It's never easy to grade a football game when you are purely an observer. Even with the incredible advancements in football media that now allow fans to replay and watch every down as if they are in a team's filmroom session, it's still a difficult task. Not knowing the exact playcall and player assignments can often lead to misinterpretations. Emotional moments can often cloud judgments of overall performances throughout the course of an entire game. But perhaps most importantly, there is no way to make this a purely quantifiable grading system absent of any human interpretation. It is for this reason that sites that attempt to grade player performances are often the subject of furious debates on their validity. While I personally don't have access to their advanced stats, Pro Football Focus is such a target of public discourse. I guess this is my attempt to do the same, or at least, to quantify my observations of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
I am a proud member of the BTB community, and I often have an opinion on how the Dallas Cowboys are performing. As a passionate fan and student of the game, I invest a lot of time in my football viewing. DVR has allowed for live viewing with more replays (and then fast forwarded commercials as an added bonus), and NFL Rewind allows for even more detailed film review. While I have done so for a few seasons and commented often about the Youglies, I have decided to now keep precise records of the grades throughout a game. Where I was once taking a mental count of good and bad snaps, I will now be taking a more quantitative approach to my record keeping.
WARNING: These are still grades based on my "eye test" and scoring system, and so they can never be truly objective. I decided to keep my grading system as simple as possible and based on the average being a successful, yet not dominating effort. While I will be keeping track of sacks, I did not feel they should be so heavily graded that they reflect a far worse outcome than a lineman getting beat and having his quarterback hurried. It is only luck (and sometimes Romo) that makes one a sack and another an incompletion, or the next an interception. As such, the grading system will be a simple tally of +1, 0, -1 per play results for each lineman. Allowing a QB hurry, pressure, or sack is scored as a negative play, as is getting beat on or missing a run blocking assignment. For a player to receive a +1 mark, he must do more than just an average job on his block, either getting push or creating a good seal during a rushing play, or totally stonewalling a rusher for several seconds on a pass play. Therefore, the actual result of a play will not necessarily reflect in the grade of the lineman. Tony Romo might make a quick throw to Kevin Ogltree, beating the blitz and scoring a long passing touchdown, but every lineman can still get a 0 since they did nothing special. The adverse is also true, like at the end of the Cowboys first drive of the night.
After the jump, screen shots to further explain the scoring system and the Week 1 grades.
To get a better idea of how I will be judging each play for my scoring system, let's look at the Cowboys first drive against the Giants.
First play scores: T. Smith (0), N. Livings (+1), P. Costa (+1), M. Bernadeau (-1), D. Free (0)
Livings and Costa push back the defensive line, creating tons of running room and they continue to stuff their blockers for the entirety of the play. Smith helps Livings on a double but never does anything special as he stumbles before attempting a second level block. Free doesn't get much push. MacB is the reason this play is not a long run, since he misses his pulling block at the point of attack.
Second play scores: T. Smith (0), N. Livings (0), P. Costa (0), M. Bernadeau (-1), D. Free (+1)
It is tough for a lineman to score a +1 on a passing play, but in this case Doug Free totally sticks his blocker and forces him to basically quit rushing Romo. Smith, Livings, and Costa do nothing special, but MacB has another poor play to start the game. Not only does he get beat by the defensive tackle, he also trips up Costa who can't get his right leg back to balance himself (possibly when he re-aggravates his injury). DeMarco Murray does nothing to help, but this sack goes on Mac's resume.
Then there is the final play of the drive. While Romo had a terrific game, he did begin a little poorly, struggling with some happy feet to start the game before managing to settle down. In this particular case, he has ample time to throw on a 3rd and very long (after the sack) but he misses Felix Jones on a short pass. While the Cowboys offense sputters and doesn't manage to convert, the o-line actually earns good grades on this play. They diagnose a stunt and completely bury the pass-rush. Romo has tons of time and tons of room in the pocket, though nothing good comes from it. However, I scored a +1 for each lineman here because they were better than average and provided a very clean pocket. Sure, JPP ended up near Romo's feet, but Smith had the stunt perfectly blocked, passing in the end and then dropping back to block the edge. Romo had more than an adequate pocket and time.
Without further ado, here are Keg's grades for the Cowboys o-line in their 2012 week one matchup. Because I was always taught to show my work, you can find the scoring of every play on every drive, for each player. Feel free to follow along at home and let me know if you have any questions on why I scored a performance a particular way. I should note that I score plays that occur even if a penalty then negates the play. For this reason the play count may be a little off the official script, but if a play occurs I will score the linemen, even if the refs then call holding on the Cowboys or a defensive penalty on their opponents. This occurred a few times in the 4th quarter.
|Game||+9 on 57 snaps||+10 on 57 snaps||+6 on 54 snaps||+7 on 57||+5 on 57|
|Bad Plays||5 negatives, 4 penalties||4 negatives, 1 sack||4 negatives, 1 penalty||6 neg, 1 sack, 1 pnty||7 neg, 2 pnty|
Perhaps not surprisingly, in a game where they only allowed two sacks to the New York Giants, every Cowboys lineman ended up having a positive score at the end of the game. While Mackenzy had a rough start to the game, he actually had a solid performance throughout the rest of it. To my surprise, Nate Livings was the best lineman of the night, allowing the fewest negatively scored plays, having committed no flagged penalties, even though he does technically get one sack ruled against him. Doug Free had the most negative plays of the night and also the worst positive play to negative play ratio. While Livings got 3.5 positive plays for every negative of the night, Free was struggling to provide two above average for every bad. While Cook did not have a ton of positive plays, he did tie with Livings for the fewest negative scoring performances; no small feat for a backup with virtually no time practicing at the position with the team.
And now the caveat...while T. Smith had the second best +/- ratio of the night, he also had four penalties called against him. Yes, one was actually a big play when his horse collar tackle saved a touchdown on an interception, but three false starts could easily be included in negative plays, and suddenly Tyron is at +6 on the night with a 1.75 +/- ratio. I want a true account of on the field performance and have thus decided to keep penalties as a side stat, so take them into consideration of overall performance. I have also included one penalty on Cook's numbers because it appeared he was at fault for one of the delay of game penalties when Romo tried to get him to snap it but Cook was not aware of the game clock.
You will notice that the second half performances were better for every Dallas lineman, except Doug Free. He had a tough time in the third quarter, but I don't think conditioning is a reason for his slump, since he played better in the fourth. MacB was the clearest example of a lineman getting better as the night progressed, and by the fourth quarter Bernadeau was the most solid run blocker on the line, though many of Smith's positive plays were also in the running game. Smith also seems to win the award for best second half adjustments; greatly improving his performance in the second half of the game...I think a collaboration of better conditioning than his opponents, being a quick study in learning from his first half mistakes, and the Giants trying to rush JPP from other places along the line since Smith was holding his own. All in all, I was very pleased with the Cowboys o-line performance in week one. There were too many penalties and plenty of mistakes, but certainly a great place to continue building cohesion and improving while following the Garrett and Callahan process.
Let me know if you feel these grades adequately reflect the performance of the o-line last week. I would also be happy to explain my reasoning for the scores of any particular play.