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Grading the ‘Boys, Part V: Safeties

In the first four parts of our Grading the ‘Boys Series, we provided in-depth statistical analysis and grades for the offensive linemen, running backs, and cornerbacks.  Today, we take a look at the safeties.

As was the case when grading the cornerbacks, we have to be very careful when interpreting the statistics we gather from our film study.  For example, despite generally being superior tacklers, we might expect the percentage of missed tackles to be higher for safeties than cornerbacks because the latter is forced to attempt less open-field tackles.

For this reason and others, it is also unreasonable to compare statistics between cornerbacks and safeties.  Comparisons can be drawn between players within a position, however, as long as we are aware of the possible limitations to such comparisons.

Below are the results of the 2009 Cowboys’ safety play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.


  • Chart Key:  TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details our own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating.  It incorporates the factors we believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a safety.  The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score.  For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 2:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.


2009 Safety Pass Defense Totals

  • Ken Hamlin

Pass Defense:  C+

Let’s start off with a grade for which we are sure to receive a lot of flack.  We have been stating from season’s end that Ken Hamlin’s 2009 play was not as poor as people made it seem.

There is no doubting that he is not a ball-hawking safety.  Would you like to have a player like that on your team?  Of course–but only if he doesn’t sacrifice his ability to prevent the big play.  Some safeties, i.e. Antrel Rolle, are considered “playmakers” because they get a lot of picks or have a lot of bone-crushing hits, yet they allow a multitude of big plays.  A true playmaker, though, is able to do these things without conceding long touchdowns.

Hamlin is not an incredible playmaker, but he is also not a liability in the secondary as many fans believe is the case.  He is a cerebral player who has done an admirable job of setting up the defensive coverages and forcing defenses to earn every yard they gain.  Sometimes it can be a good thing to not hear your free safety’s name called too much.  In a way, Hamlin is a bit of a sensei master in the secondary–leading the troops without overexerting himself.  We are only partially joking about that.

While Dallas could certainly benefit from a free safety who is a “true playmaker,” those players are few and far between.  Hamlin isn’t going to solely win the Cowboys football games, but he also won’t lose them.  He’s not an All-Pro sort of safety, but he’s also not one who should be released.

2009 Safety Pass Defense Efficiency

Run Defense:  A-

Let the ridicule begin.  An “A-” in tackling for Ken Hamlin?  Really?

You bet.  Hamlin missed just four tackles (8.0 percent) all season.  In comparison, Terence Newman led all cornerbacks by securing 91.5 percent of his tackles.  Thus, Hamlin was statistically the most consistent tackler in the secondary in 2009, despite playing a position that is arguably the hardest from which to make tackles.

Gerald Sensabaugh

Pass Defense:  C

Sensabaugh has the worst Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating of all three safeties, but that is to be expected since he is targeted more frequently at strong safety.  Still, his 67.4 completion percentage against is much too high.

Like Hamlin, Sensabaugh did not make many big plays on the season, securing just one interception.  Unlike Hamlin, however, Sensy conceded a few easy scores.  He allowed five touchdowns (compared to just two for Hamlin), a stat which we do not even factor into our Pass Defense Rating.

Run Defense:  C+

2009 Safety Run Support Statistics

Sensabaugh’s missed tackle percentage of 15.6 percent was nearly twice that of Hamlin’s, despite generally playing closer to the line of scrimmage and thus obtaining more “easy tackle” situations.   He also secured just eight more tackles than Hamlin despite this difference in pre-snap alignment and playing more downs.

  • Alan Ball

Pass Defense:  B

Ball registered a worse score on our Pass Defense Rating than Hamlin, so why are we giving him a better grade?  Well, Ball’s inexperience led team’s to target him frequently.  In fact, he was thrown at on 6.53 percent of all snaps, nearly three times the rate at which opposing quarterbacks tested Hamlin.

Despite this, Ball allowed the lowest completion percentage of any safety at just 45.0 percent.  He also led the safeties in yards-per-attempt against and passes defended percentage.  It is not a stretch at all to label Ball the closest thing Dallas has to a “ball-hawk” at the safety position.

Run Defense:  D

Ball struggled quite a bit against the run.  He missed nearly 1/4 of all tackles, a rate almost triple that of Hamlin.  His tackle-per-play average was also the worst among the three safeties.

Final Safety Rankings

1.  Ken Hamlin:  82.3 (B-)

2.  Alan Ball:  78.3 (C+)

3.  Gerald Sensabaugh:  75.7 (C)

The Cowboys’ safeties are obviously not future Hall-of-Famers.  We believe Hamlin is unfairly ridiculed due to his lack of takeaways (and we realize we are the only ones who view him as underrated), but he is no Ed Reed.

Should the Cowboys address the safety position early in the draft?  If the value is there, yes.  Perhaps Texas safety Earl Thomas will drop down to pick #27.

If the Cowboys do not see good value in the first round, however, there is no reason to panic.  There are a wealth of intriguing second round safety prospects that should present adequate value for Dallas in round two, such as Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett.

Further, we believe Hamlin is still a starting quality safety.  He is certainly not irreplaceable, but it is unlikely that a rookie free safety, outside of Thomas or Tennessee’s Eric Berry, could step into the starting role and immediately perform better than Hamlin.

Assuming the team passes on a safety in the first round, expect Hamlin and Sensabaugh to be the Cowboys’ opening day starters and to force more turnovers in 2010.


March 23, 2010 Posted by | --- "Grading the 'Boys", Film Study/Stats, Miscellaneous | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Grading the ‘Boys, Part IV: Cornerbacks

In Parts I-III of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we analyzed the production of the offensive line and running backs.  We now swing over to the defense to critique the play of the Cowboys’ top three cornerbacks.

As is the case with every position in football, the success of the defensive backs is very dependent on the play of other positions, particularly those rushing the passer.  Thus, it can become difficult when comparing CB’s from different teams because the efficiency of their respective pass-rushers is directly correlated to the cornerbacks’ own success.

It is easier to compare CB’s on the same team, particularly if they do not match up with specific receivers.  This is the case on the Cowboys, as Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins generally play one side of the field regardless of where the opposition’s receivers line up.

Playing in the slot can be a bit different, and so we must be careful when comparing Orlando Scandrick’s stats with those of Newman and Jenkins.  The percentage of snaps that Scandrick is targeted, for example, will be higher than the starting cornerbacks because he is on the field in all passing situations, but not necessarily on running downs.

Still, we can gather the numbers and effectively isolate a player’s success to the best of our ability.  Below are the results of the Dallas cornerbacks’ 2009 play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.


  • Chart Key:  TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details our own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating.  It incorporates the factors we believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a cornerback.  The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score.  For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.


2009 Cornerback Pass Defense Totals

  • Terence Newman

Pass Defense:  B+

So much has been made of Mike Jenkins’ progression in 2009 that people tend to forget how outstanding Terence Newman played.  Newman’s health and ability to perform at his best was undoubtedly one of the primary reasons for the success of the Dallas defense.

Newman was the least targeted Cowboys’ cornerback in ’09, getting thrown at on just 9.49 percent of all snaps.  This statistic is very representative of the way opposing coaches feel about a player.  Newman may be underrated among general fans, but those in the league are very aware of his ability.

Newman recorded an impressive .728 passing yards allowed per snap, surpassed only slightly by Jenkins.  The 7.66 yards-per-attempt against Newman was the worst of all three cornerbacks, but this could be due to the fact that quarterbacks do not generally test him.  When Newman does get thrown at, there is a good bet his receiver is fairly open.

2009 Cornerback Pass Defense Efficiency

A common knock on Terence throughout his entire career has been his inability to make a play on the ball.  It is a valid criticism, as Newman logged just three interceptions last season, and we see it as his biggest weakness.  The largest difference between Newman and Jenkins in ’09 was this ability to make big plays.  Nonetheless, Newman is almost always in position, which surely aids his teammates in their quest to force turnovers.

The statistic which we value most, our own Pass Defense Rating (below), has Newman ranked slightly behind Jenkins in terms of 2009 pass defense efficiency.  Newman checked in with 236.39 points.  In comparison, Darrelle Revis, the most dominant pass defender by far last season, recorded 336.38 points.

Run Defense:  A-

The most underrated component of Newman’s game is his willingness to stop the run.  He recorded the most tackles and missed the least of any cornerback on the team last season.  In fact, his 8.5 percent missed tackle percentage was one of the best in the league.

  • Mike Jenkins

Pass Defense:  A-

No player on Dallas took as big a leap forward in 2009 as Mike Jenkins.  Jenkins, remember, began the season in a rotation with Orlando Scandrick as the Cowboys’ starting cornerback.  His play soon justified his stay in the starting lineup.

Jenkins gave up a completion on just 49.1 percent of passes thrown his way, leading the team.  He also led all three CB’s in yards-per-attempt, yards-per-snap, pass deflections, and, most importantly, interceptions (six).

2009 Cornerback Run Support Statistics

Because interceptions can sometimes be fluky and vary greatly from year to year, we do not put an extreme emphasis on them in our custom Pass Defense Rating.  Despite this, Jenkins led the team with 267.96 points.  Rankings among teammates, more so than among competitors, are very accurate because teammates deal with the same pass rush and game situations.

While we would rate Newman’s ability to purely cover as equivalent or superior to Jenkins’, the former USF cornerback gets the better grade because of his increased play-making ability.

Run Defense:  C+

Jenkins was ridiculed for dodging a tackle against the Giants in his rookie season, and it was obvious he placed emphasis on improving his run support in 2009.  Still, this part of Jenkins’ game needs work.  He recorded less tackles than Scandrick despite playing significantly more snaps.  He also missed 14.6 percent of all tackles he attempted.  This is not horrendous, but it can certainly improve.  Newman has proven that run support is more about “want to” than being physically-imposing.

  • Orlando Scandrick

Pass Defense:  C

Scandrick took a step back in 2009.  The fact that he even had a chance to start this season after being drafted in the fifth round in 2008 is a testament to how well he played in his rookie season.

Our Pass Defense Rating ranks is capable of effectively ranking cornerbacks who play on the same team.

In ’09, however, Scandrick was one of the most targeted defensive backs in the NFL (13.91 percent of all snaps).  Despite this and giving up completions on 62.9 percent of passes his way, Scandrick did a good job of limiting the yards-per-attempt to just 6.83 (Jenkins was only slightly better at 6.71).

Scandrick tallied only 151.90 points in our Pass Defense Rating, though, because of his high target rate and inability to make plays on the ball.

The problem with Scandrick was not that he was out of position or got beat a lot.  As we watched the film, it was apparent Scandrick’s speed and quickness allowed him to cover well, but, for whatever reason, he got outplayed once the ball was in the air.

Thus, his number one offseason priority may be working to get his head turned around in coverage to locate the ball, then subsequently using his athleticism to make a play.

Run Defense:  B-

Scandrick is slight of frame, but he doesn’t get manhandled in the run game.  He actually recorded three more tackles than Jenkins  This number could be inflated, however, because Scandrick lined up closer to the ball-carrier and also gave up a significant number of completions where he was able to immediately make a tackle.

Still, Scandrick had a lower percentage of missed tackles than Jenkins.  Tackling from the nickel position is generally more difficult than it is for a cornerback lined up out wide because a nickel cornerback is in the open field and does not have the ability to utilize the sideline as an extra defender.

Final Cornerback Rankings

1.  Mike Jenkins:  89.8 (A-)

2.  Terence Newman:  88.2 (B+)

Orlando Scandrick may have competition in 2010, perhaps from Javier Arenas.

3.  Orlando Scandrick:  76.6 (C)

So where do the Cowboys go from here concerning the cornerback position?  It is obvious they are highly talented on the outside with Newman and Jenkins, but should they upgrade the nickel spot?

In our opinion, Scandrick has the ability to significantly improve his performance in 2010.  It is quite apparent that he is very close to taking that next step.  The most important aspect of his success will be gaining experience.  With experience comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes success.

Sometimes it appeared as though Scandrick was a bit hesitant on the field in ’09, and the knowledge he will gain from more experience will allow him to “stop thinking” and let his natural ability take over.  There is no doubt that he has the requisite talent to be an incredible cover corner.

We could also see the Cowboys addressing the position during the middle or late rounds of the draft.  One player we are very high on is Alabama CB Javier Arenas.  Arenas primary role in Dallas would be as a return man, but he could also push Scandrick for the nickel spot.  Perhaps a little competition is just what Orlando needs to thrive in 2010.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | --- "Grading the 'Boys", Film Study/Stats, Miscellaneous | , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Grading the ‘Boys, Part III: Running Backs

In Parts I and II of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we analyzed the efficiency of six Cowboys’ offensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection.  In doing so, we attempted to isolate one component of the offense as effectively as possible to determine the worth of individual players.

In reality, of course, offenses are holistic systems.  The productivity of each position indirectly affects the ability of players at each other position to properly perform.  In the running game, the success of linemen is affected greatly by the talent level of the running backs, and vice versa.

In Part III of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we will study the productivity of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice.  These three players all contributed in different ways and in distinct situations, so we will keep this in mind when analyzing the statistics we gathered from our film study.

Marion Barber was surprisingly ineffective on runs up the middle in 2009.


  • In this particular analysis, we will grade each running back on four components:  short-yardage running, overall running, receiving, and pass protection.
  • The four components of the overall grade are not all equal.  They will be weighted 15/45/20/20, respectively.
  • All totals include the playoffs.
  • As always, the best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.


  • Marion Barber

Short-Yardage Running:  D-

Barber had by far the lowest average on the team on runs up the middle and in short-yardage situations, averaging just 2.8 yards-per-carry and converting a ridiculously low 56.0 (14 for 25) percent of the time with just one yard to go (for either a first down or a touchdown).  His yards after contact and number of broken tackles were both down significantly from prior seasons.

Would you have guessed Felix Jones led the team in broken tackles?

Overall Running:  C

Barber was more effective on draws and counters than in short-yardage situations.  His 4.2 average was mediocre, but he did carry the ball a lot more in these short-yardage and goal-to-go scenarios.  He still scored seven touchdowns, but only about once every 29 carries.

Receiving: B

Barber was again solid in the passing game, although his receptions decreased due to the presence of both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.  Barber does an excellent job of disguising his intentions on screen passes.

Pass Protection: B

Marion gave up the most sacks of any running back (three), but he was also on the field during pass plays about twice as much as the other backs.  He does a great job of taking on defenders much larger than him, usually coming out on top.

Overall Grade:  77.2 (C+)

  • Felix Jones

Short-Yardage Running: B+

Despite not receiving a lot of short-yardage carries (five), Felix Jones converted on them 100.0 percent of the time.  His runs up the middle, which may be more indicative of his short-yardage abilities than such a small sample size, is still solid at 4.1 yards-per-carry.  It is hard to relate this number to Barber’s, though, because Barber had more short-yardage runs up the middle which would have decreased his average.

Overall Running:  A

Jones really displayed his value to the Cowboys in 2009.  He averaged a ridiculous 6.2 yards-per-carry, including 220 yards on 22 counters.  He also surprisingly led the team in yards after contact and broken tackles.

Receiving:  B

Jones’ receiving numbers were solid, but with his explosiveness, we would expect them to be a bit higher.  They should increase next season, particularly with teams focusing in on the run when he is in the game.

Pass Protection:  B

We think Jones is underrated in pass protection.  He gave up one sack on the season, but he is rather good at an aspect of his game which most believe is his biggest weakness.

Overall Grade:  89.8 (A-)

  • Tashard Choice

Short-Yardage Running:  B+

It is difficult to grade this aspect of Choice’s game.  He was a respectable 5 for 7 in short-yardage situations and also led the team (by a lot) with a 5.8 yards-per-carry average on runs up the middle.  However, he averaged only 1.9 yards after contact and broke just three tackles all season.

Felix Jones was incredible on counter runs, averaging 10.0 yards per attempt.

Overall Running:  B

Choice averaged 5.0 yards-per-rush on the season, with a large chunk of his rushing yards coming from the Wildcat formation.  It seemed like he was more comfortable taking the direct snap than on other runs, as he was worst on the team in both counter and draw average.  His 5.1 percent touchdown rate led the squad.

Receiving:  B+

Choice led the team in reception average, which you would expect out of your third-down back.  He isn’t incredibly fast or strong, but just solid in all aspects of the game.

Pass Protection:  A-

Choice really has done an excellent job in pass protection since his rookie season.  According to our film study, he didn’t allow a sack all season.

Overall Grade:  87.3 (B+)

Final Running Back Rankings

1.  Felix Jones:  89.8 (A-)

2.  Tashard Choice:  87.3 (B+)

3.  Marion Barber:  77.2 (C+)

A lot of fans are calling for the Cowboys to trade Marion Barber.  Other than the fact that his contract makes this basically impossible, we don’t think it would be a smart move.  Barber still has his place on the team.  If the ‘Boys would trade any of their backs, they would turn a positional strength into a possible weakness.  The team would be just one injury shy of having only one experienced running back on the roster.  Three good running backs is certainly a luxury, but it also is an important component in the success of the Dallas offense.

So how should Jason Garrett alter how he utilizes each of these players in 2010?  First, Barber needs to get fewer carries.  He received 54.3 percent of the regular-season rushes in ’09, with Jones garnering 29.5 percent and Choice 16.2 percent.  In 2010, we would advise the following breakdown:

  • Felix Jones:  50 percent
  • Tashard Choice:  30 percent
  • Marion Barber:  20 percent

Some may argue that we would be giving up on Barber too quickly, but now is not the time to wait on players.  The Cowboys are built to win now, and the most productive players should play.

These percentages could be attained by starting Jones and letting him play two series for each of Tashard Choice’s one.  We would also use Tashard Choice on short-yardage runs, including a bit more Wildcat.  Barber would come in to spell Jones and Choice, particularly on third down, and to finish games out.  In baseball, closers are only successful because they haven’t pitched all game.  The same is true for Marion Barber.  By saving his energy, he could effectively return to the “closer” role, creating the most efficient Dallas Cowboys backfield possible.

In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will analyze the productivity of the cornerbacks.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | --- "Grading the 'Boys", Film Study/Stats, Miscellaneous, News, Notes, and Rumblings | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | --- "Grading the 'Boys", Film Study/Stats, Miscellaneous, News, Notes, and Rumblings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | --- "Grading the 'Boys", Film Study/Stats, Miscellaneous, News, Notes, and Rumblings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments