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Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part X: Quarterbacks

Jonathan Bales

Already graded: Defensive lineinside linebackersoutside linebackerssafetiescornerbackstight endswide receivers, running backs, and offensive line.

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Tony Romo Passer Rating by Location

Thus far, I have dissected the 2010 play of the Cowboys players at every position other than quarterback.  I saved the best for last.

Grading quarterback is much different than doing so for the other positions in that statistics, while plentiful for the position, are less indicative of a quarterback’s success than for other players.  The primary responsibility of a quarterback is to lead his team to victory, no matter what it takes.  Some quarterbacks put up huge numbers, but simply are not winners.

Tony Romo is not one of those quarterbacks.  Yes, he has the ability to put up flashy stats, but he is also a tremendous leader.  While that statement is far from a consensus opinion, particularly among ill-informed fans, I whole-heartedly believe Romo leads by example and is even more vocal than most realize.

Romo’s detractors will point to the success of Jon Kitna this season as evidence that Romo thrives because of the offense, not any elite ability of his own.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Cowboys were successful with Kitna this season because they made acquiring a top-notch backup quarterback a priority.  Kitna is superior to many of the starting quarterbacks in the league, but he’s not on the level of Romo.

Nonetheless, I have compiled a wide range of statistics and analysis on both Romo and Kitna.  Some of these numbers are taken from previous articles, and some are unique.  The stats (representing on-field play), though, will only make up half of my final grade  for the quarterbacks.  The other half will consist of leadership and intangibles.

Grades

  • Tony Romo

On-Field Play: B

There’s no doubt that Romo struggled some during his 5+ games in 2010.  He threw seven interceptions–just two less than his 16-game total in 2009.  Still, it wasn’t as if Romo was horrible.  He was on pace to set a career-high for completion percentage (by far, at 69.5 percent).  Despite the pedestrian 11:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Romo’s 94.5 passer rating was on par with his 95.5 career rating.

Here are a few other notes on Romo’s 2010 play:

  • Romo was the most inaccurate when throwing over the middle of the field this season.  That stat seems to be susceptible to fluctuations, as he was actually the most accurate over the middle during the prior season.
  • His lack of accuracy over the middle is reflected in his location-based passer ratings.  The highest passer rating Romo recorded in zone over the middle of the field was just 96.0, compared to 118.2 on the left side and a perfect 158.3 on the right side.
  • Romo wasn’t very successful with his checks in 2010.  The offense averaged 0.72 extra yards-per-pass on Romo’s pass audibles, but a full yard less per carry on Romo’s run checks.

Leadership/Intangibles: B

Romo reportedly put in just as much time after his season-ending injury as he did before it.  He helped Kitna in any way possible.  Let’s not forget this guy also tried to return to the field just minutes after fracturing his collarbone.

  • Jon Kitna

On-Field Play: C+

Jon Kitna Passer Rating by Location

People tend to mold their interpretation of events based on preconceived notions.  I talk a lot about how fans tend to overvalue the play of rookies/undrafted players/backups due to low expectations.  Meanwhile, high-profile players get devalued because people think they should be at their peak at all times.  This phenomenon is why many have written off Anthony Spencer and, inversely, overvalued Kitna.

Don’t get me wrong–Kitna was really good in 2009 and proved he’s one of the premiere backup quarterbacks in the NFL.  But he’s not Tony Romo.  Not even close.

Kitna put up just a 4:3 interception ratio and 88.9 passer rating.  Let’s be real. . if Romo put up those numbers fans would be calling for his head.

Here’s more of Kitna’s stats in 2010:

  • Kitna was by far the most inaccurate when throwing to the right side of the field (27.2 percent of passes that way were off-target).

  • Kitna’s passer rating was generally superior to Romo’s on short throws, and vice versa on deep throws.  This seems to fit with the respective skill set of each quarterback.  Kitna is a more accurate quarterback who likes to drop back, plant his foot into the ground, and deliver the football in rhythm. It’s difficult to be incredibly accurate 20+ yards downfield, however.  Romo’s accuracy and passer rating is best on long throws not because of his arm, but his legs.  Romo’s mobility allows him to buy time so receivers can get wide open down the field.
  • Amazingly, Kitna threw nearly the exact same number of passes to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.
  • Kitna checked into a run the exact same number of times as a pass.  The ‘Boys averaged nearly a full yard more per rush on Kitna’s checks, but 0.40 less yards-per-pass.

Leadership/Intangibles:  B+

Kitna’s fire is contagious.  Nearly immediately after taking over the starting gig, Kitna became a much more vocal player.  This isn’t a criticism of Romo, but it sure is fun to see that sort of energy from your quarterback.

2010 Overall Quarterback Grades

1. Tony Romo: B (85.0)

  • 2009 Grade: A (94.0)

2.  Jon Kitna: B- (82.0)

  • 2009 Grade: None

I didn’t hand out a grade to third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, but I did see some positives during the season.  He’s very mobile, making things happen with his feet, and his arm is of adequate strength.  He needs to improve upon his decision-making and must become a more accurate passer when in the pocket, but there are signs for optimism.

Still, he’s not ready for extended playing time.  Everyone loves the bench players until they actually have to play.  I’ll leave you with the same Michael Irvin quote I posted in last year’s quarterback grades:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony?  Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

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

Jonathan Bales

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

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

WR Miles Austin: A

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

FS Alan Ball: A-

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

RB Marion Barber: C

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

TE Martellus Bennett: B+

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

OT Robert Brewster: B+

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

LG Travis Bright: C

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

S Barry Church: B+

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



G/C Phil Costa: A-

Very impressive film; versatility will grab him a roster spot

RB Herb Donaldson: D-

Hesitant on runs and dances in hole; poor receiver

CB Cletis Gordon: A

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

FB Chris Gronkowski: D

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

DE Jason Hatcher: B

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

LG Montrae Holland: A-

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

WR Sam Hurd: B

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

CB Mike Jenkins: C

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

QB Jon Kitna: B

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

LB Sean Lee: B-

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

S Danny McCray: C-

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

RG Pat McQuistan: F

Next.

FS Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: C+

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

QB Tony Romo: C-

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

NT Junior Siavii:  B

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

RT Sam Young:  D-

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

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

Jonathan Bales

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

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

Preseason Week 1 Final Player Grades

LT Alex Barron: D

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

DE Stephen Bowen: A

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

DT Josh Brent: B

Really impressive motor; consistent play will land him roster spot

RT Robert Brewster: D

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

G/C Travis Bright: C-

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

K David Buehler: C

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

OLB Victor Butler: A

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

RB Tashard Choice: C-

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

RB Herb Donaldson:  D+

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

LT Doug Free: A

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



FB Chris Gronkowski: C-

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

WR Jesse Holley: C

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

QB Jon Kitna: B-

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

QB Stephen McGee: B+

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

G Pat McQuistan: D-

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

RB Lonyae Miller: B-

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

WR Kevin Ogletree: D+

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

TE John Phillips: A

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



QB Tony Romo: B

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

TE Scott Sicko: B

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

G Mike Tepper: D

Can’t see any way he makes the team

CB Jamar Wall: D-

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

OLB Brandon Williams: B+

Looks like Ware at times; good awareness on interception

LB Leon Williams: B

Great form tackling; a little weak in coverage

WR Roy Williams: B+

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

CB Teddy Williams: B

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

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Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2009 Offense Grades, Player Rankings

About a week ago, we published our final Cowboys defensive player rankings for the 2009 season.  A few surprises were included, such as Keith Brooking being rated higher than Jay Ratliff, and Victor Butler ahead of Gerald Sensabaugh (don’t forget our ratings are not for overall production, but rather efficiency).

Now, we have concluded our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, with the final offensive player rankings below.  You can find each individual offensive position study here: quarterback, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, offensive line (run blocking), offensive line (pass protection). We will post overall player rankings (both offense and defense) in the near future.

A few notes before reading:

  • This is not a comprehensive list of everyone who played offense last season, but rather those players who participated in enough plays to gather statistically significant results.
  • It is also not a ranking of the best offensive players, but rather a list of the most important players to the team (as we see it) in 2009.
  • Lastly, players listed in blue are those we expect to improve in 2010.  We anticipate a decline in production from those players listed in red, and neither a vast improvement or deterioration in play from those listed in black.

1.  QB Tony Romo:  94.0 (A)

Threw only six interceptions over final 14 regular season games

T2.  TE Jason Witten:  93.0 (A-)

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

T2.  WR Miles Austin:  93.0 (A-)

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

T2. RG Leonard Davis:  93.0 (A-)

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

5.  C Andre Gurode:  91.0 (A-)

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

6. RB Felix Jones:  89.8 (A-)

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

7. RB Tashard Choice:  87.3 (B+)

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

8.  LG Kyle Kosier:  85.4 (B)

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

9.  RT Doug Free:  80.6 (B-)

Will utilize athleticism at left tackle, but 4.54 yards-per-rush behind him last season much too low for right tackle

10.  TE Martellus Bennett:  80.0 (B-)

Quietly one of the team’s better blockers, but needs to increase his 51.7% completion percentage on balls thrown his way

11.  RT Marc Colombo:  79.4 (B-)

Gave up highest percentage of quarterback hits (by far) and largest percentage of negative runs (by far)

12.  TE John Phillips:  78.0 (C+)

Nice rookie season, but must improve as a blocker, particularly out of fullback position (only 3.7 yards-per-rush when in game)

13. RB Marion Barber:  77.2 (C+)

Name in red due to projected lack of production, not efficiency in 2010–should improve with less touches

14.  WR Patrick Crayton:  77.0 (C+)

Reliable player who lacks explosiveness–could be on another team in 2010

15.  LT Flozell Adams:  73.4 (C-)

Still a good run blocker, but led team in sacks, pressures, and penalties

16.  WR Roy Williams:  67.4 (D+)

Only 46.2% of targets ended in completion, but he will improve in 2010

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Grading the ‘Boys, Part XI: Quarterback Tony Romo

Thus far, we have dissected the ’09 play of the Cowboys players at every position other than quarterback.  We saved the best for last.

Grading quarterback is much different than doing so for the other positions in that statistics, while plentiful for the position, are less indicative of a quarterback’s success than for other players.  The primary responsibility of a quarterback is to lead his team to victory, no matter what it takes.  Some quarterbacks put up huge numbers, but simply are not winners.

Tony Romo is not one of those quarterbacks.  Yes, he has the ability to put up flashy stats, but he is also a tremendous leader.  While that statement is far from a consensus opinion, particularly among ill-informed fans, we whole-heartedly believe it to be the case.  If you doubt the commitment of Romo to the Dallas Cowboys, read here.

Nonetheless, we have compiled a wide range of statistics and analysis on Romo’s play in 2009.  Some of these numbers are taken from previous articles, and some are unique.  These numbers (representing on-field play), though, will only make up half of our final grade  for Romo.  The other half will consist of leadership and intangibles.

Grades

  • Tony Romo

On-field Play: A

There is really no doubting that Tony Romo is an immensely talented quarterback.  In 2009, he threw for 4,483 yards and 26 touchdowns.  More importantly, however, he threw only nine interceptions all season, including just six over the final 14 games.  Romo also fumbled just six times–less than any other season of his career.  This ability to protect the football was the primary reason for the success of the Cowboys last season.

Below are a few notes regarding Romo’s success in various situations last season.  You can find charts containing this information at the bottom of the article.

Tony Romo Passer Rating Over the Field

Leadership/Intangibles:  A-

Again, Romo is a very good leader.  While not an extremely vocal player, he lets his play speak for itself.  He is also perhaps the team’s hardest-working player.  When that label goes to your team’s biggest superstar, you know the path is set for the rest of the players to follow.

Overall Grade:  A (94.0)

Romo will never be able to fully escape criticism–that simply comes with the territory of playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.  However, to those watching carefully, it is apparent that the Cowboys have secured one of the league’s top signal-callers.

Without Romo, where would the Cowboys be?  Sometimes it is difficult to realize how special someone is until you lose them.  Michael Irvin perhaps put it best when he said:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony?  Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

Irvin is right.  Let’s not let Romo’s consistency tarnish our love for what we brings to the table year in and year out.  To further jog your memory on what it is like to have an “ugly girl” at quarterback, take a look at the list of Cowboys’ starting quarterbacks between Troy Aikman and Romo.

Quincy Carter
Anthony Wright
Ryan Leaf
Clint Stoerner
Chad Hutchinson
Vinny Testaverde
Drew Henson
Drew Bledsoe
Brad Johnson

Anyone else think Tony Romo is a little more “beautiful” right about now?