The Dallas Cowboys offense buried the team last week with four early turnovers. While Cowboys fans expected a more dynamic offense than we witnessed, there were some very positives signs for the team to build on heading into the matchup with the Tennessee Titans. And make no mistake, the Cowboys young offensive-line played up to their billing, were at no real fault for the loss, and should prove a handful for many opponents. Against the San Francisco 49ers, the o-line was impressive in the rushing attack that led to a team 5.5 yard average. In pass protection, the Cowboys again demonstrated some solid work, though were less consistent.
I have decided to review the work of the offensive-line in Dallas and come up with a grading system that will track the good and bad plays for the entire unit, and reveal which players were most consistent in these efforts. If an entire o-line played average every single snap, they would likely be one of the best in the league. The best offensive linemen aren't necessarily the ones that get the most ‘wow' plays; they are those that most consistently avoid the ‘woe' plays. With every play by the o-line graded on a measure of +1 (good), 0 (average), or -1 (bad), the idea is to track how much better or worse than average the group played overall, and the consistency of the unit and individual players.
O-Line Graded As a Unit
The team grades will reflect how well the o-line did their jobs on any given play as a unit, often times, regardless of the outcome of the play. Even if Tony Romo throws an interception, the o-line might still grade above average. Though DeMarco Murray manages to pick up five yards, the o-line might have done a sub-par job of blocking. While sacks and pressures will obviously lead to a ‘bad score' (-1), the o-line grade will not always reflect a good play by the offense, like a converted third-down completion despite a pressure allowed. For example, below are two pics of pass plays scored as good (+1). This positive grade is given when there is an unusually clean pocket, when there is no pressure and a huge throwing lane, or when Romo has five or more seconds to throw the ball. It doesn't matter that one of these plays was an interception.
This can also occur during run-blocking grades for the unit. One of the Cowboys earliest rushes for a big gain was to Dwayne Harris who had motioned into the backfield. While the play picked up 9 yards, the o-line was only average and did not receive any score. Below are examples of good run-blocking as a unit with +1 scores. In the first, the size of the running lane Murray uses and the yards he gains is a clear indication of why the o-line received a good grade. The second, however, is also scored positively despite Murray putting his head down too early to fight through an average block while missing the enormous running lane created for his cut-back.
The logic also holds for bad scores of -1. In these examples to follow, the negative grade reflects a lack of consistency across the entire group of linemen, not the results of the play. The -1 scored passing play is one where Romo actually ends up evading the pressure and completes the pass for a first-down. But there was a breakdown in the line, so the unit gets a bad mark. In the rushing attempt, while others have gotten to the second level and created a nice situation, Ron Leary (and Jason Witten) get pushed back and the run results in only a few yards. Again, the line fails to show consistency as a unit and receives the negative point.
Team Grades: +/- Differential and Consistency
By scoring good plays with (+1), average plays with (0), and bad plays with (-1), we will be able to find the differential for both team pass and run blocking. The differential will show how much better or worse than average the oline is working as a unit, literally the difference in good plays versus bad. A score of zero would indicate the team made up for every negative with a positive and overall the team was average. The higher the (positive) score, the fewer mistakes and more impressive efforts by the o-line as a group.
Consistency - Again, great offensive-lines are first, and foremost, a function of consistency and avoiding mistakes. While the group may have a positive differential by making up for miscues with good plays, it is also very important to measure how many individual failures lead to the unit falling short in their efforts. So, consistency will calculate how often the unit can block without anyone making a mistake that might have hurt the overall performance of the offense (average + good / bad plays = consistency). It's important to remember that this consistency calculation does not reveal how often the team gained yards or completed a pass, only how reliable the entire o-line was throughout the game.
Individual Grades: Run-Blocking Differential (RBD)
After each play the group score is calculated and the players most directly responsible gain a +1 or -1 tally accordingly. For example, in the pictures above, the first run play rewards Travis Frederick and Ron Leary with positive marks, the second rewards Ron Leary and Tyron Smith, and the final picture would lead to a negative mark for Ron Leary.
This means that the individual grades for players will not reflect good personal efforts in a failed group attempt. Each player will have the burden of their own failed attempts that doomed the group, but they will be rewarded only for their impressive individual efforts in a positive performance by the entire group. In this way, each player receives a run-blocking differential that only negates their own negative scores with positive marks gained for impressive efforts that benefit the entire group. I want to avoid forgiving personal mistakes that lead to a group failure using positive marks for individuals on negative plays for the entire group.
Individual Grades: Pass-Blocking Consistency (PBC)
Unlike run-blocking, individual players will not receive any positive pass-blocking scores where the unit does indeed perform better than average. In this case, I feel the ability of the player to consistently avoid bad situations that lead to pressures, hits, and sacks is far more important than any pass block that can be deemed "better than average." Great run blocking leads to pancakes and bigger running-lanes. An average run-block and a good block can lead to vastly different team results. On the other hand, a great pass-blocker is judged on his ability and consistency to not get beat, where an average pass-block and a good block will usually result in the same thing, a quarterback with enough time and room to throw the ball. Thus, individual pass-blocking will not be graded with a differential. Instead, individual pass protection will be graded with the PBC calculation, where scores represent how many passing blocking attempts succeed before the lineman is likely to lose the matchup (same calculation as team consistency).
Now that the explanations are out of the way, here are the Week One grades of the Dallas Cowboys offensive-line and individual linemen:
|O-Line||Good +1||Average 0||Bad -1||+/- Differential||Consistency|
|Individual||T. Smith||R. Leary||T. Frederick||Z. Matin||D. Free|
|Run (+/-)||+4 / -0||+5 / -1||+4 / -0||+5 / -2||+3 / -1|
Measuring Consistency for o-line versus individual:
Obviously, the consistency numbers for the unit will always be far worse than for individual linemen, so our expectations of what is a good performance should be tempered. The Cowboys were very successful running the ball versus the 49ers. So a consistency score of 3.5 seems small, but could end up being nearly dominant. Comparing the o-line run consistency score to the "eye ball test" and rushing statistics, it would seem anything over a three is a strong showing. The Cowboys did have a few breakdowns, but I'll keep an eye out throughout the season to find the median score and determine the scale to which the grade reveals a strong or weak showing.
The team passing consistency seems frightfully low, but again, because the statistic doesn't directly relate to a successful play - just a mistake-free blocking unit - weighing what a good score should be will take time. First thoughts are that while the team did have a lot of good pass-blocking scores, they were not consistent enough as a unit. Obviously, opposing defenses will create pressures and hits on a QB that the offense overcomes for positive yards or even converted third-downs. Right now, my guess is that a consistency score of two will likely be the bar for an average unit, while anything around a four will be a dominant performance. We shall find out more as the season progresses, and when I might also compare the Cowboys o-line scores to their opponents.
For individual PBC calculations, the scoring analysis must be drastically changed. Since we are now determining the consistency of one of five linemen, the resulting scale should be factored by four or five when looking for the score that equates to an average performance. Even the best linemen in NFL history did not win every matchup, so the weight of these grades will also be a working study. Right now, it seems a score of nine or ten may equate to an average performance, but time will tell.
Measuring Differential Scores:
The differential is a much easier statistic to grade since it has an inherent base line of zero. The Cowboys obviously grade well as a unit and individuals from a differential standpoint, providing more positive plays than negative. However, the team was not as consistent as you would like so it would appear that a dominant performance will scale in the five to ten range of differential. But comparing the scores that go into the differential is also important. For example, rookie Zach Martin was someone hot and cold as a run blocker, either earning positive grades, but also having the most negative run grades among the linemen. It shows the rookie did have some growing pains, but also showed great potential. Meanwhile, Tyron Smith was not only consistently reliable, having no negative scores, he was also making a good impact with a solid amount of positive marks.
For individual pass-blocking, it's clear that Ron Leary struggled, not only having the greatest number of negative plays, but also considering he is a guard. I would expect a dominant performance by a tackle to still have a loss or two, but a strong interior lineman should have games like Travis Frederick with one or no negative scores. In fact, Frederick proved the most consistent of the Cowboys lineman with no run-blocking mistakes and only one pass-blocking loss.
Next week, we will get into more detail about the results and upcoming matchup, but due to the explanations making this such a long piece I will just leave us with one final thought. The Cowboys o-line had a very strong showing versus the 49ers. They need to clean up a few too many penalties and inconsistencies, but the o-line seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the most dominant and inspiring aspects of the Dallas offense.