Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/content/85/8979285/html/wp-includes/post-thumbnail-template.php:1) in /home/content/85/8979285/html/wp-content/plugins/wp-super-cache/wp-cache-phase2.php on line 62
victor butler cowboys | The DC Times

The DC Times

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

By

15 Things to Watch in Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers Week 2 Preseason Game

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys took down the Broncos in a thriller during Week One of the preseason.  Here is what we learned during that game.  This weekend, the ‘Boys will host the San Diego Chargers.  Here are a few things I will be watching. .

Mike Jenkins vs. Vincent Jackson: In his first game of the preseason, how will Jenkins fair when matched up with physical wide receiver Vincent Jackson?  He will be asked to do more press coverage with Rob Ryan in town, and that could be a problem against players like Jackson.  Expect to see more of a press and bail technique from Jenkins rather than a true jam.  The preseason will be a great opportunity for Jenkins to regain some of the confidence which seemed to be missing in 2010.

Dwayne Harris: After busting out for 127 yards and two touchdowns last week, let’s see how Harris responds.  He has a legitimate shot to beat out Kevin Ogletree for slot receiver duties, and I personally hope he wins.  He seems to be a harder worker, more intelligent, and superior after the catch.  Jason Garrett will not be afraid to play the rookie ahead of an under-achieving Ogletree.

Screen Passes: Garrett called a few more screens than usual last week, and I think that is a trend which will continue into the regular season.  With more athletic offensive linemen and Felix Jones/DeMarco Murray in the backfield, why not?  Here are the 2010 screen stats.  Expect at least 100 screens this season.

Tyron Smith vs. Shaun Phillips: I thought the rookie offensive tackle had a solid outing in Week One.  He looks powerful in the running game and agile out in space.  He’ll face an incredibly difficult match-up this week against Shaun Phillips.  If he excels here, I think the ‘Boys found a keeper.

Dan Bailey: David Buehler is out with a hip injury, so Bailey will get plenty of work.  He struggled with field goals this week in practice, but I’m more concerned with his kickoffs.  Consistent touchbacks will put Buehler’s roster spot in jeopardy.

Victor Butler vs. Marcus McNeill: In my breakdown of the Victor Butler-Anthony Spencer position battle, I argued that Butler should be the starter:

At the very least, Rob Ryan should increase Butler’s snaps until the production and efficiency of both players (combined) is maximized.  At that point, the Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production will be reached.

Think of it like this: as Butler’s snaps increase, his production will, at some point, decline (due to fatigue, increased attention from the offense and so on).  Once his efficiency declines to the point of Spencer’s, the Nash equilibrium will be reached.  Although neither player’s individual production will be maximized, the overall efficiency of the outside linebacker position will be at its peak.

When you have an All-World player like DeMarcus Ware, the Nash equilibrium is shifted to Ware playing as many snaps as possible, i.e. a tired Ware is better than anyone else.  Spencer isn’t Ware.  When he is tired, he needs to come out of the game.  Ryan should shift the snap count of Spencer and Butler until the ‘Boys reach their Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production.  I have a strong feeling that equilibrium would result in Butler receiving the majority of snaps.

And why do I think Butler should receive significantly more playing time?  You can see to the left that Butler recorded the highest pressure rate of any player on the team in 2010.  Detractors argue that this is because Butler played less snaps against the run than Spencer or Ware, but that’s flat wrong.  Butler actually played the run on 39.5% of snaps–highest of any outside linebacker.  Oh yeah, he also didn’t miss a tackle all season (Spencer missed six).

Bryan McCann: McCann looked awful in Week One, and that’s a bad sign for Cowboys fans.  As of now, he is this team’s nickel cornerback.  With Terence Newman’s health always in question, McCann needs to be ready to go this season.  He’ll get some time against San Diego’s first team, so let’s see how he responds to adversity.

Shaun Chapas’ Lead Blocking: The rookie fullback was brought in because the Cowboys need a better lead-blocking fullback.  Chris Gronkowski is an okay player, but he’s not the sort of bruiser a team can rely on in short-yardage situations.  Is Chapas?  Look for some dives from Double Tight Strong with Chapas in the game, as Garrett will want to test the youngster.

Kenyon Coleman: Coleman will receive his first start as a Cowboy, replacing Igor Olshansky.  In my breakdown of the defensive end battle, I argued that neither Coleman nor Olshansky should be starting.  Despite being perhaps the team’s best pass-rushing defensive end, I think Jason Hatcher should start football games opposite Marcus Spears.  I’m not overly familiar with Coleman’s game, though, and he has a chance to impress tonight.

Clifton Geathers: No matter who starts at defensive end, a heavy rotation will be used.  That’s in part due to fatigue, but also because none of the players are all that great.  Geathers had a sack last week and showed some things against the run, so I’m looking forward to studying him more to see what sort of potential impact he might be able to make down the road.

Patrick Crayton: He’s back in town and doesn’t seem to have many nice things to say about the Cowboys.  This isn’t a particularly big story to me, particularly in the preseason, but I know others are interested.

Lonyae Miller: Miller looked terrible against the Broncos.  With Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray still sidelined, this is his opportunity to grab a roster spot.  Unless something changes quickly, that won’t happen.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: Owusu-Ansah has been riddled with injuries during his short NFL career, but he is healthy now.  I still think he has great potential, but now is the time to show it.  If he doesn’t make a play at safety or in the return game, he might not make this team.

Gerald Sensabaugh: Sensabaugh looked lost in Rob Ryan’s defense last week.  I’m glad the ‘Boys re-signed him, and I expect his play to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the system.  Most of his mistakes appeared to be mental.

Sam Young: If Doug Free or Tyron Smith gets injured, what exactly are the Cowboys going to do?  The other offensive tackles on the roster are Young and Jermey Parnell.  Young is probably the immediate backup at right tackle (with Smith moving to left tackle in the event of an injury to Free), but is anyone really comfortable with that?  Watch the play of both Young and Parnell this week.

Like Dallas Cowboys Times on Facebook

Follow Dallas Cowboys Times on Twitter

By

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part I: Anthony Spencer vs. Victor Butler

Jonathan Bales

In last year’s “Training Camp Battles” Series, I analyzed the Cowboys’ most intriguing positional battles heading into the season.  I’m continuing the series this year with a matchup that might not even be much of a competition.  It has kind of been assumed in the past that Anthony Spencer’s starting job is secure, and that Victor Butler, Brandon Williams and company are all competing to garner snaps behind Spencer and DeMarcus Ware.  Perhaps it is because Spencer is a former first-round selection, or maybe the Cowboys think his run-stopping ability is far superior to his backups, but it needs to end.  And it needs to end in 2011.

With new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Big D, I think there is finally a legitimate shot of Butler unseating Spencer from the starting strong-side outside linebacker position.  With Ryan’s version of the 3-4 defense calling for multiple pass-rushing linebackers on the field together, Butler at least figures to see far more than the 157 snaps he saw in 2010.  But even 300 snaps is not nearly enough for a player who, in my opinion, should be starting opposite Ware from Week 1.  Here is why. . .

In my 2010 Outside Linebacker Grades, I provided Butler with a 89.9% and Spencer with an 84.6% (for the record, Ware received a 94.0%).  My grades are obviously based on efficiency as opposed to total production, but the gap between Butler and Spencer, in terms of pure efficiency, was rather vast.  You can see to the right that Butler’s sacks-per-rush were over twice that of Spencer.  With only 157 snaps, though, I think sacks are a poor indicator of Butler’s play.  The same can be said for hits, which are perhaps even more fluky than sacks.

In my view, quarterback pressures are the best determiner of a pass rusher’s worth.  Of course you want a player who can bring the quarterback down once he reaches him, but past sacks have been shown to be a worse predictor of future sacks than past pressures, i.e. despite being less valuable in games, pressures are “more valuable” than sacks in statistical analysis.  Butler’s pressure rate of .118 is incredible–even better than that of Ware.

But what about Butler’s run-stopping ability?  He’s a pass-rush specialist, some argue, and his numbers are inflated due to an increased percentage of snaps against the pass.  Errrntttt. (Like a buzzer.  Like at the end of games, ya know?  Like I’m saying the hypothetical Butler “hater” is wrong in his assessment of Butler’s efficiency.  Whatever.)

On the contrary, Butler actually played the highest percentage of snaps against the run of any outside linebacker in 2010.  39.5% compared to Spencer’s 38.6%.  Good numbers for us, because it makes the statistics of the two players very comparable.  You can see Butler’s production against the run is arguably superior to that of Spencer.  He recorded a tackle on 7.6% of his snaps in 2010, compared to 5.6% for the former Purdue Boilermaker.  And oh yeah, Butler also didn’t miss a single tackle.  Spencer missed six.

Some might argue that we should expect Butler’s stats to be superior to Spencer’s because Butler’s lack of sizable snaps means he is always at near-100%.  Efficiency numbers might be a poor barometer of value because we should expect the players who receive the most snaps to get a little tired and see at least a small decline in play.

That is certainly the best argument in favor of Spencer retaining his starting job, but it is also in some ways irrelevant to Butler.  He has played incredibly while in the game, and that’s all he can do.  At the very least, it is the job of the coaches to make sure the players who are performing at the highest level receive the most playing time.  Butler’s 157 snaps in 2010 is a joke.  DCT readers knew before the 2010 season began that Butler was a rising player (dare I say potential star?) who deserved more snaps.  Actually, just prior to the season I wrote:

Victor Butler will play close to 250 snaps and will record at least five sacks.

The kid has shown he is ready for more playing time.  There’s no way Coach Phillips wants DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer playing 1,100+ snaps again this season, so either Butler or Brandon Williams will have to step up.

Butler was phenomenal in the preseason, particularly against the run (and we know he can get to the passer).

So why didn’t Butler get the snaps in 2010?  Unlike Wade Phillips, I think Rob Ryan has the guts to sit a veteran in favor of a more productive player.  At the very least, he should increase Butler’s snaps until the production and efficiency of both players (combined) is maximized.  At that point, the Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production will be reached.

Think of it like this: as Butler’s snaps increase, his production will, at some point, decline (due to fatigue, increased attention from the offense and so on).  Once his efficiency declines to the point of Spencer’s, the Nash equilibrium will be reached.  Although neither player’s individual production will be maximized, the overall efficiency of the outside linebacker position will be at its peak.

When you have an All-World player like DeMarcus Ware, the Nash equilibrium is shifted to Ware playing as many snaps as possible, i.e. a tired Ware is better than anyone else.  Spencer isn’t Ware.  When he is tired, he needs to come out of the game.  Ryan should shift the snap count of Spencer and Butler until the ‘Boys reach their Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production.  I have a strong feeling that equilibrium would result in Butler receiving the majority of snaps.

Like Dallas Cowboys Times on Facebook

Follow Dallas Cowboys Times on Twitter

By

Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2009 Player Rankings

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

It all comes together in our final 2009 rankings.

A few notes before reading:

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

T1.  QB Tony Romo:  94.0 (A)

Threw only six interceptions over final 14 regular season games

T1.  Demarcus Ware:  94.0 (A)

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

T3.  TE Jason Witten:  93.0 (A-)

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

T3.  WR Miles Austin:  93.0 (A-)

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

T3. RG Leonard Davis:  93.0 (A-)

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

6.  Anthony Spencer:  92.0 (A-)

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

7.  C Andre Gurode:  91.0 (A-)

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

T8. Mike Jenkins: 89.8 (A-)

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

T8. RB Felix Jones:  89.8 (A-)

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

10. Terence Newman: 88.2 (B+)

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

11.  Keith Brooking:  87.6 (B+)

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

12. RB Tashard Choice:  87.3 (B+)

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

13.  Jay Ratliff  87.0 (B+)

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

14.  LG Kyle Kosier:  85.4 (B)

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

15.  Igor Olshansky 85.0 (B)

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

16.  Bradie James:  84.1 (B)

Missed only three tackles (3.4 percent) all season

17.  Deon Anderson:  83.0 (B-)

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

Click “page 2” below to continue reading.

By

Dallas Cowboys Redshirts: Potential Impact of Second-Year Players


In our eyes, the Cowboys have two rookie classes coming in this season: the 2010 class, and the 2009 class which was decimated by injuries.  In effect, the Cowboys obtain the best of both worlds from the second year players.

A good chunk of them (Michael Hamlin, Robert Brewster, Jason Williams, Stephen Hodge, Brandon Williams) played either zero or very fews snaps last season, meaning they have the same upside and “unknown” quality about them as the true rookies.  These redshirt players, however, were able to go through an entire season of mental reps.  They know what it takes to play at the NFL level, at least in terms of the cerebral aspect of the game.

In this article, we will detail the potential impact of most of the Cowboys’ second-year players–in 2010 and beyond.

Jason Williams, ILB

Williams is an athletic freak.  He ran a 4.4 forty-yard dash at his Pro Day.  Had Williams had all of 2009 to learn, that kind of speed could have really helped Dallas.

Instead, Williams will compete with rookie Sean Lee this year for nickel linebacker duties behind starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking.  We are in the minority in believing Williams will win the job.

Eventually, the Cowboys hope Williams and Lee can step in as starting inside linebackers, although that day is at least a couple years away.

Final Forecast:  Williams will compete for nickel duties this year and a starting job as soon as 2011.

Robert Brewster, OT

Brewster never really got started in 2009, tearing his pectoral muscle before the season began.  At this point, he is as much of an unknown to Dallas as any of the rookies.

With the addition of free agent offensive tackle Alex Barron, Brewster will likely receive the majority of his reps at right tackle.  We believe right tackle is a far better fit for his skill set than left tackle anyway.

It will be interesting to see what happens if starting right tackle Marc Colombo gets injured again in 2010.  Most likely, the team will groom Barron as a swing tackle, giving Brewster little opportunity to see the field.

Nonetheless, we will learn a lot about the Ball State product during training camp.

Final Forecast:  Brewster probably won’t get much playing time this year, but he will likely move up the depth chart in 2011.

Victor Butler, OLB

Butler had a decent rookie year in 2009.  He showed great initial burst when rushing the passer, racking up a .038 sack-per-rush number that was better than both Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer (albeit on just 125 snaps).

He received an overall grade of a “C,” though, because his run defense was rather poor.  He will have to bulk up and improve significantly versus the run to be considered a viable backup at the outside linebacker position.

This year, Butler will compete with fellow “redshirt freshman” Brandon Williams to be third on the depth chart.

Final Forecast:  We expect Butler to be the primary pass-rushing backup at outside linebacker.  As long as Ware and Spencer are in town (which will be for awhile, we presume) and healthy, Butler will not get a chance to be more than a specialist.

Brandon Williams, OLB

Williams, like Brewster, is a total mystery at this point.  The Cowboys are excited about his potential, but it is only that right now–potential.

Like we said above, Williams will compete with Butler for the third spot at outside linebacker.  The Cowboys surely don’t want Ware and Spencer playing 1093 and 1112 snaps, respectively, every season, so the winner of the Butler/Williams battle could see a decent amount of action this season.

Final Forecast:  We actually predict that Williams will receive more snaps than Butler in 2010.  Williams will likely be more stout against the run, and the Cowboys will be far more likely to spell Ware and Spencer on non-passing downs.  Expect Williams to see around 150 snaps this season.  Like Butler, however, his upside in Dallas is limited due to the presence of the two monsters outside.

Click below to go to page 2 of our analysis.


By

Mailbag: 5/4/10 (Alan Ball, OJ Atogwe, Dez Bryant, Victor Butler)



Q:  Do you see the Cowboys having a problem at free safety?  Do you think either Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin are ready to start?

Michael Burns, Dallas, Texas

A: We gave Ball a C+ overall grade for his limited action in 2009.  Solid backup?  Yes.  Starter-worthy production?  Probably not.  We aren’t thrilled that, as of now, Ball will be the Cowboys’ opening day starter.  Our lack of total trust in Ball is one of the reasons we didn’t like the release of Ken Hamlin.

The Cowboys are excited about second-year man Michael Hamlin.  He has yet to play in a game, though, so he is really an unknown commodity.

We still believe the Cowboys will sign a veteran free safety before the start of the season.  We have even projected current Rams free safety O.J. Atogwe to be that guy in our 53-man roster/depth chart predictions.  If Dallas is interested in Atogwe, they are likely waiting until June 1 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.  If no action appears imminent shortly after that time, expect the Cowboys to let Ball and Hamlin duke it out in camp for the starting gig.

Q:  Do you think all of the pressure that is being placed on Dez Bryant (receiving #88, all of the post-mini-camp hype) is good or bad?

Pete Garza, Tucson, AZ

A: The pressure is really inconsequential.  Any professional athlete (particularly a first round pick) must deal with a ton of pressure under any circumstances.  Dealing with high expectations is simply part of the job requirements.

Bryant should feel honored that he was given #88.  It is a sign of respect for his skills and projected future success.  However, it is unlikely to affect the way he plays.  It isn’t as if he will be running a route thinking “Oh man, I better catch this ball because I’m wearing #88.”  If anything, it will make him work harder in the offseason to live up to the hype.

More important for Bryant than dealing with pressure is not letting the early success go to his head.  The coaches and veterans like Michael Irvin are doing a nice job of reinforcing to Bryant that he has a long, long way to go.

Q:  Do you have any suggestions for where to buy Cowboys tickets?  Thanks!

Multiple people

A: If you live out of town and want to make a trip to a game, we recommend CowboysCorral.com.  They have excellent game packages and customer service.

Q:  Who would start at outside linebacker if either Demarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer got injured?  The Cowboys seem pretty weak at that position behind the starters.

Jim Weller, Sahuarita, AZ

A: If either player gets injured, second-year player Victor Butler would likely start.  We recently graded the outside linebackers and Butler received a ‘C.’  He is an adequate pass-rusher, but currently has a long way to go before he becomes a complete outside linebacker.  We anticipate him coming into the season a bit heavier and a lot stronger after a year in the conditioning program.

Needless to say, the Cowboys could be in trouble if either Ware or Spencer goes down for a significant period of time.  Watch out for this sleeper:  Curtis Johnson.  We expect him to make the final roster and compete heavily for the primary backup role outside.  He played defensive end for the Colts before he was released and signed by Dallas last season.

By

Grading the ‘Boys, Part IX: Outside Linebackers

It is no secret that the Cowboys have one of the best (if not the best) outside linebacker duos in the NFL.  Demarcus Ware is perhaps the most valuable player on the entire team, while Anthony Spencer really emerged last year as a dominant pass-rusher.

Behind Ware and Spencer, however, the Cowboys are a bit thin.  Second-year players Victor Butler and Brandon Williams are the primary backups, with Williams yet to have played a snap in the NFL.  Butler showed some flashes last season as a pass-rusher, but he has a long way to go to become a complete outside linebacker.


That transformation is not impossible, though, as Spencer proved last season.  Unlike Butler, Spencer was a naturally gifted run-defender.  He was still solid against the pass, but had yet to “get over the hump” in terms of sacks.  That changed a few weeks into last season as Spencer erupted, particularly over the final half of 2009.

Spencer’s emergence is proof that if you continue to do the right things and put yourself in position to make plays, the sacks (the glamor stat for 3-4 outside linebackers) will come.

Of course, defending the pass is a two-way street for 3-4 outside linebackers, as they must also drop into coverage from time to time.  Spencer performs this task the most frequently of the Cowboys’ outside linebackers, dropping into coverage on nearly one-fourth (23.9 percent) of all pass plays (and 14.9 percent of all snaps in general).

Thus, our outside linebacker grades will be composed of three parts: run defense, pass-rushing, and pass coverage.  Since pass coverage is a secondary focus of the linebackers, it will be weighted less in the final grades.  The small sample size of of plays in which the linebackers were in coverage, however, means two things:

  • The final grade will be weighted heavily toward run defense and pass-rushing (5:4:1 pass-rushing : run defense : coverage).
  • Pass coverage grades will be one of the few grades we determine by the “eye test”, i.e. game film, as opposed to pure statistics.

As always, the charts below display the best statistics within a particular group circled in blue, and the worst in red.

Grades

MT %= Missed Tackle Percentage

  • Demarcus Ware

Run Defense:  A-

Ware’s run defense is often overshadowed by his incredible ability to rush the passer, but it is important to remember that his pass-rushing numbers are the result of his above-average run-stuffing skills.  Ware missed 7.14 percent of all tackles–a solid number and just slightly worse than Spencer.

Pass-Rushing:  A

Ware had a “down year” by his standards and still racked up 15 sacks.  That alone is remarkable.  The most incredible statistic of Ware’s 2009 season (and perhaps the most dominant statistic in the entire NFL last season), however, was his 56 quarterback pressures.  That was by far the best among outside linebackers.  The NFL’s second-best pressure total last season?  36.  Spencer had just over half the pressures of Ware and still finished 9th in the league.  Simply incredible.

Pass Coverage:  A-

Ware is actually very underrated in coverage.  Although he understandably rarely drops back (only 8.1 percent of all snaps), he doesn’t allow big plays when he does.  According to Pro Football Focus, Ware allowed just two yards in coverage in all of 2009.  Two yards.  Let that soak in.

  • Anthony Spencer

Run Defense:  A

Some of you may disagree, but we believe Spencer is superior to Ware (and perhaps the best 3-4 OLB in the league) against the run.  Spencer racked up 67 tackles last season (28 more than Ware), while missing just 6.94 percent of all tackles he attempted. His ability to maintain his top-notch run defense while improving his pass-rushing skills was a major key to the defense’s success in 2009.

Pass-Rushing:  A-

Despite pressuring the quarterback far less than Ware, Spencer actually tallied more hits on the quarterback.  This is a bit of a “fluky” stat, but still important to his success.  Spencer accumulated .055 hits-per-rush last season–1.77 times Ware’s rate.  Expect Spencer’s sack total (9) to take a huge leap forward in 2010.

Pass Coverage:  C

Spencer drops into coverage more than any of the Cowboys’ outside linebackers (14.9 percent of all snaps).  Thus far, Spencer has been just about average when he is in coverage.  Generally matched up against a running back, Spencer is understandably over-matched on just about every snap he drops back, but we’d still like to see him become just a bit more fluid with his hips.  Similar to his early-career pass-rushing results, Spencer is just a hair away from making big plays in coverage.

  • Victor Butler

Run Defense:  D+

We all knew Butler would be a pass-rush specialist to start his career, so this poor grade in his rookie season comes as no surprise.  Coach Phillips used Butler well last season, as he rushed the quarterback on a higher percentage of snaps (63.2 percent) than any other outside linebacker.  Butler’s sample size of tackles is too small to generate meaningful conclusions regarding his missed tackle rate of 20 percent, so this grade is more a result of our film observations.

Pass-Rushing:  B

Butler did a solid job in his rookie season of getting to the quarterback.  Although he only played 125 snaps, his .038 sacks-per-rush was best on the team.  Expect his quarterback pressures and hits to rise in 2010.  It is imperative that either he or Brandon Williams is able to give Ware and Spencer a breather from time to time.  Both of their snap counts were far too high last season.

Pass Coverage:  C

Again, Butler’s snap count was too low for him to accumulate meaningful coverage statistics (particularly because he dropped back on only 8.0 percent of snaps).  He does have the athleticism to become effective in coverage, so right now it is just important for him to gain experience.

Final Outside Linebacker Grades

1.  Demarcus Ware:  A (94.0)

2.  Anthony Spencer:  A- (92.0)

3.  Victor Butler:  C (76.0)

Conclusions

The lack of depth (or at least experience) behind Ware and Spencer made us believe the Cowboys might address the outside linebacker position in the draft, perhaps as early as the first round.  As it turned out, the Cowboys didn’t even select an outside linebacker.

The Cowboys obviously stuck to their board, taking the best player available at each spot.  Thus, it is difficult to say whether the absence of a rookie pass-rusher is more the result of that strategy or their confidence in Butler and Williams.  It is likely a combination of both.

If Ware or Spencer are injured for an extended period of time, we think the Cowboys could be in trouble.  Butler has shown he can be an adequate pass-rusher, but those skills are only useful if you are able to stop the run.  We have a feeling teams will run right at Butler if he is in the game, thus making his ability to get to the passer a moot point.

Butler does have the natural ability to become a solid outside linebacker, assuming he puts in the work.  Brandon Williams is also a bit of an X-factor for Dallas.

Let’s hope that Butler and Williams are able to learn from Ware and Spencer and the mystery that currently surrounds them eventually transforms into confidence in their ability.