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Grading Cowboys @ Buccaneers: Performances Of Note

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"<em>Go get 'em, Dez.</em>"
"Go get 'em, Dez."

Led by Tony Romo, the Cowboys collectively had a great outing against the Buccaneers on Saturday. Here are a couple of numbers that stand out from the game:

  • The Dallas defense held Tampa Bay to just one first half first down. It was only the fifth time since 1991 that the Dallas defense accomplished such a feat. The 190 yards allowed are only the second time since 2007 that the team has held an opponent below 200 yards.
  • Tony Romo needs 588 passing yards and seven TDs in the remaining two games to tie his own franchise records from 2007.
  • The two penalties for a total of 15 yards were the fewest in a game this season.

Impressive numbers, and impressive individual efforts to go with it. But despite the solid win, 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.

Follow the link for PFF's detailed FAQ, which should answer the vast majority of questions about their grading system. PFF also have their own review of the game which is always worth checking out. This week they focus on Felix Jones, Martellus Bennett and the OLBs.

Offensive line

The Cowboys offense had another good game. They gained 160 yards on the ground, and Romo was clicking in the passing game to the tune of a 133.9 passer rating. A couple of points were also scored along the way. None of this happens without solid play by the O-line.

And for the most part, the line play was just that, solid. Not spectacular, but largely effective. The graders at PFF gave the line a grade of +0.2, an indication that good and bad plays balanced each other.

WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 6 WK 7 WK 8 WK 9 WK 10 WK 11 WK 12 WK 13 WK 14 WK 15

Overall Grade
-1.4 -12.4 -6.0 +9.2 -14.9 +4.9 +1.2 +4.9 +9.9 -2.4 -2.3 +0.8 +7.8 +0.2

There are two things to note about the O-line:

One: Tony Romo could probably make any O-line look good. Slippin' and slidin', groovin' and glidin', Romo extends plays like it's nobody's business, and that ability was on full display against the Buccaneers once more. Yes, Romo got sacked twice, but that number would likely have been a lot higher if he'd been less mobile, and the corresponding evaluation of the O-line would have been a lot worse than it is.

Two: Doug Free got schooled. The Cowboys' offense gave up two sacks, two hits, and six pressures, Doug Free accounted for half of those with one sack, one hit and two pressures given up in pass blocking.

Here's how the linemen graded out individually:

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith

-2.8 +0.8 +0.6 +0.3 +1.3
Run Blocking
-1.2 -0.3 -0.4 -0.3 +1.9
Pass Protect
-2.0 +0.3 +0.8 +0.3 +0.0

Tyron Smith Rocks. That is all.

The Running Game

When a team runs for 160 yards, they must have done something right. Now, you would think that the Cowboys got a lot of those yards after they were up by 28 points to start the second half, as they were probably going to run the ball a little more in the second half, but that isn't what happened.

Cowboys play selection vs. Tampa Bay


1st half
2nd half
1st half
2nd half
Carries - ATT/CMP
16 20 22/18
Yards 90 70
Yards per carry / attempt 5.6 3.5 8.6

The Cowboys did dial down their number of passes in the second half, and were less effective in the running game as a result. The Cowboys ran a lot more effectively in the first half, when their passing game was clicking as well. Once the Cowboys dialed down their pass attempts and focused more on clock management with their running game, the Buccaneers adjusted and contained the ground game a little better - but to little avail:

Total Cowboys first downs

1st half
2nd half
4 6
Passing 14 2
Penalties 1 1

The Cowboys used the run game to run time off the clock and get one first down after another. Another telling stat for the second half strategy: the Cowboys had twelve 1st-and-10 situations in the second half. They ran the ball ten times and passed only twice. It was the other way around in the first half. On seventeen 1st-and10 plays, the Cowboys passed twelve times and only ran five times.

To get the kind of ground game working that the Cowboys ran in the second half, you need good runners who can get the tough yards, and you also need good blocking. Here's how the players in the running game graded out:

  • Martellus Bennett (36 of 73 snaps, +5.8). Bennett had a monster of a game. Here's what PFF had to say: "You don’t often see tight ends do as much quality blocking in one game but Bennett, who dominated Bowers at the line of scrimmage and Foster at the second level, had one of the best blocking performances of any tight end all year. Kudos to doing a job that goes unnoticed."
  • Tony Fiammetta (31/73, -4.7). Where Bennett excelled, Fiammetta looked like he was off his game on Saturday. He had a couple of very weird blocks where he seemed to choose the wrong guy to block, and others where he looked like he was simply throwing his body around, and too late at that. I really didn’t see any holes opened by Fiammetta.
  • Felix Jones (43/73, +2.9). While Jones had the fumble that resulted in a TD, he ran very well. According to PFF, Jones forced six missed tackles, and picked up 83 of his 108 yards after contact, a stat that may come as a surprise to many fans. Felix Jones was a tough runner on Saturday. Jones had just two 100-yard games prior to this season, but added three more this year, with the last two coming in consecutive games against the Giants and Buccaneers.
  • Sammy Morris (26/73, -0.1). Morris did a good job as a runner (+0.5) but picked up a -0.7 in the passing game for a dropped pass.
The Passing Game
  • Tony Romo (73 of 73 snaps, +3.5). Not much to complain about with a 133.9 passer rating and four total TDs. Romo was once again money on the long passes, completing five of six passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage through the air.
  • Dez Bryant (50/73, +1.0) Four targets, four receptions, forty yards and a TD.
  • Miles Austin (66/73, +0.7) Five receptions on seven targets, but one dropped pass drags down his grade. Laurent Robinson also comes in with a +0.7
  • Jason Witten (73/73, -0.6). Great day as a receiver (+2.3), bad day as a run blocker (-2.5). Good thing Bennett was there to bail him out.
Front seven

You can slice and dice it any way you want it, when your defense holds the opponent to 190 total yards and one scoring drive, that defense did a good job. And what's particularly encouraging is that the defense did this with DeMarcus Ware (7 of 46 snaps) and Ratliff (9/46) out for the bulk of the game. Ware is dealing with a stinger that he re-aggravated on the second play of the game, Ratliff has a rib muscle strain. Neither played a single snap in the second half.

Against the Buccaneers, the defense started rolling with pressure up front. The Cowboys notched three sacks (Ware, Lissemore, Scandrick), two QB Hits (Hatcher, Spencer) and 11 QB pressures. Victor Butler alone got four pressures, Hatcher and Spencer each got two, Brooking Lee and Lissemore one each.

Of note, the Cowboys were able to get this pressure without relying on the blitz. PFF shows the Cowboys only blitzed seven times on 33 Tampa Bay dropbacks.

Here's how the front seven graded out.

Starters Backups Starters Backups Starters Backup
Coleman Ratliff Hatcher Spears Lissemore Ware Spencer Butler Lee James Brooking
Snaps (46 total)
17 9 28 19 20 7 34 39 41 8 15
+0.5 -0.7 +2.1 +2.3 +0.8 +2.3 +2.4 +3.2 -0.6 +0.7 -0.6

Alex Albright (11/46, -0.4), Clifton Geathers (11/46, +0.5) and Bruce Carter (5/43, +0.1) all got more playing time than they normally would have.


  • Mike Jenkins (39 of 46 snaps, +1.3). Shoulder harness or not, Jenkins played well and even complained that he didn't really get any action. I''m sure he meant on the field.
  • Terence Newman (46/46, -0.2). Like Jenkins, Newman was only targeted once all game and had an otherwise uneventful evening.
  • Orlando Scandrick (38/46, +1.6). His stat line reads more like that of a linebacker. One sack, one QB hit, leads the team with six tackles, one of which was for a loss. In coverage he was targeted four times for two receptions.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (45/46, +0.6) and Abram Elam (46/46, +0.0) didn't have a lot to do all day.

If you're wondering where all the Tampa Bay passes went, 19 of 24 targeted passes (two more were thrown away, one was batted down by Spears) were thrown less than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. And 11 of those 19 were thrown for less than 9 yards straight up the field and right between the numbers.

Nothing wrong with keeping the opponent's passing game bottled up and making them dink and dunk their way up the field, right? True, except if you have the Cowboys' linebacking unit trying their luck in coverage. 11 of 13 passes targeted at the linebackers were caught, while only 6 of 11 targeted at the secondary resulted in receptions. Bruce Carter is supposed to be great in coverage, let's hope that holds true once he gets a starting job in 2012. If not, the Cowboys will need a linebacker with coverage abilities.

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