DAL-MIA Grades: Romo victorious in return from injury
Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from the Cowboys’ 24-14 win over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
– QB Tony Romo (+0.6) should be fairly pleased with his first performance since suffering a broken clavicle earlier this season. It was far from perfect—the interception he threw without looking when under pressure was a particular low point—but he made enough plays to win the Cowboys the game and keep them in the playoff hunt. The touchdown pass he threw to Terrance Williams (+2.3) was a particularly nice throw, laying it into his arms deep downfield on 3rd-and-10. Overall, Romo’s biggest issues came when under pressure, where he looked tentative on occasion. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 96 yards and two picks with a disrupted pocket, understandably concerned with taking any hits. Romo is likely to get more comfortable as he gets more playing time, and his performances are likely to improve as a result.
– The Cowboys’ offensive interior wasn’t as dominant as it has been at times this season. Zach Martin (-3.5) struggled with Ndamukong Suh, in particular, suffering his worst graded game as a run blocker since he came into the league in 2014 (-4.8). However, he had a solid day in pass protection, giving up just the solitary hurry in 32 dropbacks. His teammate on the other side, La’el Collins (+1.4), had another solid performance. There are few more powerful lineman in the league, but Collins occasionally struggles with the mental side of the game—going the wrong direction on an outside zone run, for example. Still, he should be pleased with his performance overall, recording a +1.5 grade in the ground game and allowing just a pair of hurries in pass protection.
– MLB Rolando McClain’s (+3.7) decision to come out of retirement helped the Cowboys significantly in 2014, where he recorded a +17.7 grade over the course of the year. It had been a different story this season, where McClain had accumulated a -9.0 grade in his five games. This was his best performance of the season, however, suggesting he can get back to the height he set himself a year ago. As usual, McClain was stout against the run (three defensive stops), but it was in coverage where he excelled, recording a pick-six and only allowing one reception for 20 yards on his other three targets. With Sean Lee back beside him, the Cowboys have a formidable pair of inside linebackers.
MLB Rolando McClain (+3.7)
C Travis Frederick (+2.4)
WR Terrance Williams (+2.3)
SCB Tyler Patmon (+1.7)
LG La’el Collins (+1.4)
– While he may not be able to replicate some of the performances of phenom Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon has exploded the past few weeks. Tyron Smith is one of the better tackles in the league, and he gave him fits in pass protection. Overall Vernon recorded a +4.6 grade with a sack, three hits and three hurries in just 31 rushes. In addition, he managed four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in run defense. Vernon is now eighth in our rankings for 4-3 defensive ends, and on his way up. Considering the struggles of Derrick Shelby (-3.9) opposite him, the Dolphins are heavily reliant on Vernon’s pressure off the edge.
– SS Reshad Jones (+3.8) is not slowing down in his bid to claim top spot in our safety rankings. This was his best graded game of the season, with positive grades in each facet of play. In run defense, he made four defensive stops, showing good recognition and quick close from deep to stop running plays near the line of scrimmage. He also recorded a hit and two hurries in just three rushes, showing good timing on his blitzes. Jones also shed an attempted Darren McFadden block with ease. Finally, in coverage, he was targeted twice but gave up just one catch for 9 yards. Jones is now up to second in our safety rankings, with six green-graded games this year. He is yet to record a grade worse than -0.3. Considering the issues in the Dolphins’ secondary around him, it’s been some year for Jones.
– The Dolphins’ issues in the secondary mostly center on the struggles of the corners. Brent Grimes (+0.1) is having a down season, even if he had a solid game against the Cowboys, especially in coverage (+1.2). Really though, it’s right corner Jamar Taylor (-2.9) who is the biggest issue. He has graded positively just three times all year, and had a few really poor games in coverage. This was the worst of his season, as he recorded a -3.8 grade. Taylor gave up all five targets as completions for 98 yards and a touchdown. He allowed himself to get beat deep on the aforementioned third-and-long for Williams’ touchdown. Taylor subsequently gave up a number of underneath throws, particularly comebacks, falling down on one such play. It enabled the Cowboys to move the ball efficiently without having to take any risks. Taylor is now ranked 105th out of 110 qualifying corners.
DRE Olivier Vernon (+4.6)
SS Reshad Jones (+3.8)
RG Billy Turner (+3.1)
DT Ndamukong Suh (+2.9)
MLB Kelvin Sheppard (+2.5)