FanPost

The improvements to the Cowboys roster just do not add up

Much has been made of the off season additions made to the Dallas Cowboys roster. Brandon Carr was the crown jewel brought in through free agency. He is a young, physical cornerback capable of playing a multitude of coverages. Carr was the best veteran available at arguably the Cowboys biggest position of need: cornerback.

Look at the Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades handed out to the 2011 members of the Cowboys secondary

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2011

Orlando Scandrick

CB

-5.6

2011

Terence Newman

CB

-9.1

2011

Mike Jenkins

CB

+1.1

2011

Abram Elam

S

-5.3

2011

Gerald Sensabaugh

S

+2.2

As a quick analysis, the starting three cornerbacks had an abysmal combined score of -13.6. Only Mike Jenkins boasted a positive score, but according to the PFF scoring system, his score reflects a slightly above average performance last season. The starting safeties scored a combined -3.1. The overall total was -16.7.

In order to compare last season's group to the players projected to man the secondary in 2012, an estimation of the performance Morris Claiborne will provide is necessary. Patrick Peterson offers a great point of comparison. Both players come from the same defensive system. Patrick and Morris also did not have an offseason prior to their rookie season: the former due to the lockout, the latter due to injury. Finally, Peterson and Claiborne are expected to play significant minutes as rookies, given that each was selected with a top 6 pick in their respective draft.

Here is how Peterson fared as a cornerback last season according to PFF:

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2011

Patrick Peterson

CB

-12.6

In order to estimate the level of improvement made in the Cowboys secondary, the 2011 PFF grades for Peterson as a substitute for Claiborne, are combined with the grades for Carr, Pool, and others expected to play for Dallas next season. Here are the results:

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2011

Orlando Scandrick

CB

-5.6

Morris Claiborne

CB

-12.6

2011

Brandon Carr

CB

+2.7

2011

Brodney Pool

S

-0.4

2011

Gerald Sensabaugh

S

+2.2

The projected top three cornerbacks are projected to score a combined -15.5. Carr is a modest improvement over Mike Jenkins.

While I expect Mike Jenkins to be traded early in the season, his modest 2011 score of +1.1 is a monumental improvement over both Alan Ball (-5.5) and Frank Walker (-5.1). This could be the basis behind Jerry Jones' and Jason Garrett's adamant claims that Jenkins will not be traded.

Jenkins, however, is only one season removed from his appalling PFF score of -10.8 (in 2010). If Jenkins plays to his dreadful 2010 standard, the Cowboys will be in the same situation they faced in 2011. Remember that Jenkins' 2011 grade was accumulated in part because of teams successfully targeting Newman after Thanksgiving. With Newman's departure, Jenkins becomes more of a target.

The safety position is a little better (+1.8), but that translates to just slightly above average play. The overall projected 2012 secondary score is a sobering -13.7: close to the 2011 total of -16.7.

This could hardly be considered a quantum upgrade according to PFF. But that is why they play the games, right?

Now if the secondary was the Achilles' heel of the 2011 Edition of the Dallas Cowboys, the play of the offensive line should be considered the chink of the offensive armor. The PFF grades for the Cowboys offensive linemen in 2011 are as follows:

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2011

Tyron Smith

OT

+13.7

2011

Doug Free

OT

-9.9

2011

Phil Costa

OC

-9.7*

2011

Kyle Kosier

OG

-6.0

2011

Left guard

OG

-7.3^

* Denotes a score of +1.3 over the last 10 games played in 2011

^ Bill Nagy had a PFF score of -9.0, while Dockery accumulated a PFF score of -3.8

For purposes of comparison, the total PFF score of the offensive line was a dreadful -19.2. Tyron Smith was obviously the budding star and stalwart of the line. Smith will be moved to the left tackle position for the 2012 season.

Nate Livings will take over one of the offensive guard positions in 2012. Doug Free had a terrible season in 2011. Here are Free's scores over the last three seasons:

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2009

Doug Free

ROT

+5.6

2010

Doug Free

LOT

+17.9

2011

Doug Free

LOT

-9.9

Despite having a great rookie season, Smith's move to left tackle could result in a decline in his PFF score, as seen with Free from 2010 o 2011. The whopping -26.0 point drop from Doug seems extreme, but a modest decline in Tyron's level of play would not be surprising.

Utilizing Smith's, Nagy's, and Livings' 2011 PFF score, Costa's score over the last 10 games, and Free's score from the last time he played Right Offensive Tackle (ROT), here is the anticipated 2012 offensive line:

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2011

Tyron Smith

OT

+13.7

2009

Doug Free

OT

+5.6

2011

Phil Costa

OC

+1.3*

2011

Nate Livings

OG

-10.4

2011

Bill Nagy

OG

-9.0

That leads to a slightly above average cumulative score of +1.2. Despite being a considerable jump from the -19.2 registered in 2011, remember that this score takes the following liberties:

  1. Tyron Smith will not suffer any decrease in his cumulative PFF score despite moving from the right tackle to the left tackle position and facing much better pass rushers.
  2. Phil Costa plays at the same level he exhibited over the last 10 games of 2011.
  3. Doug Free returns to his 2009 form at Right Offensive Tackle, an improvement of 15.5 points.

If Tyron Smith plays merely as an above average left tackle in 2012, Doug Free repeats his 2011 level of play, and Phil Costa's performance over the last 10 games of 2011 was merely a mirage, the table takes on a distinctively different feel:

Cowboys

Year

Player

POS

PFF Score

2012

Tyron Smith

OT

+8.0

2011

Doug Free

OT

-9.9

2011

Phil Costa

OC

-9.7

2011

Nate Livings

OG

-10.4

2011

Bill Nagy

OG

-9.0

This offensive line boasts a cumulative score of -31.0. Somewhere in the middle is probably where this line will score in 2012. Coincidently, that score of -14.9 would be a slight upgrade over the -19.2 posted in 2011.

The Cowboys lost a very productive third receiver in Robinson. Robinson's loss, however, will likely be inconsequential in relation to the regression to the mean for Tony Romo. Romo rode the triumvirate of Robinson, Austin, and Bryant to his best career quarterback rating: 102.5. If Romo reverts back to his very strong career passing numbers, Tony, and by extension the Cowboys will suffer:

Year

Completion %

Yards

Touchdowns

Interceptions

Fumbles

QB Rating

2011

66.30

4,184

31

10

5

102.5

2012

64.06

3,976

28

15

6

95.501

That is what happens after a great season: ask Eagles fans about Mike Vick.

If Austin and Bryant are able to stay healthy this season, expect Miles to have 120 pass attempts directed to him (47 more than last season) to offset some of the production Robinson had. Bryant will probably be targeted close to the same number of times he was thrown to in 2011: 103. Witten has averaged about 121 targets per season since being coupled with Romo. That would leave about 38 pass attempts for this season's third wide receiver, or just over two targets per game.

In conclusion, the 2012 edition of the Dallas Cowboys may not be that different than the 2011 version. The Cowboys secondary is marginally better according to PFF scores than it was in 2011 after adding the sixth overall selection and the top veteran cornerback in free agency.

The Dallas offensive line can vary from awful to average, based on the changes made to the personnel. The offensive line will likely be somewhere in between, which is also a slight improvement over last season according to the PFF grades from 2011.

Those gentle improvements, however, could easily be offset by a regression to the mean by Tony Romo. The Cowboys also play a much more difficult schedule in 2011. In addition to four division games against the Eagles and Giants, against which the Cowboys were a combined 0-4 in 2011, Dallas plays five other games against teams that made the playoffs in 2011 (Saints, Falcons, Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers). Four of the games the Cowboys play against 2011 playoff teams are on the road.

Finally, Las Vegas has the Cowboys winning 8.5 games in 2012. Considering that the fan money generally inflates that figure, all numbers point towards another season of futility.

Now 2013 is a different story...

Addendum for response:

TEAM

PD

INT

RATE

Baltimore

107

15

68.8

San Francisco

101

23

73.6

Houston

97

17

69

NY Jets

71

19

69.6

Seattle

83

22

74.7

Green Bay

98

31

80.6

Cleveland

69

9

80.6

Chicago

65

20

79.3

Atlanta

80

19

83.3

Arizona

85

10

82.5

Miami

64

16

83.7

Pittsburgh

72

11

71.7

Detroit

73

21

82.1

Cincinnati

73

10

85

NY Giants

84

20

86.1

Dallas

57

15

88.4

Jacksonville

62

17

83.7

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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