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Grading Lions @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

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Tyron Smith, already one of the standout rookies from the 2011 draft class.
Tyron Smith, already one of the standout rookies from the 2011 draft class.

After a tough loss (For many Cowboys fans, that's basically any game where the Cowboys don’t win by 20+ points), four types of posts regularly appear on BTB in the following order:

  • "[insert player/coach/owner/girlfriend/…] sucks, time for them to go", preferably written with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling.
  • "Time For [insert any player 3rd or lower on the depth chart] To Start"
  • "My Thoughts On What Went Wrong Against The [insert opponent’s name here]", often struggling to meet the 100 word minimum. In its long form this type of post is often headlined "Why I Give Up"
  • "Why Everything’s Going To Be Fine" frequently featuring a plethora of stats to make a point.

All of these posts usually feature lengthy threads about what constitutes a "real fan". What’s revealing is that this pattern follows the well-established cycle of grieving after the initial Shock (vented in the open game threads): Anger – Bargaining – Depression – Acceptance. Hopefully, those phases also coincide with the weekdays, starting with anger on Monday and ending with acceptance on Thursday, because today is Thursday, and today is where we look at individual player grades from the Lions game. And hopefully we all approach the grades with less anger and frustration than we would on a Monday.

As always, these grades are based the (PFF) data. Follow the link for a lengthy introduction to their methodology.

All hail the O-line

Before going into the nitty gritty of the individual grades, here are PFF themselves, who note that Tyron Smith had an almost perfect game:

You have to feel a bit sorry for Tyron Smith. His +4.8 PFF grade was the best mark on the Cowboys’ offense and he was a real force all game. He caved in his side of the line on run plays on more than one occasion and, in 49 snaps of pass blocking, he allowed no pressure at all except for a single, solitary sack. The only issue is that the sack in question came on the final drive as the Cowboys were moving down field trying to rescue the game they had somehow thrown away, and for all intents and purposes it ended the game. As much as that will hurt, Smith will be proud of his day when he watches the film.

The Lions game may have been his best game for the Cowboys so far this season, but it certainly wasn't Smith's only good game. Over four games, Smith's cumulative grade from PFF is +6.1, which makes Smith the second highest graded right tackle, and third best tackle overall in the league behind LT Andrew Whitworth (+10.4) from the Bengals and RT Bryan Bulaga (+6.8) from the Packers

Smith's effort highlighted a stellar outing by the offensive line which conceded just one sack, no QB hits and only 6 QB pressures, while opening up lanes for the run game to the tune of 4.2 yards a pop.

Here's how the Cowboys' O-linemen graded out individually.

Free Nagy Costa Kosier Smith
Overall +1.8 +0.6 +0.9 +1.1 +4.8
Run Blocking
+0.4 +1.3 +1.0 -0.7 +2.9
Pass Protect
+0.9 -1.6 -0.3 +0.9 +1.4

After two subpar games in a row, it's good to see Doug Free back to old form. And it's also nice to see a line with two rookies and a second year UDFA holding their own against the Lions' reportedly killer defensive line.

Defensive Line and OLB

For the first time this season, the Cowboys defense was held without a sack. Admittedly, sacks may not be the best measure for a defensive, but the lack of pressure is also reflected in a low number of QB hits (7) and QB pressures (10). As a consequence, the front five got downgraded in their pass rushing grades, which also reflects in their overall grades.


Spencer Coleman Ratliff Spears Ware Lissemore Butler Brent
Snaps (69 total)
65 18 55 39 67 18 16 7
+0.1 -0.9 -1.5 -1.1 +1.5 +2.4 +1.4 +0.9

The interior of the line was solid against the run, as the Cowboys held the Lions to a 3.7 yard average on 17 runs. But none of the starting defensive linemen got credited with any type of pressure against the Lions O-line, no sacks, no QB hits and no QB pressures. In only 18 snaps, Sean Lissemore got one QB hit and two defensive stops, more than the d-line starters combined. If there is some positive news here, it's that the backups made the most of their limited opportunities.


Here's a look at how the secondary graded out.

  • Mike Jenkins (69 of 69 snaps, +0.7 grade): Jenkins had a very solid day in pass coverage, allowing only two receptions 22 yards on 6 passes thrown his way. Jenkins has now graded out positively in three out of four games. The last time that happened was in 2009.
  • Terence Newman (69/69, -1.8): Newman was targeted eight times and allowed seven receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. Calvin Johnson was 6-for-6 against Newman, but only 1-for-4 against Mike Jenkins.
  • Abram Elam (69/69, +1.0): Elam got his first QB pressure of the season and only gave up a single reception.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (36/69, +0.7): Sensi was equally effective in pass coverage and against the run, but unfortunately had to leave the game early. Barry Church (27/69, +0.8) was a solid replacement, but was clearly overmatched on Calvin Johnson's 23-yard TD reception.
Other players of note

The offense clearly did not have its best day on Monday, and the grades reflect this, with very few positive grades. Here are some of the high- and lowlights.

  • Sean Lee (68/69, +2.0): Sean Lee didn't have a lot to do against the run, notching a season-low four tackles, but Lee made up for it as a pass rusher. He recorded his first QB hit of the season, along with two QB pressures. With a cumulative grade of +6.6, Lee is ranked fifth highest among all inside linebackers in the NFL.
  • Jason Witten (78/79, +2.6 grade) hasn't forgotten how to block after all, and notched his first game with positive grades in both run- and pass blocking this year. Of course, eight catches on 10 targets for 94 yards didn't hurt his grade either.
  • Laurent Robinson (53/79, +2.2 grade) had a promising debut and may have won the job as the third receiver. He caught seven of 10 passes thrown his way, and his grade would likely be higher if the other three passes hadn't been an interception and two drops. As good as it was to see Robinson light up the field, he does come with a reputation for not having the best hands, so that may bear watching.

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