Grading Redskins @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

Cowboys fans knew going into the Redskins game that this was going to be a tough game. Particularly with the injury situation on offense and a struggling O-line. It was also clear that if the Cowboys were to have a chance, the defense was going to have to come through.

The defense played hard all night, and came through in the end. With a little help from special teams, the defense kept the Cowboys in the game and ultimately sealed the win.

Today, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out, and it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the defense gets the laurels this week. Once again, we'll be using the Pro Football Focus player grades for this exercise. Some of these grades will be obvious, some others less so.

For those of you unfamiliar with Profootballfocus.com (PFF), the review of the Jets game has a lengthy introduction to their methodology. So without further ado, let's jump into the grading.

Before we get into the individual grades from the Redskins game, I'd like to review the overall status of the Cowboys' pass rush. Typically, when we talk about the pass rush, we talk about sacks. And for good reason:

"From both [the offensive and defensive] standpoints, the sack is a difference-maker," said Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has averaged 8.1 sacks per season in his eight-year career. "For a defense, the sack generates a lot of excitement and momentum, almost like a dunk in basketball. For the offense, it can be deflating on the field, and psychologically, too." - ESPN

By now, we all know that the Cowboys lead the league after three weeks with 13 sacks, which is a great defensive achievement. But the success of the pass rush cannot only be measured in sacks. While not as spectacular, QB hits and QB pressures also have an effect on the opposing offense. PFF tracks those stats, and I've tabulated them in the table below for the last four years. Additionally I've used a formula as originally proposed by Khaled Elsayed of PFF to calculate Pass Rushing Points as per the formula below.

Total Sacks + (Total Hits x 0.75) + (Total Hurries x 0.75) = Pass Rushing Points
The Pass Rush
Through Week 3 2008 2009 2010 2011
Sacks 9 3 6 13
QB Hits 11 14 6 10
QB Pressures 34 31 41 45
PRP 42.8 36.8 41.3 54.3

As you can see, the total pass rushing pressure has taken a significant jump this year under Rob Ryan's tutelage. The Cowboy don't just lead the league in sacks, they also lead the league in Pass Rushing Points through week three. And while the Cowboys may not remain atop the standings for the whole year, it's probably safe to say that they will establish themselves as one of the top pass rushing teams in the league.

Importantly, it's not just DeMarcus Ware who's bringing the heat. The whole defense is involved. Earlier this year Rob Ryan called his guys 'Bullies':

"I've got three bullies over there waiting for Thursday," Rob Ryan said. "These are proven players, and that's what we need. I don't know if we win the all-hype team, I think that might have gone to somebody else, but we're going to beat their ass when we play them."

Those comments initially drew derisive sneers and profanity-laden tirades from opposing fans, but nobody is laughing anymore.

The Front Seven

The Redskins game saw another stellar effort by the front seven. They held the Redskins to 65 yards on 22 carries (3.0 ypc), the official gamebook also credits the front seven with three sacks, six tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. That's pretty impressive, any way you look at it, and every single player on the d-line graded out positively:

DL OLBs ILBs
Starters Backups Starters Backups Starters Backups
  Coleman Ratliff Hatcher Spears Lissemore Brent Ware Spencer Butler Lee James Brooking
Snaps (63 total)
30 48 12 32 18 14 63 35 11 62 26 15
Rating
+3.1 +3.4 +1.4 +0.3 +1.4 +1.1 +4.6 +1.3 +0.4 +0.8 -3.6 +0.2

Ware was his usual self, racking up nine pressures and a sack, but he continued to get some help from Spencer, who also had a sack and two pressures in only half the snaps. The defensive line was stout against the run and made tackles in the backfield time after time. Bradie James's grade is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it looks like the graders at PFF saw some negative things, especially in pass coverage, but also against the run that I didn't notice while watching the game.

Secondary

Here's a look at how the secondary graded out.

  • Mike Jenkins (59 of 63 snaps, +2.0 grade): Jenkins was targeted five times and allowed three catches for 56 yards, including two catches to Santana Moss. He also had that almost interception and notched four tackles.
  • Terence Newman (52/63, +1.8): The last time Newman and Jenkins graded out higher than Monday's combined +3.8 grade was in Week 5, 2009 against the Chiefs when they combined for +4.8. That's right. Almost two years ago. Newman acquitted himself well against the Redskins, was thrown at twice and had one pass defended. He was a bit winded after his long absence from training and had to leave the field for a while due to exhaustion (not reflected in the grades).
  • Abram Elam (63/63, +0.6): Elam gave up three passes on three targets but earned his positive grade for a solid game against the run.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (63/63, -3.6): Sensi gave up 4 receptions on five targets and was graded negatively for that. He led the defense with seven tackles on Monday night.
Skill Position Players

The offense clearly did not have its best day on Monday, and the grades reflect this, with very few positive grades. Here are some of the high- and lowlights.

  • Felix Jones (32/69, +2.8 grade): 115 yards on 14 carries, 8.2 YPC. That's got to count for something. Unfortunately, the other backs weren't as stellar. Tashard Choice (-2.6) was stymied the whole night, DeMarco Murray (+0.4) was a little better.
  • Martellus Bennett (40/69, +0.8 grade): Marty B doesn't get a lot of love from fans, but the graders at PFF continue to like him for his outstanding run blocking. And while Bennett failed to catch the pass for a TD, he did spring two blocks on the Redskins linebackers on both of Jones's big runs. Blocking is an ability that Jason Witten (69/69, -0.4) seems to have lost. Something is not right with the Senator: for the third straight week, Witten received negative grades for his blocking. Maybe his bruised ribs are affecting him. John Phillips had a negative grade (14/69, -2.6), and gave up a sack and two pressures on just 14 snaps. 
  • Kevin Ogletree (44/69, -1.1): Ogletree gets off remarkably well in the PFF grades. While his final, 20-yard catch did set up the winning field goal, here's his tally, in sequence, for the night: One-yard reception on second-and-14, which he fumbled away after a LaRon Landry tackle; incomplete on first-and-10; fails to adjust his route to the blitz on third-and-18 and pass intended for him is easily intercepted; incompletion on third-and-7 in the corner of the endzone; seven-yard reception on third-and-14; incompletion on third-and-goal (Tony Romo: "You're stupid"). Dez Bryant (+0.8) gets off a little better, at least he wasn't involved in both Cowboys turnovers.

Things are not well in Houck's kingdom. Doug Free (-3.4) graded out the worst of all linemen on Monday, and it stands to reason that he is dealing with some kind of injury after playing two of his worst games in a row. Phil Costa (-2.4), Bill Nagy (-0.9) and Tyron Smith (-0.4) also struggled, with only Kyle Kosier (+1.1) earning positive grades.

Special mention needs to go to Mat McBriar (+2.5) and Dan Bailey (+0.8). McBriar was money on every one of his three punts, as was Bailey on each of his six field goal attempts. Bailey's kickoffs were graded at exactly 0.0, Buehler had graded out at +0.4 and +0.3 in the previous two games on kickoffs.

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