On Christmas Eve, the Cowboys dominated the Cardinals in almost all statistical categories: Time of possession (38:05 to 21:55), passing yards (226 to 183), rushing yards (183 to 93), third down conversion (44% to 18%) and many more.
But on the stats that really count (TO ratio and points scored) the Cowboys came up holding the short straw.
There are many reasons reasons for this, from the Cowboys easing off, to mental mistakes, or even immaturity as evidenced by an inconsistent effort and looking for shortcuts. And while that is all true, at the end of the day, some players did their job well, some others did not.
Today, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out. Some grades will be obvious, some others less so.
Once again, we'll use the individual player grades from ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) to get a better understanding of what happened on Sunday. For more details on their grading system, read this post.
Talking about Marc Colombo in these write-ups feels like beating a dead horse. Yes, Colombo had another in a seemingly endless string of bad days. Yes, he had the worst grade of any Cowboys on the field (-5.8). PFF assign Colombo two sacks, one hit and four pressures - and subjectively it felt like he was being schooled all day.
Apparently, Colombo was having trouble with his elbow as it was heavily taped up. I think you've got to respect a guy who plays through all the crap Colombo has had to play through this season, but what does that tell you about either the coaching staff of the backup situation if the second worst right tackle in the league continues to play every snap despite woeful performances and injuries?
I understand, in principle, that you cannot expect a lineman picked in the 6th round to be NFL ready. And the example of Doug Free shows that Sam Young will likely need at least a couple of years to be ready to play in the NFL. But if I was a betting man, I wouldn't put any money on Young if at this stage he isn't even in the discussion to replace or spell Colombo occasionally.
The wide receivers
Just how much Dez Bryant has meant to this offense is becoming painfully clear every time he is not on the field. The Cowboys majority of the passing game over the last couple of weeks has gone through the tight ends and half backs, the wide receivers have had bit parts - at best - in this offense. But ... but ... but... Austin had over 100 yards receiving I hear you say. True, true. But Austin also only caught six of 13 passes thrown his way. So despite his 100+ yard day and a TD, he gets a -0.1 grade.
Roy Williams didn't catch a single pass in the entire game, his one dropped pass led to a Cardinals pick six, and he graded out accordingly: -2.2. How much his groin injury affected him is unclear but also irrelevant. His play over the last few weeks is not helping his case to stay with the Cowboys. And definitely not with a $9 million annual salary.
Our receiving non-threats are rounded out by Sam Hurd (-0.6) and Jesse Holley (-0.1).
The Young Guns
The recent accolades for Chris Gronkowski (-1.4)and Josh Brent (-2.3) may have been a tad premature. The Gronkster gave up a sack and two pressures on the six plays he was pass blocking for a -3.1 pass blocking grade, which he only partly made up for with his run blocking +1.6. Brent was only in for 10 snaps, but was gashed on runs up the middle repeatedly.
Performances of note:
Felix Jones (+1.1) struggled early in the season, but had his seventh straight game with a positive overall rating and has inched himself up to the no. 13 rank among all running backs in the league. Against one of the worst run defenses in the league, the Cowboys ran up 183 yards, their second highest total of the year. Jones racked up another solid performance with 77 yards on the ground, but was targeted through the air just once, for his third lowest total of the season. Playing with a sore shin, he still gained 4.8 yards per carry, hitting the gaps fast showing some patience when nothing opened up. Look for Felix to be the starter in 2011.
DeMarcus Ware (+3.3) was the usual one-man army. Ware tallied five QB pressures and a sack in 26 pass rushes and once again also played the run well, recording making two tackles for loss and disrupting several run plays in the backfield.
The dancing bear was only in for 26 snaps, his lowest total of the season, but also recorded his best grade of the season (+2.4) behind a blocked pass, three tackles and three stops. Igor Olshansky remains a non-event in the pass rush, but for once his dance routine was justified.
Terence Newman (+2.3) also had his best game of the season: four passes were thrown his way, only one of which was caught for a 5-yard gain. He recorded one pass defensed and four tackles.
Apart from the struggling Colombo, the O-line graded out well, thanks in large part to their run-blocking. Doug Free (+1.1) gave up a sack and two pressures but run-blocked exceptionally well, Kyle Kosier (+1.6) was less efficient in run blocking but gave up nothing in pass protection. Andre Gurode (+1.0) snapped mistake-free for the second straight game, and even Leonard Davis run blocked well enough to receive a positive grade (+1.8) despite giving up two pressures.