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Grading Cowboys vs. Rams: Performances Of Note

We look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out versus the Rams, and also look at some cumulative grades over the first three weeks.

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Cary Emondson-US PRESSWIRE

Collectively, the Cowboys had a great outing against the Rams on Sunday. Here's some of the stuff the Cowboys' PR department put together about the game:

  • Sunday's win is only the fourth time since 1999 that the Cowboys won their first two home games.
  • The 18 yards the Cowboys gave up to the Rams in the first half were the fewest since allowing 17 against Seattle in 1992.
  • Romo had his 50th career game with a rating above 100.0 on Sunday. His 50 are tied for fourth in the NFL since 2006, behind only Drew Brees (57), Tom Brady (55), and Philip Rivers (54).

Impressive numbers, and impressive individual efforts to go with it. But somewhat lost amid all the post-game celebrations is that like every week, some Cowboys players did their job better than others. So today, we look at how the individual efforts on the team graded out, and we'll be using the Pro Football Focus player grades to do that, just like we've done for the previous two games.

Three games into the 2013 season, we're going to look both at the individual grades from the Rams game for most positions but also look at some cumulative grades over the first three weeks. 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 always worth checking out. They focus on Doug Free, DeMarco Murray and the "Church of Pain".

Offensive Line

Three weeks into the season, what you want to see more than anything else is improvement, particularly for a unit like the offensive line, which many perceived as a weakness heading into the season.

Cowboys Offensive Line
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Overall Grade
-5.4 -0.5 +9.8
Run Blocking
-5.2 -0.3 +7.6
Pass Protect
-1.0 +1.0 +0.7

And the unit has indeed improved. The big story here is obviously the improvement in the run game, and that's the story that has garnered all the headlines after the 193-yard rushing performance against the Rams. But the story that has fallen a little by the wayside is that the Cowboys pass protection has made a significant jump versus last year.

Consider that the Cowboys are currently ranked as the seventh-best team with only six sacks allowed; consider also what your eyes tell you: Romo hasn't had this much time in the pocket since who knows when. The only knock on the line, and that is only partially reflected in the pass protection grade, is that the line is not yet as consistent as it could be. There are stretches where Romo has so much time in the pocket that you have to wonder who kidnapped the old O-line, but there are also (increasingly fewer) individual mistakes that lead to sacks and bruised ribs. Against the Rams, Romo was pressured on only 3 of 25 dropbacks. Here's how the linemen graded out individually:

Smith Leary Frederick Bernadeau Waters Free

-1.6 +0.3 +3.5 +2.1 +0.1 +5.4
Run Blocking
-0.4 +0.6 +3.6 +1.1 -0.4 +3.1
Pass Protect
-1.6 -0.5 -0.3 +0.8 +0.4 +1.9
Season grade -0.3 -2.8 -0.2 -3.2 +0.8 +11.2

Rams DE Robert Quinn entered the game as the highest graded DE in the league, with 18 QB disruptions (including four sacks) in two games. Tyron Smith held him in check for most of the game, but did give up the Cowboys' only two QB hurries, hence the downgrade in his pass protection grade. Doug Free has quietly put together a stellar run and is now graded as the number one tackle in the league as Tom Ryle pointed out in an earlier article.

Jason Garrett remarked yesterday about how the interior OL is the strongest it's been in the last three years, and the grades show it.

"We’re as strong as we’ve been on the interior of our offensive line in about three years," Garrett said. "We’ve made some personnel moves to help make that happen. We’ve been healthier and I think that’s helped make that happen. We’re just a stronger team. I think you see that in our running game and you use that in our pass protection and that’s been a real positive. So hopefully we can build on some of the things we did."

The 2013 First-Round Offensive Linemen

Travis Frederick had a strong day against the Rams, particularly in the run game, which brought his season grade up to -0.2. Here's how that compares to the other offensive linemen drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft:

Team POS Draft Pick Season Grade Snaps
Eric Fisher KC OT 1 -6.7 219
Luke Joeckel JAC OT 2 -1.9 212
Lane Johnson PHI OT 4 -5.2 213
Jonathan Cooper ARI OG 7 - - IR
Chance Warmack TEN OG 10 -1.5 210
D.J. Fluker SD OT 11 -1.4 139
Justin Pugh NYG OT 19 -5.2 193
Kyle Long CHI OG 20 +2.7 194
Travis Frederick DAL OC 31 -0.2 208

When you draft an offensive lineman in the first round, you expect an immediate starter, and it looks like that's what every single team got: All picks have played most if not all of their teams' snaps. The standout here in terms of grades is Chicago's Kyle Long, who has also drawn rave reviews outside of PFF for his play.

Overall though, most picks have struggled, with Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson and Justin Pugh in particular having a tough time adjusting to the NFL. Granted, it's only three weeks, and things might look different in three more weeks, but for now it is what it is.

And for a guy who many still think should have been a third-rounder, Travis Frederick is looking pretty good.

The 2013 Draft Class

Here's an overview of all the rookies who got snaps on Sunday.

  • Travis Frederick (62 of 62 snaps,+3.5 grade): No sacks, hits or hurries allowed; no bungled snaps; and a strong performance in the run game.
  • Gavin Escobar (14/62, +0.6): Escobar said he's not usually the 'go-to guy' on the play where he caught touchdown pass, but who cares?
  • Terrance Williams (34/62, -0.6): Williams wasn't targeted once in 35 snaps.
  • J.J. Wilcox (54/70, +1.9): Very promising debut for the rookie. He would have had an interception but for Hatcher's penalty (Hatcher: "I’m going to have to tell him I’m sorry about that."), and had four tackles, three of which were for stops (stops constitute an offensive failure, where the offense doesn't achieve the average yardage expected for the remaining distance).
  • B.W. Webb (16/70, +0.4): Got some snaps as part of the second unit team the Cowboys put on the field late in the game
  • DeVonte Holloman (16/70, -0.2): Holloman had three tackles and one missed tackle for the second unit team, and gave up four short receptions on four targets according to the PFF stats.
The Secondary

The secondary had a good day for once, even though they didn't get an interception. But their 78.6 defensive passer rating and 4.9 defensive YPA are nice calling cards. The defensive passer rating for the season falls to 91.1, which is still high (the Cowboys rank 20th in the league), but at least they are showing signs of improvement.

More importantly, because the Cowboys have a high (103.9) offensive passer rating, their passer rating differential is +12.8 for the first three games, the tenth best value in the league. That bodes well.

Here's how the secondary graded out:

Carr Church Wilcox Claiborne Scandrick

Snaps 54 54 54 54 70
+1.6 +4.1 +1.9 +1.6 +1.8

Note that the Cowboys played their second unit for the final Rams drive in the fourth quarter. This was the nickel defense for exactly 14 snaps on Sunday:

Kyle Wilber, Edgar Jones, Jerome Long, Caesar Rayford, DeVonte Holloman, Justin Durant, B.W. Webb, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, Will Allen, Jeff Heath.

As a result, even though the Cowboys played 70 defensive snaps, only one player, Orlando Scandrick was on the field the entire time. Most other starters saw 54 or less defensive snaps, as the second team unit took over.

Skill Position Players

Here are some of the high- and lowlights from the skill position players:

  • Tony Romo (62 of 62 snaps, +4.0). Romo had the eighth-best game of his career in terms of passer rating with 137.2 and his 8.8 YPA also looks very good.
  • DeMarco Murray (48/64, +3.1): You rush for 175 yards, you're going to grade out well.
  • Dez Bryant (62/62, +0.8): +1.1 grade for his receiving, offset by his penalty after the TD reception.
  • Miles Austin (41/62, -1.9): Austin was targeted five times but only caught two passes. The PFF grading system doesn't like that. What that system likes even less are dropped passes, and Austin had one, so his overall grade is negative.
  • Jason Witten (62/62, +0.7) Turns out he was the Cowboys' leading receiver with 67 yards on Sunday.
Defensive Line

Sam Bradford was under pressure on 21 of his 54 dropbacks, and as a result had a great deal of difficulty throwing downfield, completing just four of twelve passes that went for more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.


Selvie Hayden Hatcher Ware Jones Rayford Long Wilber

Snaps 37 43 40 39 35 29 28 29
Grade vs. Rams
-0.5 -2.1 +2.0 +3.2 -0.5 -1.8 -0.1 -1.5

Note that the backups played almost as many snaps as the starters, and there was no noticeable letup in the intensity of the defensive line. How much of that is due to the status of the Rams O-line is debatable, but it certainly is a credit to Rod Marinelli's coaching.

And rounding up this Week 3 summary are the three linebackers: Bruce Carter (54/70, 0.2), Sean Lee (54/70, +0.7), and Justin Durant (32/70, +2.2). Durant had a stellar outing, leading the team with six tackles, two of which were for stops.

Top Players So far

Below is a list of Cowboys players who rank at or close to the top (at least top 20) within their position after three games as per the PFF grades. Keep in mind that the grades are cumulative - if two guys get the same grade for each game, but one guy has three games to the other guy's two, the player with three games will have the higher total grade.

The numbers are from 6:00 am this morning, and do not yet contain the grades for the Broncos/Raiders game. There's also a good possibility that PFF will change some of their grades when they review the All-22 film when it becomes available, and they may also adjust their baselines once all of that is complete. For now though, this is how the Cowboys players rank:.

POS Player Position Rank Qualifying Players Percentile Season Grade
S Barry Church 1 82 99% +8.0
OT Doug Free 1 72 99% +11.2
RB DeMarco Murray 2 57 96% +5.7
DT Jason Hatcher 3 65 95% +10.3
DE DeMarcus Ware 3 52 94% +9.2
CB Brandon Carr 6 102 94% +4.2
CB Orlando Scandrick 7 102 93% +3.7
WR Dez Bryant 18 103 83% +3.2
OLB Justin Durant 6 32 81% +1.9
DE George Selvie 10 52 81% +4.5
QB Tony Romo 8 34 76% +4.3
TE Gavin Escobar 17 56 70% +0.5
ILB Sean Lee 18 48 63% +0.4
Special Teams
ST Orlando Scandrick 8 642 99% +2.5
ST Dwayne Harris 8 642 99% +2.5
K Dan Bailey 4 44 91% +10.2

'Position Rank' shows the absolute rank within a position group, 'Qualifying Players' shows how many players are ranked in that position group, e.g. Dez Bryant is ranked 18th out of 103 wide receivers who've played at least 25% of their teams' snaps.

We'll close this review by quoting PFF's assessment of Barry Church, the number one ranked safety in the league. Yes, you read correctly. The number one ranked safety in the league.

Church of Pain

When Barry Church (+4.1) stepped up to play safety in his rookie season (2010) due to Gerald Sensabaugh’s injury, it was fairly apparent he wasn’t ready. Three missed tackles and a -4.7 grade saw him consigned to spot duty for two years before he was again given a chance in 2012. Disaster struck in Week 3 as he tore his Achilles and many suspected his career might be over.

However, 2013 is dawning very bright for Church currently with him grading "in the green" every week this year culminating with this fine effort. An excellent all-around display, it was his work in coverage that rightly gets the plaudits as he provides the kind of back end support the team desperately needs.


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