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Grading Seahawks @ Cowboys: Performances Of Note

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The win over the Seahawks, sloppy as it may have been, left Cowboys Nation with a warm, fuzzy afterglow. That feeling turned into something close to euphoria in the waning minutes of the Monday Night Football game yesterday. 

That of course makes it especially hard today to look back at Sunday's game with enough critical distance. Yet that's exactly what we'll try to do as we review the Pro Football Focus player grades to see how the individual efforts of the players graded out.

Additionally, we'll look at the up-and-down performance of the O-line, figure out how penalties impact overall player grades, worry a little about the state of the defensive line and marvel at DeMarco Murray's ability to break tackles.

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 is a never-ending source of bafflement for me. One week they can't block to save their lives, the next week they help DeMarco Murray rush for a franchise record. One week they look like a sieve in pass protection, the next week the QB goes completely untouched.

The only thing consistent about the O-line is its inconsistency. Here's what the O-line's up-and-down performance has looked like over the last eight games, using the PFF cumulative grades as an indicator of overall performance

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

If you look real hard, you might be able to divine a positive trend here, one that coincides both with Murray's breakout and with the return of Montrae Holland and Tony Fiammetta. Of course, you can only see that trend it if you really want to see it. Then again, if you really, really want to see something, why look at the numbers in the first place.

Either way, the O-line graded out well overall against the Seahawks, and both Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray were complimentary about the O-line's performance:

"The credit needs to go up front," said Romo, who threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns. "The o-line did a great job. They allowed me to step up front into the pocket, go through reads and progressions. If you get that kind of time it is going to be a good day. At my position, if you get time you can throw the ball down the field. If you don't, you're in for a longer day with that respect because you have to create through certain play action stuff."

DeMarco Murray added: "The offensive line did awesome. They opened up some holes that allowed me to get into the secondary."

Here's how the individual linemen graded out.

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith
Overall +1.9 +0.5 -0.4 +0.5 +2.4
Run Blocking
+0.4 +0.9 -1.5 +1.3 0.9
Pass Protect
+1.1 +0.4 +0.9 -1.6 +1.1

Tyron Smith seems to have shaken off his bad outing against the Eagles, and only gave up one pressure all day. Nice to also see that both tackles did well, a fact that was instrumental in notching the first sack-free game of the year for the Cowboys offense. 


One stat that you won't find on a lot of stat sheets are penalties, and they often tend to get overlooked in performance reviews. Even I don't include them in these reviews, yet some penalties can be just as much of a drive killer as a sack can be.

Tony Fiammetta's holding call negated a 22-yard gain by DeMarco Murray and put the Cowboys back to 1st-and-19. Alan Ball's defensive pass interference call cost the Cowboys 23 yards and resulted in a Seahawks field goal three plays later. A false start on third down by Montrae Holland put the Cowboys in 3rd-and-11 and effectively ended the Cowboys' first drive.

The PFF grading system takes a dim view of these penalties and grades them as the game-changers that they can be. In Montrae Holland's case, who had an above average day (+1.2) in run blocking (+0.9) and pass protection (+0.4), that penalty was graded as -0.7 which resulted in an average overall grade of 'only' +0.5, marking Holland down as having had an average day.

Here's how the other penalized players graded out:

Penalty Penalty Yards Penalty Grade Overall Grade
Holland False start
5 -0.7 +0.5
False start
5 -0.7 -1.2
PI 10 -0.9 -1.3
Holding 9 (+22) -0.9 -1.6
Roughing the passer
15 -0.9 +0.7
DPI 23 -0.8 -1.8
Unnec. Roughness 15 -1.0 -1.5

The penalties have a significant effect on the grades of all players here. Without the penalty, Holland and Ware would have received an above average grade (>1.0), while Witten, Robinson, Fiammetta, Holley and Ball would all have received a grade of between 1 and -1 that could be considered average.

Skill Position Players

Here are some of the high- and lowlights.

  • DeMarco Murray (49 of 65 snaps, +1.8): What is perhaps the most astonishing about Murray's 139 rushing yards is that 89 of them came after the first contact with a defender. For the season, Murray is averaging 3.9 yards after contact per run, the third best value in the league. Felix Jones is no slouch there either, but ranks behind Murray at 16th with an average of 2.8 yards after contact. In PFFs Elusiveness Rating (which combines missed tackles forced, yards after contact and total attempts) Murray is ranked second in the league among all running backs.
  • Tony Romo (65/65, +3.1) was the highest graded player on offense on Sunday and compiled a very good passer rating of 112.2 in the process. Romo's season stats (completion percentage, yards/attempt and passer rating) are all at the almost exact level of his career average. PFF also track what they call 'deep passes', passes that travel 20 yards or more down the field. Romo has attempted 30 such passes and completed 18, for a league-best 60% completion rate.
  • Tony Fiammetta (34/65, -1.6), though not strictly a skill position player, gets included here anyway. Fiametta continues to fly under the radar in the PFF grades. We saw above that he was hit with -0.9 for the holding penalty, but he also incurred a -0.9 for his runblocking for reasons I can't really follow. Perhaps the graders at PFF saw something in the two failed goal line attempts that they didn't like, perhaps it was something else. Regardless, here is perhaps the most telling stat about Fiammetta, courtesy of Bob Sturm's tweet this morning, which I'll mark in green in lieu of a positive grade: "Cowboys under center runs with Fiammetta on field: 79 carries/628 yards (7.94 per). Without: 90 carries/243 yards (2.7 per)."
  • Miles Austin (20/65, +1.1) only had two catches before leaving with a hamstring injury, but both catches were very good efforts and get him an above average grade. The other receivers didn't really stand out. Dez Bryant (43/65, -0.1), Laurent Robinson (40/65, -1.3) and Kevin Ogletree (15/65, 0.0) all graded out average (outside of the penalty for Robinson).

With Austin out for anywhere between two to four weeks, a lot of discussion has centered around whether Dez Bryant or Laurent Robinson will replace him in the lineup. The answer, when looking at the snap counts so far this season, may be: neither.

Miles Austin lined up as the slot receiver on 149 of his 291 snaps at wide receiver. When he was out in weeks two and three, Kevin Ogletree stepped in as the slot receiver. Here's a breakdown of total snaps and slot snaps so far this year:

Total WR Snaps Slot Snaps in %
Bryant 326 13 4%
Austin 291 149 51%
201 11 5%
173 64 37%
34 3 9%


Defensive Line and OLB

Sunday was not a great day for the defensive line. Here's how they graded out:


Spencer Coleman Ratliff Spears Ware Lissemore Hatcher Butler Brent
Snaps (66 total)
64 26 52 25 57 12 24 16 15
+4.7 -1.8 -1.0 -3.3 +0.7 +2.4 +1.7 +0.3 +0.7

KD already used this quote in a post yesterday, but I'm going to use PFF's take on the D-line here anyway, because it's much more succinct than anything I would write:

The Cowboys will be glad for the depth that they are boasting at defensive end this season. Their starting pairing of Kenyon Coleman (-1.8) and Marcus Spears (-3.3) were poor this week and, in combination with the absence of Sean Lee and the poor play of his replacements, take a large portion of the blame for the Cowboys’ vulnerability to the Seahawks’ running game on Sunday.

Fortunately for Dallas they are getting excellent play from their backups, Sean Lissemore (+2.4) and Jason Hatcher (+1.7). Lissemore’s two defensive stops were more than the starting pairing of Coleman and Spears combined for. Spears in particular must be beginning to fear for his starting spot, or at least seeing his snap count eroded into, as he is being comfortably outperformed by Lissemore to this point of the season.

If you think the blocked field goal is what is driving Spencer's high grade, you are mistaken. PFF doesn't mix special teams grades with regular offensive or defensive grades. Spencer did get a +1.5 special teams grade for his blocked field goal, but that doesn't play into his overall defensive grade. He got the +4.7 the hard way, by collecting a sack, four pressures and four tackles, three of which were a defensive stop. On the other side of the line, DeMarcus Ware would also have warranted a positive overall grade if not for the one penalty against him. 

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