Who says the preseason isn't important? Well, definitely not anyone who writes about the sport on a regular basis. While the stars might not appear too frequently, we still have luminary hopefuls waiting to cast a spotlight on themselves and earn ascension into the heavens of the depth chart's top tiers.
It boggles my mind to watch TV hosts on football-centric shows, or former players serving as analysts, act dismissive of how much can be learned about a franchise through the lens of the preseason. Ask BTB regular Terry about when he knew Tony Romo was the Cowboys quarterback of the future. The preseason is chock full of goodness.
As such, our friends over at Pro Football Focus have decided to extend their individual player game-grading to the preseason contests, and as such, have led off the effort with a review of the Cowboys-Dolphins Pro Football Hall of Fame Game tilt.
If you are unfamiliar with PFF, you must be new to BTB! It is by no means a bible to grading individual performances (many often disagree with their assessments and grading methods), but they are the clubhouse leader in making the effort to provide fans with a somewhat objective view into the subjective world of how well a player is performing. Each play, for each player, is graded on a scale of -2.0 to +2.0, based on how well they carry out their perceived assignments. Those play grades are then accumulated into an overall game grade. What needs to be remembered is that when they can, PFF grades players even when they aren't involved in a play. For a guy in the secondary, if he successfully eliminates a receiver from the play, that's a success. It won't however show up in the reception/target ratios. They also give numerous other meaningful breakdowns of raw statistics that are just as, and sometimes, more helpful than the grades themselves.
First things first, we should review exactly which players the Cowboys were highly interested in getting a heavy dose of. As to be expected, the Cowboys injuries along the offensive line had those guys amassing heavy snaps. The Top 5 totals were from the starting 5, with Ron Leary leading the way with 63, followed by Weems and Coughman at 56 each. Arkin played 48 with Frederick playing 43. Rookie Joseph Randle took the most snaps of the backs with 28 while Tanner had 16. Dwayne Harris had 29 snaps, while Anthony Armstrong had 26. Here's a look at the Top 10 snaps totals on defense.
With very limited passing, the running backs were the star of the show. Phillip Tanner put in some serious work, rushing for 59 yards on 10 carries. Of those 59 yards, 47 of them came after contact. He was most effective running the ball between the left tackle and left guard, and left guard and center. Seven (7!) forced missed tackles. He scored a +2.1 rushing grade.
In Lance Dunbar's seven carries, he was completely left-handed, running outside the tight end for three of his four carries. Getting to the end gave him a 7.3 ypc on those three attempts, while he was stuffed running inside the tight end.
Joseph Randle gained 70 yards on 13 totes, of which 51 came after contact. Two forced missed tackles. Randle actually had better numbers running right of center (6 carries, 42 yards) than left of it (7 carries 28 yards). Randle had three carries of at least 10 yards on the game.
For comparison purposes, Randle's great game earned him a PFF Elusive Rating of 60.4... Phillip Tanner's game earned him an almost comical 299.1.
The backup tackles are who we thought they were. Edawn Coughman gave up two sacks and two hurries on his way to a -1.8 pass block grade. Darrion Weems allowed a QB hit and a hurry, but also accrued two penalties in his 56 snaps. Please Jermey Parnell, be good when you return lest Dallas look to the discarded players after final cutdowns at the end of the month.
Ron Leary checked in with a +2.1 grade and was positive in both run blocking and pass protection. He allowed one hurry.
Travis Frederick allowed one hurry, as a guard, on the play where QB Alex Tanney got earholed. PFF was not that impressed with Frederick, scoring him a -2.0 for the game, with a -1.1 run block grade.
David Arkin received a +1.1 grade for his 48 snaps and one hurry allowed.
Remember when I did the tracking article earlier in the week, and most of the run plays included something along the lines of "Gavin Escobar engaged his man, but he was still the first defender to touch the ball carrier"? Yeah. -4.4 run block grade for the rookie; by far the worst individual skill grade of any Cowboys player for the evening.
Cole Beasley's drops probably don't threaten his roster spot, but they did make him out to be the worst wideout that played Sunday night. PFF only credited him with one drop but gave him a -1.9 catch grade on just 22 snaps. 1 reception on 3 targets for 5 yards.
When I heard that DE Monte Taylor was released yesterday, it surprised me a bit as I though I saw him flash in the game. I definitely remember him knifing into the backfield and blowing up a run, although he didn't wrap up the ball carrier. PFF agreed, and then some. Taylor earned the highest mark of any defender, +3.2 for the game as they credited him with 3 QB Hits and 2 Pressures in addition to two stops. Stops are keeping the offense from a successful play (<40% of necessary yards on 1st down, <60% on 2nd, <100% on 3rd and 4th).
I'll have to rewatch the film, but maybe Kiffin and Co. thought those pressures should have been sacks and therefore looked at him as someone who couldn't complete a play. This could be insight into the discrepancy between grading and running a team. Toby Jackson played 21 snaps, made zero plays, and stayed while Taylor got the boot.
George Selvie obviously had a great game, as he put his experience in the scheme to great use. In his 59 snaps, he got a overall game grade of +2.7, with a run game grade of +1.9. His two sacks and six total QB pressures must have been offset by some lackluster efforts to only score a +0.5 in the pass rush segment. Four stops is a great number, regardless. Now, can he do it again Friday night against Oakland?
Taylor Reed made the most of his opportunities; while NFL.com gives him credit for 6 tackles and 3 assists, PFF does not credit those assists. Still the man made 6 tackles in only 30 snaps; or 1 for every 5 plays he was on the field.
Despite allowing four catches on six targets, BW Webb (+3.1) seemed to have a stellar game. Those four catches only resulted in 29 total yards, a 4.8 yard per target average. Compare that to JJ Wilcox's below. He also had a QB hurry and two stops with his four tackles. Very limited YAC allowed as well, barely more than 1 yard per catch allowed. Webb played the entire game, which combined with the limited targets and overall success speaks highly of what may be to come for the small-school corner.
When you look at the raw numbers, you can see why coach Garrett wasn't all that pleased with Wilcox's performance. Wilcox gave up four catches on five targets, but for a whopping 74 yards; a 14.8 yard per target average. That's a death sentence to any defense. He gave up a gain of 45 yards to Chad Bumphis and then another of 18 yards to Jonas Gray; 50 yards of YAC between them. Even with those numbers and giving up a 118.8 Passer Rating, PFF saw enough good in Wilcox's game to nearly balance it out. He scored a -0.6 in pass coverage. They didn't, however like his run support, as a -1.3 brought him down to -1.8 overall.
Another secondary player that PFF didn't like was Sterling Moore. I admit, I didn't notice Moore much, but PFF must have seen some blown assignments. When targeted (4x), he only allowed two receptions, but he scored a -2.3 coverage grade.
All in all, I think that you can appreciate most of the impressions PFF took from the game if you look through the various things that have been written here in the past week. I highly encourage any and all of you to consider subscribing to their premium site, if you are interested in these sorts of assessments over the course of the coming season. You can do that, here. I didn't even get into their signature stats sections, which gives great insight. It's always a good exercise to augment your eye test with someone elses.
So how do you feel about the way they evaluated the team?
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