The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Mailbag: 3/18/10 (Rotating linemen, compensatory picks)

Might it be possible to substitute someone in for the big guy a few plays a game?

Q: Why would the Cowboys not draft a LT prospect to rotate with Flozell Adams a few plays per game, and do the same with other OL personnel (Colombo/Free)?

John Coleman, Bassett, VA

A: Line substitutions have traditionally been limited to the defensive side of the ball, but we kind of like your thinking here. Football has evolved into a sport of personnel packages. The Cowboys bring in different packages of skill positions players on offense based on down and distance. They do the same with the entire defense.

So why does the offensive line, on basically every NFL team, remain stagnant? Our best guess is that you always want your best players protecting your quarterback. It could be risky, for example, substituting a rookie for Flozell Adams in a 3rd and Long situation.

Still, there do seem to be situations where the idea makes a lot of sense. The Cowboys loved what they saw in Doug Free last season, so why not rotate him with Marc Colombo at right tackle? We graded Free as superior to Colombo in pass protection, so perhaps the Cowboys should consider substituting Free in during passing situations, just as they do with Tashard Choice.

These “linemen packages” do not necessarily have to tip the defense as to a certain play. The substitution of Choice on 3rd down, for example, does not guarantee a pass. Further, during situations such as 3rd and Long when the defense all but knows a pass is going to be dialed up, why not have your best pass protectors in the game?

The problem with substituting a rookie for Adams is that the veteran left tackle’s weakness is obviously pass protecting. Trusting a rookie in 2nd and 5 is a bit different than 3rd and 10 on Romo’s blind side against the opponent’s best pass-rusher. However, you could make the argument that he would still be better than Adams in pass protection at this point.

Q: When will the NFL announce the compensatory draft picks for this year? Do you think Dallas will receive anything better than a single pick at the end of the 6th round? Thanks!

The Cowboys could have received a fairly high compensatory draft pick for losing Chris Canty had they not signed so many other free agents.

Edward Toerner, Lafayette, LA

A: Good question Edward. Compensatory picks will be awarded at the annual NFL meeting, this year being held from March 21-24.

Unfortunately, Dallas does not stand to receive anything too worthwhile again this season in terms of compensatory selections. These picks are based not only on free agents a team loses, but also those a team signs.

So while the squad could have benefited greatly from Chris Canty signing with the Giants (or even a little from Kevin Burnett signing with the Chargers), these losses are negated because Dallas picked up players such as Keith Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Igor Olshansky.

Now, a team can still be awarded selections for losing better free agents (i.e. ones who sign for more money), so the Cowboys should be in line to receive a selection via that route. The problem is that, without losing more free agents than they signed, the Cowboys cannot attain any higher than a 7th round selection for any players lost.

Further, salary is not the sole determiner of a player’s value (although it is the primary factor). Playing time also counts some. Remember, though, that Canty got injured and missed basically the entire season.

Altogether, don’t bank on the Cowboys receiving anything special here in the coming week.

By Jonathan Bales

Is Doug Free Suited to Play Left Tackle?

Doug Free did a respectable job filling in at right tackle for the injured Marc Colombo last season. We gave him a ‘B-’ in pass protection and a ‘C+’ in the run game in our 2009 Offensive Line Grades. In fact, he actually performed slightly better than starter Marc Colombo in our rankings.

Doug Free's ability to play left tackle is a big question mark for Dallas.

Cowboys fans and writers alike are assuming Free will eventually make the transition to left tackle. Not so fast. Free performed admirably for a backup player, but do we really think he is ready to protect Romo’s blind side?

The uncertainty surrounding Free’s ability to play left tackle is one of the main reasons we believe the Cowboys should retain Flozell Adams in 2010. At right tackle, Free rarely faced the opposition’s best pass-rusher (although he did effectively neutralize Jared Allen in the divisional playoff game).

Still, he has not withstood the test of time. Entrusting a player with only half a season of play under his belt with the task of keeping the franchise quarterback safe is risky to say the least.

Thus, expect the Cowboys to address the tackle position early (and perhaps often) in the upcoming draft. In our opinion, drafting a stud tackle to groom behind Adams for a year is the most rational path for Dallas to take and their most likely ticket to success. This rookie could prepare himself to start in 2011, with Adams then leaving the team or possibly moving to guard.

Free might eventually battle Colombo for the starting right tackle job, but he certainly makes a very trustworthy swing tackle.

By Jonathan Bales

Top Five Reasons Cowboys Should Keep Flozell Adams

Despite Flozell Adams' struggles in '09, there is currently no better option at left tackle.

It is no secret that we have been highly critical of Flozell Adams’ 2009 play. In our final Offensive Line Grades, we rated him as Dallas’ worst starting lineman last season, giving him a “C-” overall grade. Adams was solid in the run game, but gave up the second-most quarterback pressures in the NFL with 42. He also yielded more than twice as many sacks as any other Cowboys’ lineman, and let’s not forget his struggles with penalties (and costly ones at that).

Jerry Jones has been hesitant when addressing Adams’ future with the club, which could hinge on who the Cowboys are able to acquire in the draft. Despite our criticism of Adams, though, we believe he should remain a Cowboy in 2010. Why? The top five reasons are listed below.

1. There is currently not a better option at left tackle.

While it is nice to think a team can just release under-performing players, the move only makes sense if there is an adequate replacement waiting in the wings. As of now, no such replacement exists for the Cowboys. Even a first round selection is probably not NFL-ready enough to perform at an overall higher level than Flozell Adams will in 2010. Despite his struggles, Adams is still serviceable on the outside.

We imagine many of you see Doug Free as a capable replacement for Adams. See reason number two.

2. Doug Free was overrated in 2009 and did not play left tackle.

When we say Free was overrated, we do not mean in any manner that he played poorly last season. ‘Overrated’ is an expectation-laden label. Fans (and probably even coaches) were expecting a tremendous drop-off from Marc Colombo to Free, and when that did not happen, it was natural to believe Free was more productive than was actually the case.

According to our film study, however, Free was about an average, or perhaps slightly above-average right tackle. His smaller, athletic frame allowed him to be successful in pass protection. We graded him as the top tackle on the team in that department.

Although he was not a liability in run blocking, the 4.54 yards-per-carry average on runs during which he was a “point of attack” blocker was the worst of any tackle on the team. Free’s big play-to-negative play ratio was also the worst on the team (1.21 runs of 10+ yards for every negative run yielded). In comparison, Adams’ 1.45-to-1 big play-to-negative play ratio was the best among tackles.

Doug Free was better than expected at right tackle, but moving him to left tackle would leave the team with no viable backup.

Lastly, Free spent the entire regular season at right tackle. While we are fairly certain Free would not be as dominant at left tackle in the run game as Adams, we are also unsure how he would perform in pass protection on the left side. Teams generally line their best pass-rusher up on the right side of the defense. There is just too much uncertainty surrounding Free to be comfortable in having him already replace Adams, and right now he is probably better suited being a capable swing tackle.

3. Moving Doug Free to left tackle would create an even greater lack of depth at tackle.

We already have offensive tackle listed as the Cowboys’ top positional draft need. If the Cowboys release Adams, they will become dangerously thin at the position. Who would be the top backup? Pat McQuistan? Robert Brewster? A rookie? The latter is the most likely scenario, but with the frequency with which NFL players get injured, there is a solid chance that, should Adams be cut, the Cowboys would be forced to start a rookie at tackle at some point during the 2010 season.

4. With 2010 being an uncapped season, there is no financial reason to release Adams.

If cutting Adams would enhance the ability for the Cowboys to sign other players, our stance might be different. With no cap, though, assessing the “value” of players relative to their contracts becomes a moot point, at least for 2010. You never want to overpay a player, but if releasing a starter creates no competitive advantage, why do it?

Some may claim that Adams’ presence would block the progress of a younger player, but we do not think this is the case. We already explained why Doug Free is better suited as a backup for both left and right tackle, and any rookie the Cowboys could potentially draft would need time to develop anyway.

Even if the Cowboys drafted a tackle like Oklahoma's Trent Williams, would he really be a better immediate option than Adams?

5. Could Flozell Adams potentially move to guard?

This is highly speculative, but we believe Adams could potentially follow in the footsteps of Larry Allen and finish his career at guard. We actually discussed this in our latest Mailbag. As we explained there, transitioning to guard could help Adams utilize his power in the run game and hide his lack of quickness which leads to his struggles in pass protection.

A move in 2010 would be premature, as Kyle Kosier has been playing at a very high level as of late. His contract runs up at the end of this season, however, so making the switch after this season is not out of the question.

Our Solution

We propose the Cowboys keep Flozell Adams as the starting left tackle in 2010. In the meantime, they should do everything in their power to secure a left tackle of the future. This player, in all probability a rookie, could take a season to develop behind Adams. Keeping Adams on the roster would also allow Free to remain the primary backup at both tackle positions, a situation in which we believe he thrives.

After 2010, we believe Adams would be more productive at guard. Thus, his future would likely be linked to Kosier’s contract. If the Cowboys are willing and able to re-sign Kosier, Adams would likely get the boot, with either Free or a rookie from the 2010 class stepping into the starting rotation. Perhaps Flozell would even be willing to take a pay cut and play behind Kosier and Davis, although that is unlikely. Nonetheless, this scenario is the best way to ensure the Cowboys maintain proper depth at offensive tackle in 2010, while also securing future success at the position.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys News and Notes

Jay Ratliff wants you to recycle

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05IwAuUVsrk&feature=player_embedded]

By Jonathan Bales

Mailbag 3/5/10

Marcus Spears' second round tender was a bit surprising, but he is still likely to remain in Dallas.

Q: Why did the Cowboys only give Marcus Spears a second round tender? Don’t you think another team will give up the pick and sign him?

Terry Hardwick, Memphis, TN

The Cowboys actually gave Marcus Spears an original pick tender. However, should another team sign him, they would only have to give up a second round pick, so you are right about that.

There are a few things the Cowboys could be trying to accomplish by not giving Spears a higher tender. First, perhaps they think no one will sign Spears long-term. NFL teams treat draft picks like gold. When the Cardinals are trying to trade Anquan Boldin for a third-rounder, you get an idea of how valuable teams consider their draft picks to be.

Second, the Cowboys may plan to match any offer that Spears gets from another team. If Spears gets signed long-term, the Cowboys have seven days to match that exact offer. They have to be careful with this, however, as a team could sign Spears to a deal that contains a “poison pill”– a component of the contract that the Cowboys would be unable to match. For example, if the contract said that Spears could only play “X” amount of games in Arlington, Texas, then the Cowboys would obviously be out of luck. Offers containing “poison pills” are very rare and considered dirty. There would also be no reason for Spears to sign such a contract, unless he really does not want to come back to Dallas.

Moving Flozell Adams to guard is a possibility, but more so in 2011.

Lastly, the Cowboys could actually be content with Spears leaving. We doubt this is the case, but if they have enough confidence in Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Igor Olshansky, they may see Spears as expendable. This would make defensive end a high priority in the draft, increasing the likelihood of the Cowboys selecting Jared Odrick or Brian Price in the first round.

Q: Is it possible to move Flozell Adams to guard? He has struggled in pass protection but excelled in run blocking, so maybe it could help his production.

Allen Barber, Oakland, CA

You know, we actually are not fundamentally opposed to the idea. You have to be careful switching players’ positions, but Flozell may actually be a candidate to make the switch to guard. As you pointed out and we showed in our Offensive Line Grades, Adams was still productive in the run game. Moving him to guard might help him utilize his strength and hide his lack of quickness in pass protection.

The most obvious potential problem is that guards are asked to pull a lot more than tackles. Does Flozell still possess the quickness needed to pull and make a block in the open field? Perhaps he has been dominant in run blocking because, at left tackle, he is generally matched up against the defense’s smallest lineman, something that would never happen if he was playing guard.

Still, we think Adams has the strength to hold his own inside. Further, Leonard Davis has shown that a 355 pound man is capable of moving around well at guard, so Adams shouldn’t be ruled out.

Practically, however, a move cannot be made at this time. First, the Cowboys are already searching for depth at tackle. This is probably Adams last season as the starting left tackle, and who knows if Doug Free is capable of playing well on the left side. We already think Free’s right tackle play, contrary to popular belief, was only slightly above average.

As much as Earl Thomas would help the Cowboys' secondary, he will probably get selected too high for Dallas to even have a chance to trade for him.

Second, the Cowboys already have two solid guards. Adams would have to take Kyle Kosier’s job, but Kosier played extremely well last season, yielding just one sack all year. If a move to guard is in Flozell’s future, it would likely come next year, when Kosier is a free agent and the team has had a full season to groom either Doug Free or a rookie as Adams’ successor at left tackle.

Q: Do you see the Cowboys trading up to draft Texas safety Earl Thomas? We need a new free safety and Thomas is a ball-hawk who looked great at the Combine.

Devon Douglas, Weatherford, TX

Earl Thomas did excel in Indianapolis, and we listed him as one of our “Combine Winners.” Most surprising about Thomas was that he weighed in at 208 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than his college weight, yet still ran a 4.44 forty-yard dash. Thomas is certainly on the Cowboys radar.

Unfortunately, he is on a lot of other teams’ radar too. We think Thomas is going to go very early in the draft, even more so than people are expecting. We talked to a scout who said multiple teams have Thomas ranked ahead of the “consensus” top safety Eric Berry. There are also rumors that Houston will not let Thomas get passed them if he drops to pick #20.

If that is the case, the best case scenario for Jerry Jones would be to trade up to pick #19 if Thomas somehow drops there. Even though we see that as very unlikely, it would probably cost the Cowboys their 3rd and 4th round picks to make that move (according to the NFL Draft Value Chart). That is a steep price to pay, particularly with so many talented safeties projected to be on the board in round two.

Thus, unless Thomas drops into the 20′s, the Cowboys are highly unlikely to make a move for him. It should really be a moot point, though, as we see Thomas as a potential top 15 pick.

By Jonathan Bales

News and Notes

Tashard Choice Mic’ed Up

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_Qavmfl-Xk&feature=channel]

Note: Tomorrow we will be posting an interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams.

By Jonathan Bales

Potential Cowboys Draft Picks: Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

Oklahoma OT Trent Williams is not the typical Cowboys' lineman.

Having just completed our Offensive Linemen Grades segment, it is apparent the Cowboys must make an upgrade at tackle (particularly left tackle). Despite being solid in the run game, we gave LT Flozell Adams a “C-” grade for the year. He was awful in pass protection, yielding nine sacks and a near league-high 42 quarterback pressures.

Right tackles Marc Colombo and Doug Free were a bit better, but both still received grades (B-) worse than all three interior linemen. Doug Free does provide a viable backup “swing tackle” option right now, but there are questions about how effective he would be as a starting left tackle.

Further, Adams is unlikely to be on the team after this season, so Dallas is in near-desperation mode to find his replacement. After their dismantling in Minnesota, the Cowboys may be more eager to ditch their mass requirement for offensive linemen to add a more athletic body who excels in pass protection.

Scouting Report

Trent Williams is an excellent athlete with a knack for protecting the quarterback. At 6’5”, 310 pounds, he is a bit smaller than the typical Cowboys lineman, but still within reach. Williams is very patient in his stance during pass protection, but sometimes he allows the defender to get into his body and he loses his leverage. Thus, Williams can sometimes struggle against bigger defensive ends who use a bull rush to overpower him.

You would like to see Williams be more aggressive at times in both pass protection and when run blocking. He can sometimes play a bit soft. Many people see Williams as a right tackle prospect only, but we disagree. 2009 was Williams’ first year at left tackle, and he played well enough to be a first round draft pick. With more experience, he should be a respectable left tackle who can be counted on in the NFL.

His inexperience at left tackle did show at times, as he misread blitzes and stunts. In fact, the play against BYU during which quarterback Sam Bradford injured his shoulder was the result of Williams misreading a defensive stunt and getting his QB killed. If the Cowboys think that Williams’ run blocking can improve, he may be an option in the first round. It would be a sign that the team is going a different direction concerning the characteristics of their linemen.

Projection

Williams is unlikely to drop to pick 27. He is probably not going to get passed San Francisco at pick 17. Dallas could make a move up to get a tackle, a decision we are currently advocating, but with so many other tackles available (Maryland’s Bruce Campbell and USC’s Charles Brown may still be on the board), it probably would not be a smart decision to move that far. If Williams slips into the 20′s, which is certainly a possibility, Dallas may have a tough decision on their hands.

Ultimately, though, we don’t see much difference between Trent Williams and Charles Brown. Brown should be available at less of a cost, so he is probably more on the Cowboys’ radar than Williams.

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys, Part II: Offensive Line (Run Blocking and Overall Grades)

In our initial “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we analyzed the ability of each lineman to protect the quarterback. A lot of interesting results came from that study, many of which confirmed the notion that the Cowboys’ tackles struggled in pass protection while the interior linemen excelled.

We would expect the tackles’ pass protection numbers to be inferior, of course, because they are facing opposing teams’ best pass-rushers. Flozell Adams in particular was often matched up against the defense’s most dominant sack specialist. Still, we would expect the gap between the positions to be less than that which we observed.

Overall, we assigned the linemen with the following grades in pass protection:

Pass Protection Grades

1. Andre Gurode: A

2. Leonard Davis: A-

3. Kyle Kosier: B+

4. Doug Free B-

5. Marc Colombo: C

6. Flozell Adams: D+

Our analysis of the linemen’s run blocking success provided much different results. A chart displaying each player’s statistics is below. There are a few issues we must address before assigning grades.

In this play, the "point of attack" blockers are labeled with a red dot.

  • The number of rushes and yards listed below is nowhere near the actual final season statistics. We assigned each lineman with the results of run plays during which he was a blocker at the “point of attack” (see display to the right). During each play, there are generally two linemen blocking at the “point of attack” (except on runs outside of the tackle box), and thus there are usually two linemen to receive the statistics from a single run.
  • As we noted, one would expect the tackles to have worse numbers in pass protection. In a similar manner (but vice versa), we would expect the interior linemen to have inferior run blocking statistics. This is not only because the middle of the field is clogged with gigantic defensive linemen and linebackers, but also because teams will often run up the middle in short-yardage and goal line situations, thus limiting both the big play possibility and average yards-per-carry.
  • The average-yards-per carry number is important within a position (LT vs. RT, for example), but less useful when comparing, say, a center and a tackle. Averages can be misleading because of outliers (in this case, long runs), so weighing the ability of each lineman to provide big plays yet still minimize negative ones may be a more effective method of determining their productivity.
  • Dallas did a decent job of mixing up the direction of runs, although they may have been well-served running counters and tosses outside of the tackles a bit more. Expect the number of those sorts of runs to go up next season with the probable increased workload of Felix Jones.
  • Penalty counts were dissected in our pass protection segment, but they were certainly a factor in both sets of grades.

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

And now for the run blocking grades.

LT Flozell Adams: B

While Adams did an atrocious job in pass protection, he was respectable in the run game. The 4.98 yards-per-carry average when running behind Flozell is decent but not outstanding. We actually expected this number to be a bit higher, particularly because the Cowboys ran inside so often in short-yardage situations. They did run behind Adams often in goal line situations, particularly when in the Wildcat, so that could contribute to the modest average.

The most surprising statistic is the very low percentage of 20-plus yard runs behind Flozell. In comparison, the Cowboys garnered a big run play over three times as frequently when running behind Doug Free. This could be taken as a positive, though, as Adams’ yards-per-rush was decent despite the lack of outliers.

Adams did do a fairly good job limiting negative run plays. Running outside generally holds a higher risk and higher reward than running up the middle, making his 9.24 percent negative run frequency respectable. The high rewards that often come with running outside, though, are also a reason Adams’ low big play percentage is so surprising.

LG Kyle Kosier: B-

Kosier gets nearly the same grade as Flozell, despite a lower average yards-per-carry, due to his position. While Dallas did run behind Leonard Davis a bit more frequently than Kosier, particularly in must-have short-yardage plays, Kosier was asked to do a lot more blocking than Flozell in situations with limited upside. Thus, we would expect his average to be lower.

We would still like to see Kosier raise that yards-per-carry number to about 4.5. Also, only 11.45 percent of runs behind Kosier went for ten or more yards– the lowest on the team.

Overall, Kosier was not quite as good in the run game as he was in pass protection, but still adequate.

C Andre Gurode: B

Gurode’s 3.72 average yards-per-carry was by far the lowest on the team, but that is to be expected. At center, Gurode is only in the “point of attack” on runs directly up the middle. The upside is very limited on these runs.

This limited upside is why the rate of big plays when running behind Gurode is so impressive. In fact, Gurode provided the second-most 10 yard runs on the team and the most runs for 20 yards.

RG Leonard Davis: A-

Davis’ 4.57 yard average is good for a guard, especially since he was nearly always a “point of attack” blocker during important short-yardage plays. Leonard did an excellent job providing big plays while also minimizing the negative ones.

The Cowboys ran behind Davis more than any other lineman, but Leonard yielded the lowest percentage of negative plays of any lineman. In fact, his 19:12 big play-to-negative play ratio was best on the team.

RT Marc Colombo: B-

Running behind Colombo was the ultimate risk/reward in 2009. Colombo’s 6.25 yards-per-rush average was outstanding, but his sample size of 52 runs is too limited for this number to be considered very significant. An incredible 17.3 percent of runs behind Marc went for 10 or more yards, by far the highest on the team.

Colombo also yielded seven negative runs out of those 52 attempts, making running behind him riskier than anyone else. These negative plays can be drive killers, which is why Colombo received a “B-” despite holding the highest average.

RT Doug Free: C+

Doug Free’s performance, like we anticipated, was about average in both the passing and running games. He was neither dominant nor a liability. His 4.54 yards-per-rush average, which was lower than Leonard Davis’ average, is much too low for a tackle. Further, blocking next to the lineman who we rank highest should increase your average, making 4.54 an even worse number.

Free did a decent job of providing big plays in the run game, but he also yielded too many negative ones.

Leonard Davis, as you may have guessed, was the Cowboys' most productive lineman in the run game.

Thus, we rank the performance of the 2009 Cowboys’ linemen, in terms of run blocking, as follows:

Run Blocking Grades

1. Leonard Davis: A-

T2. Flozell Adams: B

T2. Andre Gurode: B

T4. Kyle Kosier: B-

T4. Marc Colombo: B-

6. Doug Free: C+

In calculating our final overall grades for each lineman, we cannot simply combine our run and pass grades equally. Run blocking is certainly important and a dominant running attack can allow a team to control a game, but in today’s day and age, passing is king.

So how should we weigh each component? The most logical method, in our opinion, is to use the same run/pass ratio the team did during the season to determine our final grades.

Jason Garrett dialed up a pass play 585 times in 2009, while calling just 402 runs on the season. This equates to almost exactly a 60/40 split, meaning we will count our pass protection grades as 60 percent of the overall grades.

For example, Flozell Adams received a “D+” in pass protection and a “B-” in run blocking. We will give a 67 percent for the “D+” and an 83 percent for the “B-”. In weighting those percentages in a 60/40 manner, Flozell’s final grade is a 73.4 percent, or a “C-”.

Flozell Adams is still an adequate run blocker, but his struggles in pass protection are a major reason Dallas is rumored to be interested in selecting an offensive tackle early in the 2010 Draft.

Overall Linemen Grades

LT Flozell Adams: 73.4 (C-)

LG Kyle Kosier: 85.4 (B)

C Andre Gurode: 91.0 (A-)

RG Leonard Davis: 93.0 (A-)

RT Marc Colombo: 79.4 (B-)

RT Doug Free: 80.6 (B-)

Overall, the Cowboys line played fairly well throughout the regular season. The interior linemen outperformed the tackles, particularly Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. Our statistics seem to pass the eye test, as Gurode and Davis appeared to be the most consistent Dallas’ linemen all season.

As an entire group, we gave the line an 83.3 (B-) combined grade in pass protection, an 84.3 (B) team grade in run blocking, and an 83.9 (B) overall.

The offensive line imploded in the Divisional playoff game in Minnesota, and we all saw how vastly that can affect the offense. There simply is no way to be a consistently productive offense without an effective offensive line.

In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will analyze the productivity and efficiency of the running backs.

By Jonathan Bales

News and Notes

For the Fellas

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWmr0Ej2bdo&feature=PlayList&p=8C0C405CE639EB6D&index=0&playnext=1]


By Jonathan Bales

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

Center Andre Gurode received our highest grade for any lineman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the grades.

Pass Protection Grades

LT Flozell Adams: D+

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

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

LG Kyle Kosier: B+

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

C Andre Gurode: A

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

RG Leonard Davis: A-

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

RT Marc Colombo: C

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

RT Doug Free: B-

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

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

1. Andre Gurode: A

2. Leonard Davis: A-

3. Kyle Kosier: B+

4. Doug Free: B-

5. Marc Colombo: C

6. Flozell Adams: D+

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

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