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Grading The Cowboys Offense Vs. The Broncos: It May Have Been Even Better Than You Realize

The game was wildly entertaining, except (if you are a Dallas fan) for how it ended. A deeper look into the numbers shows just how impressive the Cowboys' offense was.

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The loss may have been painful, but it was without a question a very impressive offensive showing for the Dallas Cowboys against the Denver Broncos. A review of the grades for the game at Pro Football Focus not only shows how well the O did, but has some very positive trends in evidence as the Cowboys look to take hold of the NFC East against the Washington Redskins this week.

Offensive Line

The offensive line is becoming one of the most dependable units on the team. For the third week in a row, they have maintained a very high grade as a group. They certainly picked a good place to level out their performance. If you keep track of this kind of thing, you might notice that the sudden stabilization of the line with very good marks coincides with the assumption of starting duties by one Brian Waters. Good call on that hire.

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

The individual grades for the players are also stabilizing. No real weak link, just solid performers from tackle to tackle.

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

+2.5 +1.7 +1.1 +2.2 +2.0
Run Blocking
+2.0 +0.6 +1.7 +0.1 -1.0
Pass Protect
+1.1 +0.8 -0.8 +1.8 +2.6

Another way to look at the players is how they rank on PFF's position list, which features all the players at a given position who've played in at least 25% of their team's snaps..

POS Player Position Rank Qualifying Players Percentile Season Grade
RT Doug Free 1 71 99% +15.7
LT Tyron Smith 19 71 73% +3.1
OC Travis Frederick 6 34 82% +3.5
RG Brian Waters 17 72 76% +4.1
LG Ronald Leary 37 72 49% -1.4

Look at those percentiles. Four-fifths of the line is in or just on the edge of the top quarter of linemen by this rating. And the one outlier is basically at the median for the league. Everyone except Free, who was also number one last week, has improved their position this week. Leary is the only one with a negative overall score, and he may correct that in a week. Fredbeard is just impressive. His performance is better than even the most optimistic of us could have expected when he was drafted.

PFF is not the only site that sees good things happening for the Cowboys. Advanced NFL Stats has the Cowboys line as a group rated as one of the best in the league and at the top in a couple of their categories.

I think I have said this before, but after years of wishing for a line that could protect Tony Romo, we finally are getting to watch one. And given the youth at center and on the left side, this may be something that lasts for a while. If the guys in the head office remember to continue investing in new talent, this is a foundation that can be built on for years to come.

Did you ever imagine someone saying that about the Cowboys offensive line?

Now the test is going to be how the line holds up against a Redskins defense that is almost certain to be blitzing and generally bringing more pressure.


Because the game was a shootout between two quarterbacks from the opening possession, the running game was largely irrelevant after the first couple of series (although it can be argued that the Cowboys should have tried to run when they got the ball tied 48-48 and with 2:39 on the clock). I just wanted to show the numbers on the top receivers for Dallas (The rating is the QB rating when throwing at that particular receiver).

POS Player Targets Receptions Yards TD YAC Rating
WR Dez Bryant 10 6 141 2 80 143.8
WR Terrance Williams 4 4 151 1 74 158.3
WR Cole Beasley 4 4 47 1 44 155.2
TE Jason Witten 10 7 121 1 43 144.2

Romo was on fire but he had some help from these guys who all did very well (with the exception of Bryant's fumble). Romo also completed passes to four other receivers but none of them had more than a couple of receptions. As Bob Sturm observed, the Cowboys need to see some more Beasley. And as I (and probably several others) have observed, Miles Austin better get back on the field if he wants to keep his starting job.

The Attack

Speaking of Bob Sturm, he took a look at the game in his weekly "Decoding Callahan" series. And he points out some stunning numbers about what Bill Callahan and the Dallas Offense did.

The Cowboys accomplished something offensively on Sunday that is normally reserved for high school and college offenses, but almost never done in the NFL. In fact, in the last 1,000+ NFL games played, I only found it one other time (going back to 2010). It is the absurdity of 9 yards per play.

Actually, on Sunday, in their 54 offensive snaps, the Cowboys accumulated 522 total yards for a yards per play mark of 9.6667.

9.6667 yards per snap. 54 times they snapped the ball in that game - and kept a pace of 9.7 yards per.

That is staggering production. Going by PFF Dallas had 59 snaps (they include penalty plays). Denver had 81. That's 37% more plays run than the Cowboys with the two teams having almost identical yardage totals (517 for Denver and 522 for Dallas). If the Cowboys can stay at all close to that kind of production when they want to then they could win a lot of the remaining 11 games.

I stress that the team is not always going to want or need to maintain that kind of production. The Broncos game was a full out race from start to finish, the kind of game you do not play very often. If the Cowboys are in the fourth quarter with a two-score lead they obviously would be very content with a lot of running plays and a 3.5 yards per play average to burn the clock. Against the Redskins, where they will likely see more pressure sent at Romo, the shorter passing game should come more into play, along with the run. But it is good to know that the Cowboys can mount that kind of an attack when called upon.

The Cowboys have gotten past the Broncos, which is the second 5-0 team that they have lost to. The team is very hard to figure out. The defeats to Denver and the Kansas City Chiefs, who appear to be two of the top four or five teams in the league, were by a total of four points, but then there was the nearly inexplicable flop against the 2-3 San Diego Chargers. Now Dallas is headed into back-to-back games with division rivals and with the dismal state of the NFC LEast, the Cowboys can take charge of things with a couple of wins. They have to avoid the strange tendency to play down to the opponents, and, as Jason Witten observed, make this the standard for how the team performs offensively.

As for the defense, it just needs to make a few stops.

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