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Cowboys Pass Defense: Most Targeted Safeties and Linebackers (Part II)

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In the first part of our look at the Cowboys pass defense we saw that Orlando Scandrick was targeted more than Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman by opposing quarterbacks, relative to the amount of snaps he was on the field for.

After a shaky start to the season, Scandrick played much better in the second half of the season, but if you had choose one of the three Dallas corners to pick on, you'd probably have chosen Scandrick as well.

Opposing offenses recorded a completion or 'burned' Scandrick on 62.7 percent of the 83 passes passes thrown his way. The high number of targets relative to his playing time is partly a result of Scandrick's role as the slot corner in the nickel and dime packages, but is also an indication that out of our three corners, he was the preferred target for opposing offenses. Look for that to change next season, as Scandrick will surely play with a big chip on his shoulder.

Using the same passing metrics provided by, we now look at our safeties and linebackers.

Most Targeted Cowboys Safeties


Quick note on the stats used below:

Burn rate: number of catches a cornerback allows versus the number of balls thrown at the receiver he is covering. For example, a burn rate of 80% would mean that opponents have completed eight of ten passes thrown at the receiver the cornerback is covering.

Defensive Passer Rating: uses the same data and formula as the better known passer rating for the quarterback ( i.e. completion percentage, yard per attempt, touchdowns and interceptions), but applies them to a defender, where they become completion percentage allowed (aka 'burn rate'), yards per attempt allowed, touchdowns allowed and interceptions made.

Gerald Sensabaugh: Playing a large part of the season with an injured thumb, he has one of the highest burn rates in the league, yet opposing quarterbacks do not appear to have targeted him with any regularity. Sensabaugh's defensive passer rating is fairly high, as his one interception was not enough to offset three touchdowns allowed in the defensive passer rating formula.   

Gerald Sensabaugh pass defense stats, 2009

Snaps Targets Caught Yards Burn rate Defensive
Passer Rating
825 36 25 276 69.4% 108.1
NFL rank* 39 24T 16T 36 58T 53
* among 69 NFL Safeties with >400 snaps and >15 targets in 2009. Snaps, Targets, Caught and Yards ranked high to low, Burn rate and DPR ranked low to high

Ken Hamlin: Hamlin missed four games due to injury this season after playing the most snaps of any defensive Cowboys player last season. In part due to injury, and in part because a free safety naturally sees less passing action than a strong safety, his numbers are lower than Sensabaugh's.

Ken Hamlin pass defense stats, 2009

Snaps Targets Caught Yards Burn rate Defensive
Passer Rating
723 15 9 165 60.0% 120.1
NFL rank* 50 67T 65T 56 30T 60

Therefore, by default, Gerald Sensabaugh is the most targeted Dallas Cowboys Safety.

Most Targeted NFL Safeties (400+ snaps, >15 targets)

Most Targeted Cowboys Inside Linebackers

Statistically, the picture on inside linebackers is very murky, if only because some teams run a 3-4 defense, while others run a 4-3. To keep things simple, I'll compare our ILBs only to other ILBs in the 3-4 scheme. By my count there are currently 13 teams running the 3-4 (Broncos, Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, 49ers, Jets, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers and the Bills are reported to be moving to a 3-4 next season).

Also, as you look at the numbers below, keep in mind that most inside linebackers are not known and not paid for their ball-hawking skills. To put the numbers into perspective, the average burn rate for all 3-4 ILBs is 76.6%, the average defensive passer rating is 102.5.

Bradie James: ILB James was been targeted 53 times, and is one of the most targeted ILBs in the league (to put this number in perspective: there are only four safeties in the whole league that have been targeted more than James in his ILB role). Unfortunately, his burn rate is tied for last among all 3-4 ILBs. With 8.9 yards per completion allowed (YPC), he ranks a respectable 9th among his peers and manages to keep his DPR slightly below the ILB average.

Bradie James pass defense stats, 2009

Snaps Targets Caught Yards Burn rate Defensive
Passer Rating
908 53 46 399 86.8% 98.0
NFL rank** 9 6 3 5 32T 13
** among 33 3-4 ILBs with >300 snaps in 2009. Snaps, Targets, Caught and Yards ranked high to low, Burn percentage and DPR ranked low to high

Keith Brooking: The old man delivered a pretty solid performance in a young man's game against the pass. His burn rate ranks among the top third of his peers and his YPC allowed is 7th with 8.5. Two TDs against him impact his DPR negatively in what otherwise would be a highly impressive performance against the pass.

Keith Brooking pass defense stats, 2009

Snaps Targets Caught Yards Burn rate Defensive
Passer Rating
804 51 38 323 74.5% 103.6
NFL rank** 12 8 7 11 11 18

Bobby Carpenter: Like Orlando Scandrick, the majority of Carpenter's playing time is in nickel and dime packages. Both his burn rate and his DPR are slightly above average, but his YPC allowed is ranked only 28th with 12.2 yards.

Bobby Carpenter pass defense stats, 2009

Snaps Targets Caught Yards Burn rate Defensive
Passer Rating
361 37 29 354 x 78.4% 106.5
NFL rank** 30 17 16 6 21 22

Bobby Carpenter was targeted on 10.4% of the snaps he was on the field for. No other 3-4 ILB has a higher snap to target ratio. Clearly, just like Scandrick, opposing teams tried to create mismatches against the perceived 'weak link' in our inside linemen coverage.

Most Targeted NFL 3-4 Inside Linebackers (300+ snaps)

  • Most targets: Patrick Willis, 49ers, 88 targets
  • Most completions allowed: Patrick Willis, 49ers, 68 receptions
  • Highest burn rate: Kevin Burnett, Chargers, 86.8%
  • Lowest burn rate: Brandon Chillar, Packers, 59.1%
  • Most yards allowed: Patrick Willis, 49ers, 601 yards
  • Lowest defensive passer rating: Brandon Siler, Chargers, 59.0
  • Highest defensive passer rating: Jovan Belcher, Chiefs, 137.5

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