Grading Eagles @ Cowboys: Performances We Should Quickly Forget

The Cowboys season will be decided on Sunday night at the Meadowlands. It therefore really doesn't serve much purpose to review the performances of a game that had the look and feel of a preseason game - and a bad one at that - or does it?

As you look over the individual player grades in the post below, there's one question you will have to answer for yourself: Did the Cowboys play the way they did because they knew early on that it was a meaningless game, or did they play the way they did because they couldn't play any better?

After the break, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out. As usual, we'll be using the Pro Football Focus player grades to do that, and it won't be pretty. Let's hope these are grades we can quickly forget and thyt they are not indicative of much more serious issues with the team.

Follow the link for PFF's detailed FAQ, which should answer the vast majority of questions about their grading system. PFF also have their own review of the game which is always worth checking out. This week they focus on the tackles, Jay Ratliff, Stephen McGee and Sammy Morris.

Offensive line

The Cowboys offensive line had its worst game of the season. If you watched the game, this is not even debatable. Sure, perhaps Tony Romo would have made the line look better than it actually was, perhaps Felix Jones would have been a better blocking back. But it is what it is. The line play was really bad. Here's how it compares to the other 2011 games so far:


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 WK 15 WK 16

NYJ SF WAS DET NE STL PHI SEA BUF WAS MIA ARI NYG TB PHI
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 +0.2 -15.6

The table below summarizes the individual grades for the linemen. Because they were all bad in run blocking, but atrocious in pass blocking, I'll limit the grade to the overall grade and show the number of QB disruptions each lineman gave up:


Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith

LT LG C RG RT
Total
-4.4 -2.1 +0.2 -2.9 -6.4
Sacks
1 1 - - - - 1
Hits
1 - - - - 2 1
Pressures
6 - - - - 2 3

The Eagles' Trent Cole abused Doug Free all day and got a +6.3 grade for his efforts, the best grade for any Eagle on Saturday. Tyron Smith looked like a rookie all day and the guard play was nothing to write home about either. Costa in the middle was the only linemen with at least an average performance (not a sentence I thought I'd ever write).

Skill Position Players
  • Sammy Morris (34 of 69 snaps, +1.9): The grades liked Morris as a receiver (+0.8) as a runner (+0.8) and as a blocker (+0.3). Felix Jones, who only saw seven snaps in the game also graded out well with a +1.3, and even Chauncey Washington got a positive grade (+0.3) on 17 snaps).
  • Martellus Bennett (36/69, +1.1). Chances are, if the runners were getting positive yardage, they were running into a hole created by Martellus Bennet. Jason Witten (69/69, -2.1) got downgraded for his below average pass blocking and receiving, Tony Fiammetta only saw 17 snaps and wasn't much of a factor (-0.7), John Phillips only saw the field for two snaps.
  • Dez Bryant (54/69, +0.2). Bryant got a +1.1 in the passing game, but that was negated by his illegal shift penalty (declined) on what turned out to be an abomination of a screen pass to Sammy Morris on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter. Miles Austin (66/69, +0.0) did get the TD in the end but had only four catches on eight targets overall. Laurent Robinson (40/69, -0.6) had one catch for five yards and was much less of a force with McGee than he had been with Romo.
  • Stephen McGee (65/69, -3.4). Here's what McGee did well: he didn't throw an interception, he managed an 83.4 passer rating, and to his credit, he did attempt a few passes downfield. But 4.8 yards per attempt just won't cut it in the NFL. That may be a bit harsh, but you can't dink and dunk your way down the field all the time. The Cowboys did not have a single play of more than 20 yards, the Eagles had seven. That stat line right there is the game in a nutshell.
Front seven

When all is said and done, this game came down to execution. Some players executed their assignment, some didn't, or at least didn't do it consistently. Keith Brooking sums it up:

"Defensively, the first half, we didn't execute," Brooking said. "We didn't get to the quarterback. We weren't good underneath in our coverages. We weren't deep in our coverages. We have to get that fixed."

Rob Ryan did not agree with Brooking on the blown coverages, but agreed on pretty much everything else:

"There were no blown coverages, that's everybody's story," Ryan said. "How about we just didn't execute. That's the simple thing. The guy throws a touchdown pass into double coverage, in the redzone, on third down. That's just not good football. Other than that, we'll be fine."

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 (62 total)
23 39 30 23 20 52 56 21 43 34 25
Rating
+1.5 +5.6 -2.5 +0.0 -0.4 +3.9 -1.1 -0.1 +0.5 -1.9 -0.0

Despite this having the look and feel of a preseason game, the backups did not get a lot of playing time. Clifton Geathers (8/62, +0.8), Alex Albright (4/62, +0.0) and Bruce Carter (3/62, +0.1) all didn't play a big role on Saturday.

Secondary

  • Mike Jenkins (50 of 62 snaps, -1.2).Three targets, three receptions, one for a TD.
  • Terence Newman (57/62, -0.2). Newman had five tackles, second on the team only to Spencer's six and generated a pressure on the one snap he rushed the passer. But in coverage, he gave up 72 yards on four receptions.
  • Orlando Scandrick (43/62, -2.6). Two missed tackles, two passes given up to Avant and one to Maclin get Scandrick the second worst grade of the season.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (62/46, -1.6)) Two receptions on two targets, as well as one TD go against Sensabaugh. Abram Elam (62/62, -0.2) was solid against the run but graded out poorly against the pass.

The Cowboys held LeSean McCoy (-1.6) to a miserly 35 yards on 13 runs and held the Eagles overall to 105 yards on the ground. That is a significant improvement over the 239 rushing yards the defense hemorrhaged in their first meeting this year. The issue this time around clearly was the pass defense, which gave up 281 yards, the third highest total this season.

Overall though, the Eagles offense did not grade out all that well. Left tackle Jason Peters (+3.5) and left guard Evan Mathis (+2.3) continued their season-long good performance, while the right side of the line all graded out negatively. Jeremy Maclin (+2.3)and DeSean Jackson (+1.4) were the only other Eagles on offense with a grade above 1.0.

On defense, not a single Eagles player graded out below -1.0, and the bulk of the positive grades were garnered by the Eagles defensive line.

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