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Grading Bills @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

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Collectively, the Cowboys had a great outing against the Bills on Sunday. Here's what the Cowboys' PR department put together about the game:

  • The Dallas Cowboys 37-point win (44-7) tied the 10th-largest margin of victory in team history. It was the club’s biggest win since defeating Arizona (10/22/00) by 41 points (48-7).
  • Dallas’ 44 points scored were the most for the club since racking up 45 against the N.Y. Giants (9/9/07).
  • Dallas also converted eight-of-12 third down opportunities. The club’s 66.7 third down conversion percentage was the third-most in team history as far back as the PR guys could research on Sunday.

Impressive numbers, and impressive individual efforts to go with it. But somewhat lost amid all the post-game celebrations is that like every week, some Cowboys players did their job better than others.

Today, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out and we'll be using the Pro Football Focus player grades to do that. Some of these grades will be obvious, some others much less so.

Follow the link for a lengthy introduction to the PFF methodology. Better yet, read PFF's detailed FAQ, which should answer the vast majority of questions.

Offensive Line

The Cowboys' O-line had its best game of the season so far in terms of PFF grades. For the second game in a row, the Cowboys did not allow a sack, and helped DeMarco Murray run for more than 6 yards per clip for the fourth straight game. The table below summarizes the development of the line so far this year, and it's nice to see that the last four games have all graded out "in the green" for the O-line.

WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10
Overall Grade
-1.4 -12.4 -6.0 +9.2 -14.9 +4.9 +1.2 +4.9 +9.9

In line with the total grade, it doesn't come as a big surprise to see that the individual linemen graded out nicely as well. In the table below, you'll see both the grade for the Bills game as well as the cumulative season grade. As with the single-game grade, the season grade indicates how a given player has performed relative to his peers at a given position. Anything between -1 and +1 is an average performance, red figures denote below average performance, green figures are above average

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith
vs. Buffalo
+3.4 +3.6 +1.9 -0.4 +1.4
2011 Season
+0.1 +5.5 -8.1 +0.0 +10.1

Doug Free delivers his best grade of the season, after already showing a strong (+1.9) performance against the Seahawks. He also started the season strong against the Jets (+3.3), but it seems like something happened to him in or prior to the 49ers game: in the six-game stretch between the 49ers and the Eagles, his cumulative grade was a ghastly -8.5. Let's hope that Doug Free is back to 2010 form.

Montrae Holland has had only positive grades in his four games since rejoining the Cowboys against the Rams.

Phil Costa may or may not be the Cowboys' long-term answer at center, but he is no longer the weak link he was at the beginning of the season: In his first five games, Costa racked up a -8.5 grade before accumulating +1.9 over his last four.

Kyle Kosier's season grade is a bit deceiving. Kosier had four above average games, and only two below average games (49ers, Patriots) and his grade against the Bills results from his struggles in run blocking as a result of his foot injury.

Tyron Smith is the real star on this line. He has had five above average games and only one below average game (vs. Philly). He is the second highest rated right tackle for the season according to PFF, just 0.2 grade points behind Bryan Bulaga of the Packers.

The Bossness Of DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray was awarded a +2.6 for his efforts against the Bills. For the season, that puts Murray at +8.0, and despite only starting four games, he is already the 11th-ranked RB on the PFF list. But all that doesn't really do Murray any justice.

Over the past four games, he has rushed for 601 yards, the most by a Dallas Cowboy over a four-game span. Here's a list of the top five rushing performances over a four-game span in Cowboys franchise history. Notice the guy ranked second through fifth.

Year Yards Player
2011 601 DeMarco Murray
1993 550 Emmitt Smith
1995 543 Emmitt Smith
1995 535 Emmitt Smith
1993 526 Emmitt Smith

Murray already ranks 11th in total rushing yards this season and has a phenomenal 6.7 yards carry. With 778 yards from scrimmage, Murray has notched more yards than any other Cowboys player this season. With another 100-yard rushing effort Murray could match the Cowboys rookie record of four 100-yard rushing games dating all the way back to 1970 and Duane Thomas.

Heady stuff.

Skill Position Players

Here are some of the highlights of a day when not a single player on the Cowboys offense graded out below average.

  • Tony Romo (60 of 62 snaps, +5.1 vs. BUF +19.5 for the season) had a career performance, which we've already looked at in a lot of detail here at BTB. Romo now has the fourth best passer rating (97.7) in the league behind Aaron Rodgers (129.1), Tom Brady (102.0) and Drew Brees (101.4). And if you ever wondered how good Romo's arm is: On passes of 20 yards or more down the field, Romo has an accuracy rate of 64%, ten percentage points ahead of the next best QBs in the league.
  • Dez Bryant (47/62, +2.0/+6.3) had his best-rated game of the season. And the other receivers also played a big role in Romo going 23-for-26: Laurent Robinson (53/62, +1.1/3.1), Kevin Olgletree (21/62, +0.1/-1.7) and even Jesse Holley (3/62, +1.0/+1.9) all contributed in the passing game
  • Jason Witten (59/62, +3.5/+5.1) had an outstanding game as a blocker and as a receiver, as did Martellus Bennett (59/62, +1.4/-0.5).  

The Cowboys did not get a lot of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick. And the Cowboys secondary could easily have been burned on a couple of deep balls, yet the Bills had a lot of trouble going deep. Fitzpatrick was 3-of-8 for 50 yards and two interceptions on passes targeted more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.


Newman Scandrick Ball Sensabaugh Elam Walker Church McCray
Snaps (56 total)
42 56 55 56 56 32 18 2
Rating vs. Buf
+1.3 -0.5 -1.1 +1.2 -2.4 +0.2 +0.7 +0.5
Season rating
+5.0 -3.4 -3.4 +3.9 -1.1 -0.9 +2.1 +1.5

Note that the position designations are taken from PFF and show where the player lined up for the majority of snaps.

On the face of it, the numbers look good for the Cowboys defense. They held the Bills to only 7 points and 146 passing yards and got three interceptions. But the secondary allowed 16 of 23 passes targeted at them to be caught for a 70% reception rate, getting burned particularly on the short passes - and the grades reflect that.

In the run defense, not everything is all sunshine and sweetness either. The Bills ran only 17 times, but did it at 7.9 yards a clip. Those are not the numbers a run-stuffing defense puts up. Of course, you could argue that 94 of the Bills' 135 rushing yards came in the second half when the Cowboys were merely managing the game with a huge lead, but the linebacker scores show that the Cowboys did not play all that well on defense - despite allowing only seven points. Lee (44/56, -3.1), Spencer (42/56, -2.0), Butler (12/56, -1.4), Brooking (11/56, -1.2), Bruce Carter (13/56, -0.9) and Alex Albright (12/56, -0.4) all graded out negatively, primarily because they were not very effective against the run and the short passing game (Note also that with Lee back and Carter getting more looks, Bradie James did not get a single defensive snap).

The Cowboys had four timely turnovers (3 INT, 1 fumble) that kept their own offense on the field and kept the Buffalo offense from scoring. But the run defense looked anything but stellar and allowed Fred Jackson to run for more than 100 yards. Rob Ryan's argument for this line of thinking:

"Really? That's cool. He didn't have 200! As long as they get seven points and we kicked their ass, that's fine. [...]

I'm telling you, this group is coming now. And I know everybody wants to cry and everything about the run defense. Please. Give me a break. We'll see what happens."

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