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Grading Cowboys @ Cardinals: Performances Of Note

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As much as the loss to the Cardinals hurt, not everything that happened on the field was bad, far from it.

But at the end of the day, a loss is a loss, and as the playoff race heats up, that's all that ultimately counts. However, we're still going to take the time and look at Sunday's game in a little more detail by reviewing the Cowboys' individual performances against the Cardinals. As usual, we'll do that using the Pro Football Focus player grades.

And no, PFF does not hand out grades for the coach.

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.

PFF's own review of the game is also a very good read, and this week they focus on Sean Lee, Terence Newman and Tyron Smith.

Offensive Line

The overall grade for the Cowboys' O-line, a +0.8, may come as a surprise for many fans who watched the game and thought they were watching a sieve in front of Tony Romo. All in all, PFF grade this as an average performance, in fact, it may even have been one of the better ones if you look at all the games this season:

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

But what this number actually does is it hides what was quite an uneven performance by the Cowboys O-line. So this week we're going to look at the individual O-line grades a little differently.

In the NFL, no man except Revis is an island. To a large degree, a given player's performance is largely dependent on the performance of the player he's matched up with. If your O-line had a bad day, you'd expect the opposing D-line to have had a good day, and vice versa. Granted, you'll never have one player matched up exclusively with another player on all snaps, but for the Cowboys' O-line, a look at the Cardinals' front five should be interesting, so here goes:


Acho Campbell Eason Docket Haggans
-1.8 +4.9 -0.1 -0.5 -0.5
-1.9 -0.1
-2.2 +1.4 +3.6

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith

If you watched the game, you probably heard the name Calais Campbell a lot more than you liked, and his grade reflects this. Campbell had an outstanding game against the Cowboys as a pass rusher, and the left side of the line had little to counter Campbell with.

The graders at PFF assigned the direct blame for 10 disruptions (two sacks, one QB hit and seven pressures) to the O-line. Free, Holland and Costa combined for eight of those disruptions, as the table below shows.

Free Holland Costa Kosier Smith
- - - -
1 1 - -
- - - - 1 - -
- -
3 2 1 1 - -

Tyron Smith has a cumulative +14.5 grade for the season. He grades out as the third best tackle in the NFL. Doug Free has a cumulative -2.0 and ranks 33rd.

Step one in fixing the O-line for next year will be to switch the two, Smith will move to the left, Free will return to the right side.

At center, Phil Costa is fighting valiantly, but in vain. He has a season grade of -10.1, which ranks him 34th out of 37 qualifying NFL centers. Even allowing for his status as an undrafted free agent and missing an entire offseason, that simply won't cut it. And before anybody starts the "We should've kept Gurode" chant, good old Andre racked up a -14.7 grade in five games as a starter at guard for the Ravens.

Step two in fixing the O-line is finding a solution at center.

At guard, the Cowboys could do a lot worse than Montrae Holland, who has a +5.5 grade for the season and ranks 16th among all NFL guards. Kyle Kosier has once again been struggling with an injury for most of the season, and his -2.8 season grade (41st) shows it. It's unclear whether either player has another NFL season left in him.

Step three in fixing the O-line is getting Bill Nagy, Dave Arkin and possible a new name or two NFL ready.

Skill Position Player Highlights

  • Tony Romo (70 of 70 snaps, +4.6). Romo gets his second best grade of the season for his accurate (66.6 completion percentage) and mistake-free passing (0 INTs) but also for his Houdini-esque ability to escape pressure and keep plays alive.
  • Jason Witten (70/70, +3.3) stood out as a receiver and as a run-blocker.
  • John Phillips (42/70, +2.1) finally had a good day as a run blocker and even caught four passes. Shaun Chapas only saw eight snaps.
  • Dez Bryant (57/70, +2.2) had his best grade of the season. It is probably not a coincidence that he had his best performance on a day where he was targeted a season-high 14 times and hauled in a season-high eight catches. Jesse Holley (+1.3) continues to deliver when called upon. He played for only seven snaps, but caught two passes for first downs. Laurent Robinson (+0.8) didn't get as many looks as in previous games but was solid overall.
  • DeMarco Murray (39/70, +0.1) got a good grade (+1.5) as a rusher but gave up a sack and a pressure.

The Defensive Line

One of the key issues for the Cowboys' defensive line is is the pass rush. More specifically, the imbalance of the pass rush. Just like the O-line, the D-line has a weak left side, as the following table illustrates:

Left Ends
Nose tackles Right Ends
Season Totals
Coleman Spears Ratliff Brent Hatcher Lissemore
Pass rush Snaps
158 164 367 52 182 112
Disruptions (Sacks/Hits/Pressures) 7 (1/1/5) 9 (1/1/7)
22 (2/6/15) 5 (0/0/5)
16 (4/4/8)
9 (1/3/5)
Disruptions/Snaps in %
4.4% 5.5% 6.0% 9.6% 8.8% 8.0%

The left side of the D-line is not generating enough pass rushing pressure. No two ways about it. The situation is further complicated by the fact that DeMarcus Ware rushes predominantly from the right, making the right side even more dominant as the pass rushing side.

Simply put, the Cowboys defense will rush you from the right and block the run to the left. And no amount of pre-snap movements and odd alignments will change that basic fact. Until the Cowboys get a decent pass rushing pressure from the left, either from the OLB or from a DE, it won't be too hard for opposing offenses to gameplan for that.

And with the premium placed on pass rushing in the league, the grades for the D-line against Arizona should not come as a surprise:

Left Ends
NT Right Ends
vs. Arizona
Coleman Spears Ratliff Hatcher Lissemore
Total Snaps (60 Total)
29 21 44 36 18
Disruptions (Sacks/Hits/Pressures) 0 (-/-/-) 1 (-/-/1)
1 (1/-/-) 1 (1/-/-)
2 (1/-/1)
-0.1 0.0 -0.8 +1.5 +1.6

Lissemore played some snaps at NT, but the majority at RE


  • DeMarcus Ware (54/60, -0.1). Ware had a rather quiet day with one sack and one pressure, and the graders at PFF also saw him miss a tackle, so an average grade for Ware here.
  • Anthony Spencer (58/60, +0.8) had a good day as a pass rusher (+1.5) with a sack and three pressures, but the graders didn't like what they saw in pass coverage (-0.9).
  • Sean Lee (59/60, +7.2) led the team in tackles, stops and QB pressures and recorded easily his best rating of the season along the way. The contrast to Bradie James (-2.2) and Keith Brooking (+0.4) is so dramatic that Cowboys fans can only hope and pray that Bruce Carter will be NFL ready next season, or the Cowboys will have to draft yet another linebacker. As BTB-member Docchain wrote:

Lee – He makes more plays with one hand than the 4 hands of James and Brooking.


If you're quietly ticking off your list of draft- and free agency needs while reading this post, here's another helpful little list:

Abram Elam: 60/60, -0.6
Gerald Sensabaugh: 58/60, -0.7

Orlando Scandrick: 34/60, +2.3
Mike Jenkins: 50/60, -0.8
Terence Newman: 67/69, -3.4

Note on Scandrick: these grades are for the defensive snaps only. His two penalties on special teams net him a -2.0 special teams grade.

Top Ten

Here's an overview of which Cowboys players are currently ranked among the top ten at their positions after week 13.

  • DeMarcus Ware (+21.9), third-ranked 3-4 OLB. Spencer comes in at 14th (+7.1).
  • Tyron Smith (+14.5), third-best tackle overall, second-best right tackle.
  • Jason Witten (+8.4) the Senator had a tough start to the season, but is streaking up the rankings. Two weeks ago he was ranked seventh among all tight ends, this week he's already fourth.
  • Jay Ratliff (+14.1) is number seven among all defensive tackles.
  • Sean Lissemore (+11.9) is about 20 snaps shy of qualifying for the ranking list. His grade would rank him as the seventh best 3-4 DE in the NFL, just a little behind J.J. Watt.
  • Dez Bryant (+9.2), eighth-ranked wide receiver. Laurent Robinson (+3.8) comes in as number 25.
  • Mat McBriar (+3.8) is ranked ninth despite his injury issues.
  • Tony Romo (+28.4) is ranked tenth among QBs, the first time all season he's cracked the top ten.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (+3.8) makes an appearance as the tenth ranked safety.

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