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Grading The Cowboys Against The Redskins

The final score was very enjoyable. Now it's time to look at some individual grades and what they might mean going forward.

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When you start digging into the numbers, the Dallas Cowboys' 31-16 victory over the Washington Redskins was a strange game. Washington outgained the Cowboys 433 yards to 213. They had 25 first downs to 18. They had an almost perfectly balanced attack, with 217 yards passing and 216 yards rushing.

But they lost, largely on big plays. Dwayne Harris, of course, was a monster returning kicks. Dallas had a +1 in turnovers. And they got a big break on the punt that was ruled down after bouncing off a Cowboys player, B.W. Webb, who was not paying attention. It was a judgement call by the referees, but the judgement may have been wrong.

What this shows is that numbers are not answers. They are just another tool. Here is this week's look at the grades from Pro Football Focus for the Cowboys - and my take on what they mean.

Offensive Line

There is good news and bad news. The bad: After five weeks of constantly rising or stable grades for the line as a whole, the cumulative number fell, and by a good bit.

The good news: It still is a nice, solid number for the line. And a very good performance against a 3-4 defense, which has given them trouble at times.

Cowboys Offensive Line
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Overall Grade
-5.4 -0.5 +9.8 +9.0 +9.5 +5.4
Run Blocking
-5.2 -0.3 +7.6 +5.2 +3.4 +2.7
Pass Protect
-1.0 +1.0 +0.7 +3.2 +5.5 +1.3

I think this is partly a result of having faced Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Look at the individual grades across the line.

T. Smith R. Leary T. Frederick B. Waters D. Free

-0.2 +1.2 +1.4 +1.2 +1.8
Run Blocking
-1.4 +0.1 +0.8 +0.6 +2.6
Pass Protect
+0.3 +0.9 +0.9 +0.4 -1.2

There is a bit of an odd note here, in that the Cowboys ran few plays on the ground and had several for no gain or losses, yet Doug Free still graded out very well there while not looking as good protecting the quarterback. However, the overall performance is nothing to complain about - and Free still has the highest overall grade of any tackle in the league.

POS Player Position Rank Qualifying Players Percentile Season Grade
RT Doug Free 1 (1) 74 99% (99%) +17.5
LT Tyron Smith 22 (19) 74 70% (73%) +5.9
OC Travis Frederick 7 (6) 34 79% (82%) +4.9
RG Brian Waters 11 (17) 74 85% (76%) +5.3
LG Ronald Leary 33 (37) 74 55% (49%) -0.2

This is one of my favorite charts to do. The number in parentheses is from last week. (The qualifying players number also varies a bit, but I didn't want to make it too cluttered.) This to me is solid proof that Dallas, at least for the moment, has the offensive line issues under control. This is such a radical turnaround and why I tend to dwell so long on this topic. A couple of notes: Leary has finally climbed above the median. And Waters is rising fast. Remember that the grades assigned by PFF are cumulative. Since Waters has been scoring positively all along he is having to catch up after not starting, which cost him in the Season Grade column. If he had started from the beginning of the season, he would almost certainly be a top five guard and he is likely to finish there based on the trend.

In my humble opinion this is one the most important development this season. The line finally works. And it is not just average. It is one of the best in the league, by PFF grades, or by the Advanced NFL Stats metrics, which have the line as a whole as either first or second depending on which measurement you use. This is how you build for the long haul. At least three-fifths of this line, and probably four-fifths, should be together for another four or five years, minimum. Bring Waters back for another season or two and spend at least one good draft pick on the line each year . . .

I have to keep asking, did you ever think it would look this way for the Dallas Cowboys? Please note, for future reference, that they have finally gotten it right.


There is not much else to look at for the offense. Tony Romo had a very quiet day as once again the team did not have a lot of snaps, but that was more due to the best punt/kick returner in the NFL doing his thing, plus the fumble recovery on the Washington 3-yard line. Dallas scored 21 points using a total of four offensive plays. It is hard to get a rhythm going like that and you really don't need a bunch of outstanding performances.

There is one chart I do want to put up, though, concerning the wide receivers.

Player Targets Receptions Yards TD Overall Grade
Dez Bryant 8 5 36 0 -0.1
Terrance Williams 2 2 22 1 -0.3
Cole Beasley 6 4 44 0 +1.2
Miles Austin 4 0 0 0 -1.4

I think those figures pretty much speak for themselves. There was some talk on the podcasts from about Austin not being as healthy as they thought and that looks like it may be true. It will be interesting to see how these players look after the trip to play the Philadelphia Eagles, when the Cowboys will likely need to have something more like the offensive assault against the Denver Broncos.

Defensive Line

Jerry Jones made a joke about not being sure of the names of all the defensive linemen. Who are these guys and how is Dallas surviving with them holding down the line?

Ware Wilber Selvie Rayford Hayden D. Carter Hatcher Nevis
Snap Count
16 52 55 35 61 13 54 30
+1.5 +1.2 -1.9 -2.8 -2.2 +0.3 +6.6 +0.6
Pass Rush -0.1 +1.4 -1.0 -1.1 -1.0 -0.2 +4.7 +2.3
Run Defense
+1.5 -0.4 -1.1 -0.9 -0.4 +0.4 +1.7 -1.8

This shows just how much the team lost with DeMarcus Ware going out and how much it will miss him. It also shows what an incredible game Jason Hatcher had and illustrates that the Cowboys survived on the defensive line rather than thrived. David Carter is no longer with the team and Jarius Wynn has been signed. While the scores may make that move a bit puzzling, note the snap count. Obviously the team did not trust Carter.

The Rushmen are still not a strong bunch top to bottom but against the Redskins they certainly played with a lot of heart. Watching them is likely to be an up and down experience for the rest of the season but as Jerry Jones has made clear, the team is not going to make any big moves and somehow has to get this to work for them.

Defensive Stars

Look at these scores, first.

Player Score
Jason Hatcher +6.6
Brandon Carr +5.3
Sean Lee +3.2
DeMarcus Ware +1.5
Kyle Wilber +1.2

These were the "splash" players (except Ware, who was so limited in his playing time). These are the players who carried the team on defense. This was the best game to date for both Carr and Lee, and I think that is true whether you go by these scores or the eye test. Hatcher and Carr both were recognized by Football Outsiders as two of their five stars of the week, There is a lot of talk about the "no-name" players, but Dallas needs the stars to come through and come through consistently. Against the Redskins, they did.

One thing the PFF scores do not work well for is special teams. They have Dan Bailey with a higher score than Dwayne Harris, so I am not gonna bother with them. Nothing is perfect.

The important thing now is how the team carries things forward against the Philadelphia Eagles.


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