Yesterday we took a detailed look at the Cowboys' roster with the help of positional rankings by looking at how individual players ranked relative to their NFL peers at the same position. Today we're going to compare the Cowboys and Eagles rosters using the same methodology.
Just as a brief reminder, the positional rankings are derived from the Pro Football Focus rankings and are adjusted so that the best player in the league at his position gets 100 positional value points and the worst at his position gets zero points (for more details, read yesterday's post). Overall, those rankings result in the following five tiers or quintiles:
|80-61||NFL starter quality at position
|60-41||Average to slightly below average player
As you review the figures and charts in the rest of this post, keep in mind that the numbers give a directional indication of how a player performed over the first six games, but shouldn't be seen as a definitive statement of a player's quality. While I'm confident that a player marked in blue had a better start to the season than a player marked in yellow, there is probably less of a difference between players with a value of, say, 75 and 85 than the numbers and the color code would seem to indicate.
Cowboys vs. Eagles
It's always tricky comparing rosters, especially when teams play different systems, like a 3-4 or 4-3. So in trying to make the two teams at least superficially comparable, I've decided to use a 29-man roster for each team.
- 13 players on offense: one player at QB, two players each at TE and HB, five offensive linemen and three wide receivers. The tight ends and wide receivers are ranked by their receiving grade only.
- 13 players on defense: eight combined defensive linemen and linebackers per team, as well as five defensive backs (three corners and two safeties each). In contrast to yesterday's post, cornerbacks today are ranked by their pass defense grade only.
- 3 players on special teams: a kicker, a punter and a returner.
In selecting the players, I chose the players with the most snaps at their position in 2013, but required that those players be likely to play on Sunday. That rules out DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware for the Cowboys as well as Michael Vick for the Eagles. These criteria also mean that I've had to include three Cowboys players who have not played 25% of the team snaps, and therefore technically don't qualify for the positional rankings. For those three, I've used an equivalent ranking, using their current grades to determine how they would rank among their NFL peers who played 25% of their team's snaps.
Here's what the 2013 rosters for the Cowboys and Eagles look like using the positional ranking approach:
|Player||POS||Snaps||Pos. Rank||Player||POS||Snaps||Pos Rank|
|Doug Free||OT||381||100||Evan Mathis||OG||437||100|
|Dwayne Harris||KR||- -||94||LeSean McCoy||RB||330||100|
|Dez Bryant||WR||359||94||DeSean Jackson||WR||404||96|
|Jason Hatcher||DT||317||94||Fletcher Cox||34DE||339||88|
|Dan Bailey||K||- -||94||Zach Ertz||TE||160||86|
|Brandon Carr||CB||415||87||Jason Kelce||OC||436||76|
|Jason Witten||TE||381||86||Cedric Thornton||34DE||316||69|
|Sean Lee||ILB||418||86||Brandon Boykin||CB||310||69|
|Brian Waters||OG||222||85||Bradley Fletcher||CB||368||68|
|J.J. Wilcox||S||292||82||Trent Cole||34OLB||356||67|
|Tony Romo||QB||380||82||Damaris Johnson||KR||- -
|Travis Frederick||OC||381||79||Nick Foles||QB||122||58|
|Barry Church||S||394||73||Brent Celek||TE||354||53|
|Tyron Smith||OT||379||70||Jason Peters||OT||421||49|
|George Selvie||DE||288||57||Nate Allen||S||409||45|
|Ronald Leary||OG||374||55||Isaac Sopoaga||DT||168||40|
|Drake Nevis*||DT||73||43||Alex Henery||K||- -||38|
|Terrance Williams||WR||245||37||Bryce Brown||RB||99||31|
|Orlando Scandrick||CB||406||36||Donnie Jones||P||- -||29|
|Joseph Randle*||RB||24||33||Connor Barwin||34OLB||429||28|
|Phillip Tanner*||RB||12||31||Todd Herremans||OG||437||27|
|Kyle Wilber||DE||140||28||Cary Williams||CB||444||26|
|Miles Austin||WR||208||27||Jason Avant||WR||343||24|
|James Hanna||TE||125||20||Patrick Chung||S||236||24|
|Bruce Carter||OLB||344||16||Lane Johnson||OT||436||16|
|Chris Jones||P||- -||12||Riley Cooper||WR||385||8|
|Ernie Sims||OLB||110||10||Bennie Logan||34DE||142||7|
|Morris Claiborne||CB||334||9||DeMeco Ryans||ILB||460||2|
|Nick Hayden||DT||326||4||Mychal Kendricks||ILB||454||0|
As you look at the overall color schemes across the two rosters in the table above, the Cowboys have a distinct advantage in that they have more blue-chip players than the Eagles have, despite both teams sporting identical 3-3 records. At the same time, football games are won as much by teams making great plays as they are lost by teams making costly mistakes, and as you look at the bottom of the table, you'll see that both teams have about an equal amount of players who've delivered sub-par performances over the first six games of the year.
Overall, the Cowboys enjoy a slight advantage over the Eagles, but that doesn't help understand how the quality is distributed across the team. A look at the position groups could change that. The table below shows the average positional rank for the players in six specific units.
|Secondary (CB, S)
|Front 4 / Front 5
|Receiving Corps (WR, TE)
|Special Teams (K, P, KR)
As is to be expected, almost half of the position groups here are marked in yellow, which means they are about average, with a positional value between 60 and 41 points. The only position group outside of that range is the Cowboys' O-line, which grades as a borderline blue-chip unit, as well as both linebacker units. At linebacker, the Cowboys at least have Sean Lee to balance the performance of Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims, while the Eagles' linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks should present highly favorable matchups for the Cowboys slot receivers and tight ends.
The Cowboys have an advantage in the secondary, particularly at safety; they look better on special teams despite a sub-par punter; and even though they'll likely miss DeMarcus Ware, they don't look far behind the Eagles front five on the defensive line. Keep in mind that the table does not contain the ground game, where the Eagles will likely enjoy a significant advantage, and doesn't reflect the strength of the Cowboys' passing game either.
In the end though, whether any of this translates into the game tomorrow is another question entirely.