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Grading Dolphins @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

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Another close game on Thanksgiving saw the Cowboys edge the Dolphins and move to a 7-4 record. Certainly a cause for celebration all around, even if the win wasn't as convincing as many had expected.

But a win is a win, and at this time of year, that's all that counts. The Cowboys have gained an extra couple of days ahead of their matchup against the Cardinals on Sunday, and after taking those days off, they'll begin preparations for their next game. As part of that they'll review Thursday's performance in detail, and they'll find some things they like and others that they don't.

With a whole week to go before the game, we'll do the same thing here on BTB and review the Cowboys' individual performances against the Dolphins. As usual, we'll do that using the Pro Football Focus player grades.

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 overall grade for the Cowboys' O-line, a -2.3, suggests they were slightly below average as a unit, but in reality, that number hides what was quite an uneven performance by the Cowboys O-line. 

WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10 WK 11 WK 12
Overall Grade
-1.4 -12.4 -6.0 +9.2 -14.9 +4.9 +1.2 +4.9 +9.9 -2.4 -2.3

The individual grades give a much clearer indication of how the line performed:

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith
vs. Miami
-0.6 -0.5
+2.0 -2.0 -0.1
Run Blocking
+1.4 -2.2 +0.9 +0.2 -1.1
Pass Protect
+0.6 +1.4 +0.9 -2.1 +1.1

Hooray for Phil Costa: For the first time all season, Costa graded out as the best Cowboys lineman with a +2.0, performing equally well in both run blocking and pass protection. Over the last five games, Costa has accumulated a +3.1 grade after getting a -11.0 in his first six games. Remember how we talked early in the season about how it would take the Yuglies time to adjust to the NFL, and they likely wouldn't come into their own until the second half of the season? Well, we're in the second half now, and Phil Costa is the poster child for that hypothesis. He's been a popular whipping boy for his early-season performance, but he's become much less of a liability in recent games, grading out positively in three of his last five.

False start number 68: Doug Free got called for three false starts. His grade for the those penalties (-2.6) overshadows what was an otherwise solid outing. Free has been flagged for nine penalties so far this season (four holding and five false starts). Only three tackles in the league have been called for more.

Get well soon: Kyle Kosier was limited in practice with a foot injury, and he doesn't appear to have been fully healthy on the field. Kosier allowed one QB Hit and gave up three pressures.

Unexpected run-blocking problems: Both Holland and Smith struggled with run-blocking, Holland had his first red grade for the year here, and Smith only his third.

Skill Position Player Highlights

  • Laurent Robinson (55 of 63 snaps, +1.9) Two TDs and superb playmaking ability outweigh the two drops Robinson had as well as the interception thrown at him. PFF even liked his run-blocking (+0.8). The graders liked Dez Bryant's three receptions for 35 yards a little less and gave him a -0.3.
  • Tony Romo (63/63, +1.6): I don't know how PFF measure heroics, but apparently they do. Romo's production late in the game outweighs his two early interceptions. He did improve his passer rating from 51.6 in the first quarter to 114.1 in the second quarter. 
  • DeMarco Murray (48/63, -0.2) got a good grade (+1.2) as a receiver, was okay as a rusher (+0.2) but gave up two of the Cowboys' five QB hits as a pass blocker (-1.7).

The Front Seven

Just like in the Redskins game, the official NFL gamebook credits the Cowboys defense with 9 tackles for loss, tied for a season high. The Cowboys defense also held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing for the seventh time this season, which moves the Cowboys back into the top ten of run defenses in the league. Lots of green grades follow as a result:

Starters Backups Starters Backups Starters Backup
  Coleman Ratliff Hatcher Spears Lissemore Brent Ware Spencer Butler Lee James Brooking
Snaps (69 total)
29 52 35 21 16 11 63 68 15 67 30 13
+1.0 +2.3 -1.0 -1.0 +1.2 -0.9 +1.6 +3.9 +0.5 +1.3 +2.0 +0.7

On a solid day for the front seven, Anthony Spencer stood out with four QB pressures, one pass defended and eight tackles, including three tackles for loss.

Sean Lissemore again had a very strong outing. With only 170 defensive snaps for the season to his credit, he narrowly misses out on making the PFF ranking at his position. If he were to be included, his +10.6 season grade would rank him sixth among all 3-4 defensive ends, sandwiched between Texans Antonio Smith (+11.7) and J.J. Watt (+8.6). I'm sure there is a good reason why the coaches aren't playing Lissy more (he he he), but I expect him to get a lot more playing time next season.


If you've read this post all the way to this point, you must be wondering where all these mostly positive grades are coming from. After all, the game was pretty close until literally the last seconds. Look no further than the Cowboys secondary. They did not have a good day. 

The Cowboys' pass defense is and remains the teams' Achilles heel. One game they'll haul in interceptions like there's no tomorrow, the next day they'll give up long plays like they were having a fire sale. At least that's the feeling you get as a fan watching the games. Here's what the Cowboys' defensive passer rating has looked like for each game so far this season.

WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10 WK 11 WK 12
Def. Passer Rating
88.7 99.1 77.5 71.9 82.3 64.7 129.9 40.4 46.6 95.2 99.5
Starting Corners Out
1 2 1 1 - - - - - - 1 1 1 1

I've taken the liberty of adding a line in the table indicating how many of the starting corners (Newman, Jenkins, Scandrick) were out injured for each game.

The Cowboys have played only three games with all their three starting corners on board. Unfortunately that three-game stretch also includes the abomination of a game in Philadelphia, but it is what it is.

For the season so far, the Cowboys have put together a 80.8 defensive passer rating. That's not nearly as bad as most fans feel about the Cowboys' secondary. In fact, it's ranked 12th in the league, and is a lot better than the 92.8 the team put up last year. Heck, it's even better than the 83.5 the Cowboys put up in 2009.

That's all very nice of course, but it doesn't change the fact that the Cowboys secondary had a bad day against the Dolphins. I won't even go into all the details here about individual performances, just the grades:

Abram Elam: 69/69, -2.4
Gerald Sensabaugh: 68/69, +0.8
Orlando Scandrick: 68/69, +0.8
Terence Newman: 67/69, -3.4
Alan Ball: 34/69, -3.5
Frank Walker: 25/69, -1.8

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