Grading Cowboys @ Eagles: A Win Is A Win

How do you approach the grading of a narrow 14-13 win against an Eagles team playing a lot of its backups? I'm not really sure.

There was a lot not to like about that game, but there were also some positive things to take away from the game. Today, I'll focus on the positives in the game review. After all, a win is a win. We'll have enough time to comb through all the negatives over the coming months. Besides, I'm still in a festive mood, so today you'll see a lot of green grades and only very few red ones.

For the final game review of the 2010 season we'll focus on our freshly nominated Pro Bowlers fared and take a closer look at two rookies who received some rookie honors recently. We'll also look at the much maligned defensive line who collectively had a good game for a change, and I'll look at one play that in many ways was symbolic of the whole Cowboys 2010 season.

One last time this season, we'll use the individual player grades from Pro Football Focus.com (PFF) to get a better understanding of what happened on Sunday. For more details on their grading system, read this post.

The Cowboys Pro Bowlers

DeMarcus Ware obviously had a night to remember. In addition to his fumble recovery for a TD, the official NFL gamebooks give him three sacks to make him the league leader in 2010 and they also credit him with three QB hits and three tackles for loss. PFF concur and hand out a +5.5 grade for the night.

Jay Ratliff also came up strong (+2.4) against an admittedly overmatched O-line, and even the announcers couldn't help noticing that Ratliff was being double-teamed on almost every snap. He still managed to force a fumble by Jerome Harrison and blocked a pass.

The usually highly efficient Jason Witten didn't click with McGee the way he has with Romo and Kitna, catching only four of nine passes thrown his way. But one of those was for the game winning TD and that gets Witten a positive grade of +0.5 which would have been higher had he not been credited with giving up a sack of McGee. 

Mat McBriar had a busy night with eight punts, his most this season and the most since he punted nine times in a 21-20 win against the Eagles in week 10 of 2005. And although the return yardage was minimal at 31 yards, he did put one punt out-of-bounds, had one touchback, and only put two inside the 20. As a result, his net punting average dropped below 40 yards for only the second time in the last nine games and his grade is only marginally positive at +0.2.

Many fans thought that Andre Gurode was the odd man out in the Pro Bowl nominations, and at least in Sunday's game, that line of thinking was justified. With a -1.5 Gurode graded out as the weakest lineman against the Eagles. He gave up two QB pressures did not play up to his Pro Bowl nomination.

The Defensive Line

We've been very critical about the Cowboys defensive ends all season, particularly their inability to generate any type of pressure on the passer. Well, against the Eagles' second stringers, the Cowboys DEs had a good game statistically.

Igor Olshansky (+3.1) had his best game as a Cowboys according to PFF, coming through in both run and pass defense and even recording two QB pressures in the process. With this grade, Igor the dancing bear pushes his season total to +0.7, which actually makes him a slightly above average DE. Strange days, here we come.

Stephen Bowen (+2.4) had his second best outing of the season with one each of the following: a QB hit, a QB pressure, a blocked pass and a tackle. For the season, Bowen now has a +15.0 grade which easily puts him into the top five 3-4 DEs in the NFL, even though PFF have not completed grading all week 17 games. However, for all his pass rushing prowess, Bowen has not distinguished himself against the run, and his snap count shows this: Bowen has played 552 defensive snaps, or 53% of all snaps. But only 30% of his snaps came against the run. Regardless, this guy needs a Cowboys contract.

Jason Hatcher on the other hand may have played his last snap for the Cowboys. He did get a sack, but was not particularly effective against the run and received a +0.1 grade. For the season, he's at a respectable +6.5 but was on the field for only 31% of the defensive snaps this season.

Josh Brent (+0.6) was once again was solid against the run but had some room for improvement in the pass rush.

Rookie Watch

Football Outsiders (FO) announced their 2010 All Rookie Team last week, and both Sean Lee and Chris Gronkowski made the list. Apparently, they read that post and decided to prove FO right against the Eagles.

Lee did not have an interception but still managed a +1.1. For the season, this puts Lee, who's only been on the field for 163 or 19% of total defensive snaps, at +9.4. For comparison, Bradie James ranks in the top 15 ILBs in the league with +12.5 for the season - but on 920 snaps.

The Gronkster, who has a steadily growing fanbase on this board, graded out as the second best offensive player (after Free, +2.0) with +1.3 behind his run blocking. Looks like this rookie will close the season among the top five fullbacks in the league.

Performances of note

Jason Garrett was complimentary of the defense in his post-game press conference. The odd man out on the defense in terms of grades was once again Alan Ball ( -1.1). What most stat sheets don't adequately reflect, and these grades do, is when a player isn't even in the zip code of where he is supposed to be.

Watch Kolb's 48 yard pass to Chad Hall closely: Newman lines up on the left to cover Hall, Jenkins is on the opposite side of the field covering a WR. Ball and Sensabaugh are playing 10 yards off the LOS, Ball on the left side of the D, Sensi on the right. In the first second of the play, Ball hardly moves, while 21 other players do. Chad Hall runs upfield, jukes Newman and immediately has a five-yard cushion on TNew. In the meantime, Kolb rolls out of the pocket and launches a beautiful spiral to the wide open Hall who is streaking down the field.

The ball is a little underthrown, Hall has to slow down, but is still far enough ahead of TNew to make the catch. And who comes streaking in to make the tackle? Alan Ball? No, the safety is lost somewhere in midfield (You'll catch him briefly on the replay looking dazed and confused with nobody to cover). It's Jenkins to the rescue! Jenkins shows incredible sideline to sideline hustle, hunting down a streaking WR from the other side of the field.

Think about it: Jenkins starts on the Eagles 48 yard line on the right side and has coverage duties of his own. Chad Hall starts on the Eagles 41 and runs basically straight ahead. Yet Jenkins manages to tackle him at the Cowboys 10 yard line, right after Hall catches the Ball. If it weren't so depressing, it would be exhilarating.

This, in a nutshell is what is wrong with the Cowboys' secondary: When one corner has to provide safety help over the top for another corner, then you have serious safety issues, because basically, the corners are playing without safety help.

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