Grading Cowboys @ Ravens: Performances Of Note

Rob Carr - Getty Images

There are many things that go right in a football game, and many things that go wrong. Not all of these things happen in the last two minutes of a game.

After a close and perhaps avoidable loss against the Ravens, a lot of the attention has focused on what went wrong in the last two minutes of the game. The bungled time management, the missed field goal, the dropped two-point conversion have been and still are being over-analyzed. Yes, the game was decided in those last two minutes, but that's no reason to ignore the other 58 minutes of the game.

Over the course of the game, the Cowboys racked up some impressive and some less impressive numbers, as well as some individual highlights and some individual lowlights to go with it. Like every week, some Cowboys players did their job better than others. Today, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out and we'll be using the Pro Football Focus player grades to do that.

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 Phil Costa, Tony Romo and the cornerbacks.

Offensive Line

Everything starts up front, and so it is fitting that we start this and all future reviews with the performance of the offensive line. Despite some miscues along the way, the Cowboys offense had a very good game. They gained 227 yards on the ground, and though he threw one interception, Romo was clicking in the passing game to the tune of a 97.1 passer rating and 69.4% completion rate. The Cowboys also scored a season-high 29 points in a venue where no NFC team has won for the last four years. None of this happens without solid play by the O-line.

Notwithstanding two penalties each by the tackles, the O-line easily had its best game of the season. From a PFF grading point of view, this was the second consecutive positive overall grade after a shaky start to the first three games:

WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6

Overall Grade
-5.5 -5.3 -9.8 +1.4 +9.9

The way these grades have developed shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone following the injury situation along the O-line. Both Livings and Bernadeau missed significant time due to various ailments in the pre-season, and Costa was out for the first four games.

Also worth noting: the Cowboys have allowed only nine sacks over their first five games. That's a pretty impressive 4.4% sack percentage (sacks/pass attempts), the sixth best value in the league. At this pace, the Cowboys are on track for 29 sacks for the season, which would be the lowest since the 25 allowed in 2007.

Here's how the linemen graded out individually versus Baltimore:

Smith Livings Costa Bernadeau Free

+1.7 +1.3 +6.3 +0.3 +0.3
Run Blocking
+0.7 +2.2 +4.9 -1.8 -0.3
Pass Protect
+2.4 -0.3 +1.1 +1.2 +1.9

Doug Free and Tyron Smith each got a -1.4 grade for their penalties, so that impacts their overall grade somewhat.

Defensive Line and OLBs

Overall, it was a fairly quiet day for Rob's Mob, with only one sack, three QB hits and nine hurries.

  • DeMarcus Ware (51 of 56 snaps, -0.1 grade) had the lone sack and three hurries. The graders at PFF saw a penalty on Ware that doesn't appear in any of the official stats, and gave him a -0.9 for the penalty, which affects his overall grade. Ware battled Ravens LT Michael Oher to a draw: Oher has a -0.6 grade for the game.
  • Alex Albright (15/56, +1.4) played only a few snaps, but to good effect: Albright notched three tackles, one of which was for a loss in his brief playing time. Victor Butler played 39 snaps but only got a 0.0 grade. The graders apparently didn't see enough from him outside of a batted pass.
  • Jay Ratliff (29/56, -2.6) saw his first snaps of the season, but the folks at PFF weren't impressed with his run defense.
  • Jason Hatcher (+0.9), Kenyon Coleman (-0.3), Tyrone Crawford and Josh Brent (0.1) all had fairly solid though largely unspectacular showings.
The Running Game

When a team runs for 227 yards, they must have done something right. And the PFF grades reflect that, with every one of the four RBs getting a positive overall grade. But even more impressive than the PFF grades are the stats the four backs accumulated, and that's summarized in the table below

Cowboys running game


DeMarco Murray
+3.3 22 93
Felix Jones +2.6 54
Phillip Tanner +0.3 17 31
Lance Dunbar +0.6 2 11

The Cowboys ran at an impressive pace of 5.4 yards per clip, and a key reason for that was the ability of the O-line to open holes. This also helped Lawrence Vickers be much more effective than he has been in previous games: After compiling a cumulative -1.3 grade over the last four games, PFF gave him a +1.7 for his effort on 16 snaps against the Ravens.

The Passing Game
  • Tony Romo(95 of 95 snaps, +6.9). PFF summarizes: "It was his throws late and control of the offense that earned him the high grade and dragged his team back into a position to win the game with some clutch plays. ... He was effective short and intermediate and didn’t grade negatively in any area of the field."
  • Dez Bryant (74/95, +2.8) 15 targets, 13 receptions, 95 yards and two TD. It's unfortunate that Bryant will be remembered more for the dropped two-point conversion attempt than for this spectacular stat line. And while it's great to see the Romo/Bryant connection working, you've got to wonder what happened to Miles Austin (-0.3), who was targeted 5 times but only had two receptions. Ogletree (-3.8) graded out as the worst player on offense for the Cowboys, in large part due to his four penalties (one of which was declined).
  • Jason Witten (95/95, +1.4). Great day as a receiver (+3.4), bad day as a run blocker (-2.8). The usually reliable run-blocking Cowboys tight ends had an off day, as Phillips came in with a -0.9 run blocking grade. Good thing the O-line bailed them out.
Secondary and ILBs

  • Brandon Carr (51/56, -3.3) did not have a good day, allowing five receptions on six passes. The Cowboys pass defense still has a way to go this year. Over five games, they've allowed a defensive passer rating of 97.7, which ranks them 25th in the league. The Cowboys will not be able to win many games with that type of pass defense.
  • Morris Claiborne (43/56, -1.3) Claiborne was only thrown at twice in the game, but allowed completions both times, including the touchdown pass before the half on which he was injured.
  • The two remaining corners Orlando Scandrick (32, -0.5) and Mike Jenkins (7, +0.1) as well as Gerald Sensabaugh (56, +0.3) and Danny McCray (54, -0.5) also didn't have any significant impact on the defensive performance against the pass.

Sean Lee (+3.5) and Bruce Carter (-0.9) played all 56 snaps each. In previous games, Bruce Carter came off the field when the defense was in its "Dollar personnel" package, a third down package where the Cowboys take an inside linebacker off the field and replace him with an extra safety to give them a physical safety at the point of attack that can also cover. However, the personnel situation at safety is such that Bruce Carter had to stay in on 3rd downs. And while Carter is a good pass defender against tight ends and running backs, he's not a pass defender that will match up successfully against wide receivers, and the Ravens exploited this.

Right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, with the score tied at 10 points each, the Ravens found themselves on their own 16-yard line in a 3rd-and-14 situation. They looked for and found a matchup to exploit by pitting Anquan Bolding against Bruce Carter. The result was a 20 yard completion that gave the Ravens a first down on their 36-yard line. Four plays later (two completions against Scandrick and one against McCray), the Ravens took the lead for good in the game with a 19-yard TD pass against Morris Claiborne (the play on which he was injured).

The graph below is taken from Advanced NFL Stats and plots the the Game Winning Probability (GWP) for each team after every play of the game. Outside of the final two minutes of the game, the biggest changes in GWP are circled in red on the graph: the completion against Carter in the second quarter and the 108-yard kickoff return for a TD in the third quarter.


This sequence of plays after the two-minute warning in the first half (and a couple of others) is what ultimately led to the drama in the final two minutes of the game. Had the Cowboys stopped the Ravens on this drive, the game would almost certainly have ended differently. But they didn't, so now we're stuck with 4th quarter Sports Center highlights of the game. This game was decided much earlier, yet all we seem to be talking about is what went wrong in the last two minutes of the game.

Plenty of things went wrong throughout this game, but plenty of things worked out extremely well in this game too. And this should give the Cowboys enough confidence for the next game. And the next. And the next.

As such, it's only fitting that Jason Hatcher have the last word:

"It’s always tough to lose a hard-fought game like we played," Hatcher said. "But there was a lot of good stuff that we did along with the bad stuff."

"I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to be a pretty good football team … We’re going to break through. I believe that in my heart and I know it’s going to happen. When it happens, it’s going to be a pretty thing."

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