Performances Of Note From The Cowboys vs. Eagles Game

For those of you that have been on BTB for a while, you know I have been a big fan of the work done by the folks at Pro Football Focus, since they are one of the few sites that record and judge individual performance for all position groups, not just the offensive skill positions. This year, there's only one number that's relevant at PFF, and that is 90. $90, to be exact. PFF have gone premium and are charging $90 for the player stats I used to recite every night before going to bed.

For the longest time, I refused to cough up the money. Not because I felt they were charging too much for their content, but because I am principally and violently opposed to paying for any content whatsoever on the internet. But principles only get you so far and a few weeks ago I caved in, let principles be principles, paid up and have been reveling in their stats ever since. But now I have to get my money's worth from those stats, so today we begin by looking at PFF's game summary of the Eagles - Cowboys game - with a lot more to come over the following days and weeks.

One important disclaimer up front. I personally love the PFF data, but I urge you to use it as a 'guideline' and not as 'the pure unadulterated truth'. We've had the discussions here over and over about the validity of their data, and they usually go something like this: "Hey, look how they graded player XYZ. That can't be right, because I have a completely different opinion of that player. And if they got that player wrong, then surely the rest of their data is junk as well." When one of these discussions popped up, I usually looked at the player stats in detail and often understood why they  graded a player a certain way. Doesn't mean I agreed, but for the most part I understood how they arrived at their grades. Read up on their methodology here.

Having said all that, I don't know any of the people reviewing film, I don't even know what kind of film they're reviewing, I have no idea how objective they are in their grading and, most importantly, I don't know which plays they graded well and which they didn't. But, the numbers do make for good discussion. With that out of the way, and with apologies for the lengthy intro, here we go.

In their game summaries, PFF usually focuses on a handful of players and looks at the performances of note. They do exactly that in their game summary of the Eagles @ Cowboys game, starting with Doug Free:

Left tackle Doug Free (+4.3) had his best game of the year against the Eagles. Free’s performance is a perfect example of how to play LT in the NFL. He allowed just one pressure in 42 dropbacks (+1.5 rating in pass protection) but was at this best in the ground game (+2.4), beating up especially on backup DRE Daryl Tapp.

Overall, Free's performance shouldn't come as a great surprise to Cowboys fans. While he initially had TE help at left tackle to start the season, those training wheels quickly came off after the first couple of weeks when it became clear that that help was much more desperately needed on the right side (more on that in a minute).

For the season, PFF grade Free as the best runblocking left tackle in the league and the sixth best left tackle overall. In passblocking, he is still an above average tackle, but over the course of 13 games has given up just a little bit too much pressure (4 sacks, 7 QB Hits, 17 QB pressures according to PFF) to grade out higher.

On the right side, Marc Colombo is having a throwaway season as further evidenced by his performance (-4.2) against the Eagles:

This was Colombo’s fourth game of the season with a grade lower than -4.0 and he was poor in both pass protection and on the ground. Colombo gave up a sack, hit and two pressures in the 42 times Kitna dropped back to pass. He contributed to the 13-yard total gained when running right of the center.

For the season, Colombo has accumulated a -30.2 grade, the second worst grade in the league surpassed only by the Bears' RT J'Marcus Webb. What is particularly alarming is the dropoff from last year. In 2009, Colombo graded out with a +6.1 over the 10 regular season games he played healthy, which ranked him as the number 14 right tackle.

Various leg and knee injuries over the years have slowed Colombo down considerably. Colombo continues to struggle heroically in every game, but it is an indictment of the Cowboys' depth along the line that a guy who's so obviously unfit to play is still on the field every week. On Sunday he'll be facing the Redskins' Brian Orakpo, who leads the Redskins with 8.5 sacks. If Garrett wants a healthy Kitna after four quarters on Sunday, he'll once again have to provide significant help on the right side.

Another player PFF looked at in detail is Jay Ratliff, who they see as the third best 3-4 pass rushing NT in the game ( +11.0 rushing grade is actually up significantly vs 09). They also see him suddenly struggling in run defense this year and have strongly downgraded his run defense accordingly (+13.0 2009, -6.5 in 2010). The Eagles game was no exception to the general trend:

Jay Ratliff (-2.1) is struggling against the run, especially this year. The nose tackle made one tackle (a stop) and an assist for a run-defense grade of -1.7. He is still dangerous as a pass-rusher, however, getting a sack on 20 rushes (which accounted for his other stop). Ratliff also committed a penalty when he jumped offside.

For the season, Ratliff has a +4.8 grade (+11.0 pass rushing, -6.5 run defense). Josh Brent (+3.7) isn’t anywhere near the dominant factor that Jay Ratliff is in the passing game but at times he's looked like a better option against the run (-1.2 pass rushing, +5.3 run defense). Something that the numbers don't necessarily reflect is that more than ever, opposing offenses are keying on double-teaming Ratliff, and if they can get him blocked, there goes the run defense up the middle.

And here's another thing to consider as you look at Ratliff's grades: Marcus Spears was easily the best run defender on the team garnering a +8.6 grade in run defense through week nine (Spears injured his calf in the third quarter of the week nine game against the Packers and has since been placed on injured reserve). Through week nine, Ratliff had a +0.2 grade against the run. In the 5 games without Spears, Ratliff has a -6.7 grade against the run.

Other key players of note: Keith Brooking, who entered the game with a foot injury, had his worst grade of the season with a -2.9 as he struggled on run defense. Sean Lee (+0.8) on the other hand was good against the run and made three tackles with two stops in only 17 defensive snaps. Of note: Brooking played 39 defensive snaps, his lowest total of the whole season.

David Buehler had himself a quietly efficient game, recording his third straight grade of more than 2.0. For the season, this gives him a cumulative grade of +5.3 and ranks him 11th among all kickers. Mat McBriar, the one player who truly 'stacks one good game on top of the other' also had a good game with a +2.2. For the season, this gives him a +16.0 and ranks him as the third best punter in the league.

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