For many Cowboys fans, the disappointment over most of yesterday's first half is battling with the elation over the Cowboys' second-half performance, which makes it especially hard to look back at the Raiders 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.
As usual, 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 up, and that is definitely worth a read, this time they focus on the two running backs, as well as Kyle Wilber and Tyron Smith.
We originally set out to chronicle these grades after every game of the season, but these posts are very time-consuming, and sometimes life happens. So while Tom and I will try our best to provide these reviews after every game, bear with us if that isn't always possible.
For the offense, everything starts with the offensive line, so that's also where we start our review of the offense. PFF hands out a cumulative +2.3 grade for the offensive line. Overall, Tyron Smith and Mackenzy Bernadeau stood out, Travis Frederick had a solid game marred by a single "snap infraction" penalty, while Leary and Free both struggled in run-blocking.
|T. Smith||R. Leary||T. Frederick||M. Bernadeau||D. Free|
For the season, Tyron Smith has now surpassed Free with his season grade. Sadly, the two players are on opposite trajectories. While Doug Free has accumulated a -5.9 grade over the last six games, Smith has graded out with +10.6 over the same period. At this pace Pro Bowl talk for Smith is warranted, while concerns about Free's drop from a stellar performance at the start of the season are equally warranted.
In yesterday's game, Leary's grade in pass protection is negatively impacted by a QB hit and two QB hurries given up, and the bulk of his season grade due to negative grades in pass protection. For all intents and purposes, Leary is a redshirt rookie, and he is still struggling in pass protection.
When Tony Romo didn't throw against the outstretched hand of a defender or against Bernadeau's helmet, he was remarkably accurate on his throws. PFF have a stat called 'aimed passes', which excludes 'batted' passes (2), 'thrown away' passes (2) and dropped passes (1), and that metric shows Romo completing 23 of 28 'aimed passes' to the following receivers:
|Player||Targets||Receptions||Yards||TD||Receiving grade||Overall Grade|
The Cowboys spread the ball around nicely, and made sure to keep Dez Bryant involved throughout. Romo only connected once with Austin, so that's something the Cowboys will have to look at. Bryant's grade is obviously heavily influenced by his fumble.
We can see from the table above that both Murray (+1.8) and Dunbar (+1.7) were graded positively for their efforts. Together they combined for 196 yards on the ground and through the air, more than half the Cowboys' 352 yards.
Both players profited from making Raiders defenders miss tackles: each player benefited from four missed tackles that allowed them to gain extra yardage. Together, the two backs gained 120 of their 145 yards after first contact.
But don't assume that they were simply lucky or that the raiders were just sloppy tacklers. For the season, DeMarco Murray ranks fourth in the league as measured by PFF's 'Elusiveness rating', which combines missed tackles forced, yards after contact and yards into one number. Here's a look at the top five in the league according to that metric:
|Rank||Player||Runs||Receptions||YAC/Att.||MT Rush||MT Receiving||Elusivess rating|
The table illustrates Murray's value to the Cowboys quite well: despite missing time, he's an elusive space player who's an equally potent weapon as a runner and as a receiver. The table above only includes player's who've had at least 50% of their team's rushing attempts. As such, Dunbar obviously doesn't qualify, but Dunbar's Elusiveness Rating of 112 (11 missed tackles on 30 runs and 7 receptions) is the highest of any player in the league with at least 10 rushing attempts.
Lance Dunbar only played 13 snaps on offense. With 12 runs and one reception, that means he touched the ball every time he was on the field. How cool is that?
Note also that all five passes to Murray were what are called successful plays: On first down, a play is a success if it gains 45 percent of needed yards; on second down, a play needs to gain 60 percent of needed yards; on third or fourth down, only a new first down is considered success. Here are Murray's five receptions:
- 1-10-DAL 7 : (10:13) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to D.Murray pushed ob at DAL 14 for 7 yards. Pass complete on a "check off" out of the backfield.
- 2-12-DAL 37 : (3:07) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to D.Murray pushed ob at DAL 45 for 8 yards. Pass complete on a "wheel" route.
- 1-10-DAL 39 : (1:27) (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to D.Murray to DAL 46 for 7 yards.
- 1-10-OAK 25 : (7:46) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to D.Murray to OAK 15 for 10 yards. Shuffle pass.
- 1-10-OAK 29 : (1:10) T.Romo pass short middle to D.Murray to OAK 22 for 7 yards. Pass complete on a "check off" play.
Plus, there were some touchdown runs somewhere in the as well.
Tony Romo (82 of 82 snaps, +1.7). This number would be a lot higher had the Cowboys tried to pass for their TDs instead of running them in on three occasions. Romo didn't have a lot of yards, but he was accurate and didn't turn the ball over - and in the process collected his fifth 100+ passer rating game of the season.
Most 100.0-plus passer rating games since 2006: Drew Brees 62, Tom Brady 58, Philip Rivers 57, Tony Romo 54. #Cowboys— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 29, 2013
Of course, that performance is all the more impressive considering that Romo was suffering from a virus and had to be hooked up to an IV prior to the game.
"Just whatever it is, a bug, some shape or form," Romo said. "You know, you just kind of feel down, but it’s no different than guys playing through pain or anything. It’s just part of football."
"This is the NFL. You play through everything. Guys play through a lot worse, I can promise you that."
After struggling a little at the start of the first half, Romo was a perfect 12-for-12 in the second half and 17-for-19 if you include the final scoring drive in the second quarter.
We'll follow up with a separate review of the defensive grades in a subsequent post.