Draft Needs: Cowboys Good At Guard With Mackenzy Bernadeau

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Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (73) in action against Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The advanced statistics accumulated by Pro Football Focus are hardly definitive when judging a player’s production and worth to the Cowboys. The tape tells all, and one must trust his own eyes before deferring to any spreadsheet. My eyes told me guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was a more than capable fill-in for injured starter Brian Waters in the second half of 2013. The statistical analysis disagrees – it says Bernadeau was elite.

Before we examine the stats, what did your eyes tell you the final eight games of last season? Better yet, try and remember what you thought when it became apparent that Waters was done for the year and Bernadeau would play out the string. Doom and gloom, right? But it didn’t play out that way.

In the latter half of 2013, the Cowboys offensive line crossed the developmental divide and became a recognized team strength. Its success was attributed to the dominance of left tackle Tyron Smith, the resurgence of right tackle Doug Free, the emergence of All-Rookie center Travis Frederick, and the influence Waters had on the group during the seven weeks he was active.

“He’s a huge help to the offensive line,” Bernadeau said of Waters after the two-time All Pro tore his triceps in the Week 8 loss at Detroit. “His demeanor, his mentality, his approach in practice, his way of studying film – he’s taught us all a lot. He was the backbone of the offensive line.”

And yet the offensive line didn’t collapse without its backbone. Bernadeau played every snap of every game following Waters’ injury, and his production gave us a glimpse of what he’s capable of when healthy. Your eyes weren’t deceiving you. ESPNDallas beat writer Todd Archer noticed back in December, along with Bob Sturm over at Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket, who deconstructed some fine run blocking from Bernadeau’s Week 12 performance.

Pro Football Focus grades every player on every snap on a scale of -2.0 to +2.0. A grade of 0.0 is defined as doing your job. The site defines its approach like this:

A seal block on the back side of a play, for example, is something that it is reasonable to expect to be completed successfully. Consequently, it receives a zero grade, whereas the differentiation between a good and poor block is a heavy downgrade for a failed seal block to the backside of a running play.

Here are the cumulative grades for the Cowboys starting line the last eight games of 2013:

Tyron Smith15.
Ron Leary-3.30-3.31.1-5.5
Travis Frederick-3.819.90.57.6
Mackenzy Bernadeau0.
Doug Free3.61-

Bernadeau didn’t simply perform above average. These are elite numbers, by PFF standards. Extend Bernadeau’s grades out for a full 16-game season, and he earns a 21.0 rating for the year. That would have made Bernadeau PFF’s fifth-ranked offensive guard in the NFL last year.

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  • Scott.

    I’ll let old frog have at it.

  • SmartThinking

    Your numbers are not only misleading, they fail to address the weakest link in the O line’s failure to establish himself along the line or garner any respect from his fellow linesmen. Additionally, he had his job taken away from him by a 34 year old man who had been out of the game over 14 months. The only, and I repeat, only way Bearnadeau got back on the field last year was due in full to Waters’ career-ending injury.

    In all the games he played in, Romo continually drove the ball away from Bearnadeau’s side if the field because he doesn’t trust him.

    If this O line is to become any better than second class line, both guards, yes, both guards must be replaced with much better, significantly more mobile players or this offense will never achieve elite status.

    Big Jones brought Linehan in this year to spiff up the offense. Pay attention to the play of both guards this coming season and you’ll see that the only thing keeping Romo from being crushed repeatedly from the inside won’t be the play of these guards. It’ll be pure luck because every defensive lineman in the league knows they can’t hold up to the pressure.

    • John

      Why are the numbers misleading? Because they don’t support your dogma? Mack was a good player last year. His emergence gives the Cowboys a little flexibility in this draft.

      • SmartThinking

        There’s no dogma here, bub. Just my opinion as a Cowboys viewer for longer than you’ve been alive. So let’s take your argument and blow it up point at a time, shall we? 1. B is versatile — he has to be. He can’t even cement his own position. If he didn’t show some ability at every position, he’d have been cut last year. 2. He was a good player last year — No. Waters was a good player last year. B lost his job to a “real” OG and wouldn’t have seen a down if Waters hadn’t been injured. 3. His emergence– he didn’t “emerge” from anything. Romo intentionally led the ball to the weak side of the field the majority of every game to avoid his collapsing position. Incidentally, so did Murray. The only thing B did was be lucky that more defenses didn’t run down his throat. They didn’t have to either because they, pretty much ran anywhere they wanted.

        Finally, if you do real reporting and ask the Cowboys management what their view is of the line, they’ll tell you, just as I did when I checked my sources months ago, that the weaknesses on this team’s offense are at both guards and, until those positions are strengthened, so the entire offense can achieve more, just as Linehan was brought in to do, this team will not achieve elite status.

  • PaulTX

    I believe Bernie is our back up Center, so I am all for keeping him around, but I cannot support not drafting another Guard. How many hits do you think Romo can take? My bet is not many. You need to protect your most valuable asset, and being that starting Guards can be had in the 2nd and 3rd round, I do not see why we are satisfied with “average”.

    • John

      Good analysis, but “not drafting another guard” is not the point. Drafting O line is important every year, but Mack’s play when healthy suggests the position isn’t a dire, Day 1 need. He was considerably above average in the second half of 2013, blocking for an offense that scored the 5th most points in the league and sent a running back to the Pro Bowl. His play, assuming it’s sustainable, frees up the team to use premium draft assets on positions of more pressing need, should they choose. The ‘Boys can’t ignore guard in this draft, but Mack’s play affords them a little flexibility in their draft strategy.

      • PaulTX

        Ideally, I’d rather grab a Tackle to replace Free. He’s a $7 million hit in 2015.

        • John

          Mack’s improved play is huge in this regard. Free is actually a free agent in 2015, a result of the paycut he took last year. Unless Parnell or Weems can take over in 2015, the Cowboys need to draft Free’s replacement either this year or next.

          • PaulTX

            Parnell and Weems have seemed to reach there peak. Lewan or Martin should be there at #16. I was sort of hoping for Barr or Pryor, but an OT would be great too.

  • David

    Bernie had a pretty good year as well as did Leary but tell me exactly who is their depth behind them that is any good. They need to draft O-lineman every year. Thats what good teams do. If you draft well then there is no need for desperation in FA.

    • John

      Good points. By all means, pile up talented O linemen every year. A great O line makes every skill position player better. Mack’s elevated play suggests the Cowboys aren’t forced to find an impact Day 1 starter at guard in the 2014 draft. Which is good, because they have plenty of other severe needs to address.

  • californy

    I dont need these article to tell me what I saw. The sad thing if Dallas select a OG in the draft, it to replace Berny and not the weak link on the team Leary.

    • John

      Any guard they may draft will push both Leary and Mack. Mack played better in 2013 but is no long-term solution, and Leary is young and can still improve following a rough first year as starter. both have cuttable contracts and neither has any real job security. Garrett is all about competition and earning your spot every day – the two best guards on the roster are going to play… If that’s Leary and Mack, then last year suggests the line will be pretty good.