensive mentality which worked against the Vikings–Cover 1.

Before the Cowboys-Vikings game,  I wrote:

I personally think the Cowboys should play a lot of “Cover 1.”

Cover 1 is basically man coverage underneath with a free safety deep.  That safety (Alan Ball) should shadow Moss during basically every play.  With Terence Newman or Mike Jenkins underneath and Ball deep, the ‘Boys should be able to limit Moss’ big play potential.

Cover 1 also allows a defense to be very flexible with their pre-snap alignment.  The Cowboys can bring eight guys into the box without much risk while in Cover 1 in an effort to be ready to stop Peterson.  Peterson should be the No. 1 priority, and if Dallas stops him, they can stop Moss as well.

Finally, there’s very little downside to playing man coverage underneath against the Vikings.  Not only are the Cowboys’ cornerbacks suited for man-to-man, but Brett Favre isn’t going to be running anywhere.  The idea of a bunch of defenders with their backs turned to the quarterback isn’t as scary as if, say, Michael Vick was at quarterback.

Well, the Cowboys did play Cover 1 against the Vikings (actually nearly every play), and it worked wonders.  Substitute the Lions’ skill position players (Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, and Shaun Hill) in for those in Minnesota, and my thoughts are the same.  Both Johnson and Best are dynamic football players who can break open a game at any moment–don’t let them beat you!

Johnson has incredible ball skills–much better than those of the Dallas cornerbacks.  The Cowboys need to shade him with Ball and be aggressive in the box with eight defenders.  Shut down C.J. and J.B. and take your chances with Nate Burleson or Brandon Pettigrew.

DON’T run too often up the middle.

Ndamukong Suh is only a rookie, but he’s a beast.  Corey Williams, the Lions’ other starting defensive tackle, is also quite underrated.  Even with the mammoths the Cowboys have inside, I think they’ll have trouble moving Suh and Williams.

Instead, the ‘Boys should find success running powers, counters, and tosses.  Detroit’s outside linebackers, Ashlee Palmer and Julian Peterson, aren’t very stout against the run either.  When the Cowboys do run the football, they need to focus on getting Felix Jones to the edge of Detroit’s defense.

DO test the Lions’ secondary.

This goes hand-in-hand with a “DON’T”–DON’T worry about offensive balance as much as running efficiency.  People want to talk about the Cowboys’ offensive balance in their two wins, but that only came as a result of already gaining a lead.  The fact is the Cowboys threw the ball at a slightly higher rate than normal in those two games before running the ball to work the clock.

Against New York, only 12 of the team’s first 33 plays were runs (36.4 percent), while the ‘Boys had a stretch of 21 passes in 28 plays during the middle of the Texans game.  The reason the Cowboys won the two games they did isn’t because of rushing attempts.  Rather, the higher rushing attempts are a result of winning.  Instead, it is rushing efficiency that matters (and really insofar as it draws up the defense to allow for big pass plays).

DO attack cornerback Alphonso Smith with fades.

Smith has been really good since getting traded to Detroit from the Broncos.  He was simply in the wrong scheme in Denver.  However, Smith is only 5’9” and can get abused by bigger receivers.  Well, say hello to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Roy Williams.  All three guys excel on fades.  Throw a lot of ‘em, Garrett.

DO force Shaun Hill to beat you before bringing heavy pressure.

While I expect the Cowboys to be aggressive in their Cover 1 looks, there’s no reason to bring an exorbitant amount of heat until Hill proves he can beat the ‘Boys in their safer zone coverages.  If Dallas can get adequate pressure with just four or five pass-rushers, why send more?

DO continue to throw the ball out of two and three-tight end sets.

The Cowboys implemented three or more receivers on only 14 offensive plays last week.  That’s a season-low.  In the past, I’ve explained why passing out of running formations is successful.  Combine that with Witten and Martellus Bennett’s superb pass protection ability and the deep threat posed by Austin and Bryant, and you have the makings of a lot of “surprise” deep passes.  Now, if Garrett would just call a few after playaction fakes. . .

DON’T look ahead to the Saints.

As I stated in the opening to this article, the Cowboys get in trouble when they look too far into the future.  They need to focus on the task at hand, which is playing a disciplined, dominant game against the Lions.  To me, this is the perfect game on which to judge Garrett as a head coach.  The ‘Boys probably would lose this game under Wade Phillips.  A more detail-oriented coach shouldn’t let that happen.  Let’s see if Garrett can get this team to win the games they should win.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

By Jonathan Bales

Should the Cowboys have kicked a field goal when down 18 against New York?

Jonathan Bales

The Field Goal

Midway through the fourth quarter of Monday night’s Cowboys-Giants matchup, Dallas had a 4th and Goal from the six-yard line, down 18.  Once the Cowboys failed on their 3rd down conversion, I said “Gotta go for it.”  The Cowboys agreed, but ESPN’s Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski did not.  They went into a tirade about how awful the Cowboys’ decision was and how you “just want to keep yourself in the game.”

Like many ill-informed announcers who have little statistical background, they’re just dead wrong.  Down 18 points, the Cowboys obviously needed to score three times.  Two touchdowns, an extra point, a two-point conversion, and a field goal would obviously tie up the game, but let’s not forget that would only be the case if the Cowboys held the Giants to no more points.  Sure, you could argue they’d have to do that to win the game anyway, but it was certainly possible to allow just a field goal and still have a shot at victory.

If the Cowboys kicked the field goal and then subsequently allowed one themselves, they’d be right back where they started (down 18), but with less time left.  If they scored a touchdown, though, they’d be down either 10, 11, or 12 (depending if they went for two and if they made it).  A Giants’ field goal in that scenario still leaves them within two scores.

Plus, the math of the situation supports my opinion.  The graph above shows that, in regular game situations, kicking a field goal would yield slightly more expected points than going for a touchdown.  But this wasn’t a regular game situation, for the reasons mentioned above (and because New York was moving the ball up and down the field).

Let’s also not forget that the Cowboys gave the Giants the ball at their own six-yard line.  I don’t know if Dallas would have kicked the ball deep or tried an onside kick following a touchdown, but either way, New York would have winded up with much better field position than their own six-yard line.  That alone negates the slight statistical advantage of kicking a field goal in “normal” game situations.

The Two-Point Conversion

Later, the Cowboys did score a touchdown to close within 12 points.  They decided to go for a two-point conversion, and Tirico immediately went off about “awful” the decision was.  I normally like Tirico, but he needs to stick to play-by-play and keep his nose out of matters of football theory.  On this topic, he was again as wrong as could be.

You’ll often hear announcers say it’s “too early to go for two.”  But what does that even mean?  How is it ever “too early?”  The decision to go for a two-point conversion should be based on a variety of factors, including the score, a coach’s confidence in his two-point play, and so on.  Actually, if the probability of Team X converting on a two-point attempt is 50.1 percent, they should almost always go for two.  The expected points of 1.002 is greater than that of an extra point (which can obviously only be as high as 1, even with 100 percent accuracy).

Thus, you’d only want to go for an extra point in non-normal game situations.  Suppose Team X scores a late touchdown to tie the game.  They’d clearly want to attempt the extra point to secure the win.  Going for two points would be quite disadvantageous in that scenario.  If football commentators knew the statistics and theory behind two-point attempts, perhaps they’d be saying “It’s too early to try the extra point.”

There are more reasons that Tirico was unjustified in his stance.  Down 12, the decision of whether or not to attempt a two-point try is indeed a “no-brainer,” but Tirico is on the wrong side of the debate.  If you go for two points and succeed, you’re down 10 points and now know that a touchdown and field goal will tie the game.  If you go for two and fail, you now know that you need two touchdowns to win.  If you kick the extra point, however, you might later kick a field goal that will turn out to be meaningless.

The idea that you want to “keep yourself in the game” by kicking an extra point is preposterous.  You actually want to determine what scores you’ll need as early as possible.  If you kick the extra point, then a field goal, you’re down eight points.  If you then score a touchdown and fail on the two-point attempt, you’re still another score away from winning the game.  The field goal attempt in between touchdowns becomes all but meaningless, and this is due solely to the fact that you didn’t attempt the two-point conversion as early as possible.  Failing the two-point try earlier, as I said above, provides you with the knowledge that you need two touchdowns to win.

Tirico and Jaws used the outcome of the game as justification for their view, but that’s wrong as well.  If you roll a six-sided die and bet even money on a specific number coming up, your bet is a dumb one regardless of the outcome of the roll.  The fact that you will win money one time out of six doesn’t justify the decision ex post facto.  When I listen to the Monday Night Football crew, I feel like I am betting that an even number will come up on my roll of the die–but all the commentators, I mean numbers, are odd.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

By Jonathan Bales

Why stats show Dallas Cowboys will make playoffs

Jonathan Bales

Regular readers know I am a stats-nut and I fully believe math always “wins” in the end–the most likely scenarios, given a sufficient sample size, come to fruition the most frequently.

It’s tough to find anything comforting about a 1-3 start (and an upcoming schedule that includes a road contest against a desperate Vikings team, two crucial games against the New York Giants, and trip to Lambeau Field).  And as difficult as it may be right now, trust me when I tell you the Cowboys, despite all the penalties and mental errors, are a much better team than their record indicates.  In fact, if the Cowboys were to play the exact same games with the exact same quality of play, I’d be confident in saying they’d likely be 2-2 or even 3-1.

But how is that possible?  Doesn’t the better football team (on any particular day) always come out the victor?  Not at all.  You’ve seen games where one team (usually Dallas) dominates the majority of the game, only to lose in the end due to the unfortunate outcome of just a few plays.  The Cowboys’ season-opener was a perfect example of that.

Even with the Cowboys’ mediocrity thus far in 2010, they are “unlucky” to be 1-3.  Despite the infuriating lackadaisical play, the Cowboys “should be” at least .500.

Need some numbers?  Over at NFL Forecast, they’re still declaring the Cowboys to be the (big-time) favorite to win the NFC East.  According to their numbers, the ‘Boys have a 51 percent chance of winning the division and a 71 percent chance of making the playoffs in general.

NFL Forecast uses efficiency ratings, not just game outcomes, to determine a team’s chances of succeeding in the future.  Remember, good play doesn’t necessarily equate to winning, and there are a ton of statistics that are more representative of a team’s talent than its record.

My buddy Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats calculates a team efficiency stat known as “Success Rate”:

SR is only counting up successes and failures, so it excludes the magnitude of play results. The more random types of outcomes, such as turnovers and very long plays are counted only as a single success or failure, no different than a 6 yard gain on first down or a stop on 3rd down. It also considers a successful red zone play no differently than one at midfield.

As I’ve been playing around with SR, I’ve noticed a few things. First, it correlates well with winning. And second, it correlates well with itself, meaning it is relatively stable throughout the season. These are the two attributes we want in a stat for it to be predictive of future outcomes.

A “success” is any play that increased a team’s “expected points,” and a failure is any play that decreases EP.  And according to Burke, the Cowboys have been the NFL’s second-most “successful” team in 2010.  They are increasing their EP on 49.8 percent of offensive plays–third-best in the league, and on 57.6 percent of defensive plays–fifth-best in the NFL.

Success rate and expected points aren’t just some bogus numbers that have no relation to wins.  EP calculations are based on years and years of NFL data collection.  How much is a 4th and 3 conversion at your opponent’s 35-yard line “worth”?  EP will tell you.  Year in and year out, the teams with the highest EPs are among the most successful.

Through only four games, however, the sample size of wins/losses just isn’t large enough to be conclusively indicative of a team’s talent, nor can it be used as a strong barometer for future success.

Think about it.  There seems to be a big difference between a 2-2 team and one that is 3-1 (at least emotionally), but what is that difference in reality?  Maybe a single play in just one game?  A shoestring tackle here, a fingertip catch there.

Still, there are those who will claim that the “should haves” mean nothing–the Cowboys are 1-3, and that’s it.  How could they be anything other than their record?  While I generally disagree with this assessment, it is true in some sense.  The Cowboys’ record may or may not be representative of how they’ll play in the future, but whether it is or not does nothing to alter the fact that they are 1-3.

For that 1-3 record to change for the better, the Cowboys need to disregard the “should haves” and focus on improving today.  If they do that, they should find themselves playing into mid-January (at least).  The stats never lie.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys at Texans Week Three Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Houston



Jonathan Bales

You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis.  Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.

These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys.  Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap.  You can read this week’s Cowboys/Texans Manifesto here.

Let’s get to the game. . .

1. Continue to line up in double-tight end sets in passing situations.

I’ve said it a few times:

In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights.  The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block (insert Pro Bowl pass-rusher here).  No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.

Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection?  Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much.  Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).

Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general.  Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace.’

Lining up in two-tight end sets will also allow the Cowboys to more effectively throw the ball downfield.  Tony Romo has attempted just 10 passes of 20+ yards all season.  With weapons like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant outside, why not take some shots down the field?

2.  Put Miles Austin in the slot a lot more.

The Redskins exposed a weakness in the Cowboys’ offensive line–an inability to effectively block “disguised” blitzes.  When the Cowboys are uncertain from where a blitz may come (including when teams stunt and twist), they have trouble providing ample protection for Romo.

You can bet the Texans are going to duplicate the game plans of Washington and Chicago.  Expect a lot of blitzes, and even a lot of feigned blitzes (showing blitz and backing out, or coming from another angle).

The best way for the ‘Boys to beat this is by “throwing hot”–immediately hitting the uncovered receiver.  Austin spent plenty of time in the slot during the preseason, but we haven’t seen it as much in the regular season.  That needs to return, because Austin is clearly the wide receiver with whom Romo has the most chemistry.  The Cowboys could hit on some big-time plays if they can effectively beat the Texans’ blitzes.

3.  Send overload blitzes to the left side of the Texans’ offensive line.

The Texans will be starting Rashad Butler (who?) at left tackle in place of the suspended Duane Brown.  This is by far their largest weakness on offense and the Cowboys need to exploit it.  I’d really love to see them disguise their blitzes/coverages better, particularly in an effort to take advantage of Butler.  The most effective way the Cowboys can limit the play of Andre Johnson probably starts with Butler–if they can take advantage of him and get to Matt Schaub, AJ can be (slightly) contained.  Remember, no matter how talented the wide receiver, he is still completely dependent on his offensive line and quarterback.

I still don’t think the Cowboys should blitz very often, but being creative with their blitzes when they do send them will be imperative.

4.  Don’t stuff the box unless it is absolutely critical.

Texans running back Arian Foster has been sensational thus far this season (I would know–he’s on most of my fantasy teams), but he’s probably not going to gash the Dallas defense for a huge run.  I’d much rather see the Cowboys keep their safeties deep in an effort to minimize the big-play options Houston possesses on the outside, simultaneously forcing Foster and the Houston offensive line to continually beat the them to move the ball.

5.  Use the playaction pass often, including bootlegs off of it. . .but be less predictable.

Last week, I thought the Cowboys should have all but abandoned the playaction pass.  Instead, they ran it 12 times for an unimpressive 80 yards.

This week, I’d love to see it quite often.  I think the Cowboys can take advantage of a Texans defense that can sometimes to over-aggressive.  Further, if they run playaction passes from run-oriented, double-tight end formations (see No. 1), the line should be able to provide enough time for the Cowboys receivers to beat a very underwhelming Houston secondary.

But stop running playaction passes in such predictable situations!  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.

Finally, use some rollouts.  Two designed rollouts on the season (and zero last week) isn’t optimal.  Not only do bootlegs and other rollouts allow Romo to improvise a bit (which is when I believe he is at his best), but they can also be an effective tool against the blitz and a struggling offensive line.  If Romo simply drops back to the same spot on the field every pass, Mario Williams will be able to pin his ears back and just rush to that spot.

6.  Be flexible!

I think this is the sort of game in which the Cowboys need to be willing to deviate from their game plane to accommodate game-specific situations.  You could probably say Dallas needs to do a better job of that in every game, but this week it is especially true.

The reason has to do with match-ups.  It is obvious the ‘Boys need to run the ball more effectively, but Houston has been tremendous in run defense this year.  Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Amobi Okoye, Bernard Pollard and so on are all really good run defenders.  The Texans are susceptible to the pass, however, yielding over 400 yards-per-game thus far in 2010.

So what strategy is Dallas to employ?  Should they try to establish the run and set up the passing game off of that, or immediately take advantage of the Texans’ weakness in the secondary?  In my opinion, they should simply find out what is working and stick with it.  If they can run the ball early, then pound it and don’t look back.  If the passing game is on fire, then disregard any pre-game commitment to the run and just air it out.

Recognize the flow of the game, adjust accordingly, and bring home a win!


Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

By Jonathan Bales

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



Jonathan Bales

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

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

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

Red Zone Play-Calling

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

Personnel

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

Formations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————-

Player Grades

OFFENSE

  • LT Doug Free: A-

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

  • LG Kyle Kosier: C-

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

  • C Andre Gurode: C-

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

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B-

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

  • RT Marc Colombo: C-

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

  • WR Miles Austin: A

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

  • WR Roy Williams: B

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

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

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

  • TE Jason Witten: B

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

  • TE Martellus Bennett: A

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

  • RB Marion Barber: C

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

  • RB Felix Jones: C-

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

  • QB Tony Romo: C-

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

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.

By Jonathan Bales

An Open Letter to All Dallas Cowboys Fans

Jonathan Bales

Make no mistake about it: I am a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan.  Even though I am supposed to be part of the “media” (I guess), I don’t hide the fact that I eat, sleep, and breath Dallas Cowboys.  Even though this site is dedicated to objective film study and statistical analysis, I don’t disguise myself as a completely non-biased sports writer (although I do aim for that).  And even though I have a duty to supply you with the best, most unique Cowboys-related material in a timely manner, sometimes, at times like this, I simply don’t feel like it.

When I woke up this morning (and on all mornings following a loss like this one), I wasn’t in a particularly buoyant mood.  Actually, I felt like crap.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  Is it peculiar for a grown man to let a game affect his life to such an immense degree?  You bet.  Will I ever let it stop?  No way in hell.

See, that’s exactly what being a football fan is about–not just the thrill of victory, but also the despair of defeat, and the loyalty that binds, even necessitates the two.  Everyone wants to be there when times are good.  Everyone is a fan in the playoffs.  But who is going to stand by their team during the rough times?  Who is going to support their Dallas Cowboys now that they are 0-2?  Because to sufficiently enjoy the good times, you have to be there for the bad.

Trust me with all of your heart, fellow Cowboys fans, when I say the sweetness of future victory will be greatest for those of you who are most loyal right now.  Those who are suffering. . .rejoice in knowing you will feel the greatest triumph when your Dallas Cowboys rebound.  Whether it takes a game or five seasons, continue to be loyal.  Embrace these moments of despair.  Remember what this feels like.

The great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the first Western thinkers to posit the complementary nature of “opposite” values.  Love and hate, for example, are not diametrically opposed, but rather two forms of the same emotion.  They complement one another; even become one another; and certainly necessitate one another.  What is love without hate?  It’s nothing.  Its existence is meaningless.

Similarly, what is the joy of victory without the anguish of defeat?  There is none.  Why do you surmise Chicago Cubs fans are some of the most loyal, die-hard fans of any team in sports, yet their club has not won a World Series in, like, a century?  Can you imagine the joy they will feel when the Cubbies finally win a championship?

Now, I’m not at all claiming you should become accustomed to losing.  I am one of the most competitive people I know and I want to win at all times.  Winning, and the drive to become a champion, is what fuels not only athletes, but people in all walks of life.  As Coach Boone said in Remember the Titans, “I’m a winner.  I’m going to win.”

Let’s not forget, though, that being a winner isn’t about always winning, but rather reacting positively to defeat.  The best sports teams, the best football players, even the best human beings, all have two things in common.  First, they all get knocked down.  They get beat, punched in the mouth, dealt a bad hand, and so on.  But the second thing they all have in common is what makes them winners: they get back up.  They respond positively to adversity, arising from the gloom even stronger than before they entered.

In short, winners are at their best when everything else is at its worst.  The existential psychologist Rollo May once wrote:

What is courage?  This courage will not be the opposite of despair.  We shall often be faced with despair, as indeed every sensitive person has been during the last several decades in this country.  Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.

Many people think it is silly to label a bad stretch by your favorite sports teams as a time of “despair,” but I don’t.  I know how you are feeling, and I am right here with you.

But now is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves.  Now is the time to embrace and remember our feelings, but overcome them.  We need to act as we want the players to act.  Why should we expect them to overcome adversity if we ourselves are so quick to give into the tribulations of the current times, curling into the fetal position (metaphorically and literally, for some) and abandoning all loyalty in an attempt to find a scapegoat for what has gone wrong?

Instead, we need to be loyal now more than ever.  Support your Dallas Cowboys with everything you have inside of you.  Be there during the lowest of lows, because it will make the highs that much sweeter.

Be the best fan you can be.

Be a winner.

To have no loyalty is to have no dignity, and in the end, no manhood.

- P.T. Forsyth

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.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.