Grading Giants @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

Tony Romo is all smiles with Tyron Smith on his right side.

The thing I personally enjoy the most about these post-game grading posts is that they challenge my personal assessments of the player performances from the game I watched on Sunday. This is especially true after a loss, where doom and gloom sweeps Cowboys Nation. But as much as losses like the one against the Giants hurt, it doesn't mean that every player had a bad game - far from it.

Dave made a point on Monday about how the Cowboys had played a pretty good game for 55 minutes. If the game had ended then, with the Cowboys leading 34-22, we'd all be talking about what a great game the Cowboys played. Yet most of the knee-jerk reactions, the hyperventilation and the lists of players that absolutely, unequivocally need to be cut are based on the last five minutes of the game. Perhaps rightfully so, but in assessing overall performance, you can't simply make the first 55 minutes disappear.

You may not always agree with the player grades published by Pro Football Focus - I know I don't - but you can at least use them to question your evaluation that may have been born of frustration more than you like to admit.

Follow the link for a lengthy introduction to the PFF methodology. Better yet, read PFF's detailed FAQ, which should answer the vast majority of questions.

PFF's also have their own review of the game which is always worth checking out. This week they focus on Tyron Smith, Terence Newman and the OLBs.

Not all pressure is created equal

If I were to tell you that the Cowboys brought more pressure on the passer on Sunday than in any other game this season, you'd probably laugh me off and stop reading. So I won't do that. Instead, let's look at the type of pressure the Cowboys brought on Sunday and how it compares to the other games this season.


WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10 WK 11 WK 12 WK 13 WK 14

NYJ SF WAS DET NE STL PHI SEA BUF WAS MIA ARI NYG
Sacks 4 6 3 - -
3 1 4 1 1 3 3 5 - -
QB Hits 6 4 - -
7 4 6 1 1 3 3 1 2 2
QB Pressures 13 10 22 10 8 5 12 10 6 14 9 10 25

A sack is a sack, even for PFF. By the PFF definition, a QB hit is when a QB is knocked down to the ground but not sacked, a pressure is when a QB is forced to move in the pocket in some other way than simply stepping up in the pocket to throw.

If you sum up all three stats, the Cowboys had the most QB disruptions they've recorded all season. The problem was that while the pass rush got pressure, they didn't get to Manning. Additionally, Manning and the Giants were well prepared for the Cowboys pass rush, in fact, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Giants game-planned specifically for the Cowboys pass rush. And the Cowboys bringing the heat more than ever before played right into the Giants hands:

Eli Manning Passer Rating
2011 Season Vs Cowboys
When not blitzed 92.1 70.9
When blitzed 101.1 117.5

Manning was blitzed on 20 dropbacks but managed 12 completions for 234 yards on those blitzes. The Cowboys didn't bring an extra man on 27 dropbacks and Manning "only" completed 15 passes for 166 yards. The almost 50-point difference in Manning's passer rating is staggering. Even excluding his INT on the non-blitz dropbacks his passer rating at 86.3 is still significantly below his rating in blitz situations.

What's particularly disturbing is that the Cowboys played fairly well in coverage when they had an extra man or two dropping back, but chose to blitz on almost every second dropback anyway.

In many ways this is eerily reminiscent of Wade's last couple of games in Dallas, where he would send the blitz again and again, but because the rushers couldn't get to the passer, the secondary was exposed again and again.

Here's how the front seven graded out.

DL OLBs ILBs
Starters Backups Starters Backups Starters Backup
Coleman Ratliff Hatcher Spears Lissemore Ware Spencer Butler Lee James Brooking
Snaps (85 total)
31 56 42 22 45 63 82 24 84 40 21
Rating
-0.1 +0.1 +1.7 -1.9 +0.3 +0.2 +1.1 +1.8 +2.2 +0.4 -0.7

Barry Church and Victor Butler collected the sole QB Hits. The most pressures were recorded by Ware (6), Spencer (5) and Ratliff (3).

[Update: ESPN Dallas confirms that as outlined further up, the pressures recorded by PFF for the Cowboys were basically empty pressures: "Based on the Cowboys coaches stats released to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, outside pass rusher DeMarcus Ware wasn't credited with any quarterback pressures for only the second time this season. Anthony Spencer, the other outside pass rusher, had none. Defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had five the past three weeks, also came up empty versus the Giants. "]

Secondary

  • Mike Jenkins (35 of 86 snaps, +1.0) missed a lot of playing time on Sunday, but allowed only one reception on four targets and had a pass defensed.
  • Alan Ball (32/86 snaps, -0.9) came in for Jenkins, defended one pass and allowed receptions on the three other balls thrown his way, including the deep post to Nicks for 64 yards.
  • Terence Newman (76/86, -1.7) was targeted 10 times and only allowed four receptions, which is actually a pretty good percentage for a corner. The problem is that he allowed the following three passes: a 15-yard reception to Manningham on 4th-and-3 to the Dallas 22 that ultimately led to a TD; a 24 yard to Nicks that set up the Giants at the Dallas 8 for another TD; an 11 yard pass to Nicks to the Dallas 27 that again set up a TD.
  • Orlando Scandrick (67/86, -2.5). Five targets, four receptions. One penalty. That'll get you a bad grade despite five tackles and a pressure.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (85/86, -0.6). Defensive Pass Interference (initially falsely called on Jenkins) on 3rd-and-7 at the Dallas 9 sets up a first down and a TD for the Giants. Apart from that, he had a positive overall grade
  • Abram Elam (84/86, -2.2) simply didn't have a very good day.
Offensive line

The Cowboys rushed for 5.8 yards a pop, Romo passed for 321 yards and a passer rating of 141.3: The O-line had a good day. While they did allow three sacks (including that curious stumbling thing that ended in a safety) they only allowed one hit and one pressure. For an O-line, that's next to nothing. Going by the PFF grade this was one of the better games this season:


WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10 WK 11 WK 12 WK 13 WK 14
NYJ SF WAS DET NE STL PHI SEA BUF WAS MIA ARI NYG
Overall Grade
-1.4 -12.4 -6.0 +9.2 -14.9 +4.9 +1.2 +4.9 +9.9 -2.4 -2.3 +0.8 +7.8

Here's how the linemen graded out individually, lots of green everywhere. Costa played 26 snaps, Kowalski played 37, both are included in the table:


Free Holland Costa Kowalski Kosier Smith
LT LG C C RG RT
vs. NYG
+1.4 +2.0 +0.1 -0.1 +1.5 +2.9
Run Blocking
+0.4 +0.3 +0.7 +0.2 -0.2 +0.9
Pass Protect
+0.1 +0.9 +0.3 +0.6 +1.4 +1.6

Free and Holland got almost a full point extra in positive grades for their downfield blocking on pass plays, and also a positive grade on penalties. Costa and Killer Kowalski both had good run- and pass-blocking grades that were hurt by each player getting a penalty.

Tyron Smith is now the second highest graded tackle in the league, just 1.4 points behind the Eagles' Jason Peters. Tyron Smith Rocks. That is all.

Skill Position Player Highlights

  • Tony Romo (63 of 63 snaps, +1.5). With a 141.3 passer rating, a 67.7 completion rate and mistake free passing (0 INTs), I had expected Romo to garner a higher grade. Especially when Eli Manning walks away with a +5.3 and a lesser passer rating (90.7), completion percentage (57.4) and an INT. The difference is that the Cowboys O-line allowed pressure on Romo on only four dropbacks, so in the PFF-logic Romo's passes were a lot easier to complete that Manning's. Not sure I agree, but it is what it is.
  • Tony Fiammetta (20/63, -0.9) gave up one QB hit an was graded with a -1.4 for his pass blocking. I have the feeling that PFF haven't fully figured out the grading for pure fullbacks. Fiammetta, despite his unquestioned impact on the Cowboys running game is graded with a -2.9 for the season.
  • Felix Jones (47/63, +2.0) 6.6 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at. Part of that grade belongs to Fiammetta though.
  • Dez Bryant (58/63, -0.2) Dez Bryant had one catch for 50 yards. That's good, but not enough for a great grade. Laurent Robinson had four catches for 137 yards and gets a better grade (+0.7), as does Miles Austin (+1.1).
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