When Dallas traded for Rolando McClain in the offseason, I didn’t know who he was. After ESPN jogged my memory, I remembered him wreaking havoc against Texas in the National Championship game and wondered why we had gotten him from the Ravens for (at most) a sixth round pick. As we’ve heard since, he’s fallen in and out of love with the game for various reasons, and has retired twice. He didn’t come back this time wearing Jordan’s 45, but he might be having a similar resurgence. The talent has always been there, but apparently the struggle has always been in keeping his mind engaged. Through two weeks, that seems to be working.
Using Pro Football Focus’ statistics, it’s plain to see the impact that 55 is making on the field for a team devoid of defensive playmakers. Overall, he’s the third ranked inside linebacker after Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis—company I’m comfortable with him keeping, honestly. Offering more perspective, Kuechly has a rating more than 200% better than Willis’, so he’s destroying the curve. McClain is not too far behind Willis.
Delving deeper, and looking at his two games in detail is where I get excited. PFF grades players on every play, using their own system and standards. And while it can be hard to quantify their grades, their information offers a glimpse at the player’s production; the hard stats they provide give the details.
His stats in the opener:
Stops (solo tackles, including sacks, that resulted in offensive failure)—6
His stats against Tennessee:
Solo tackles (non-sacks)—5
Stops (solo tackles, including sacks, that resulted in offensive failure)—3
I love seeing the number of stops against the 49ers. Singlehandedly causing the offense to fail six times is a big deal, especially against Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore led teams. Taking either of those guys down is no small feat. There were less stops in the second game, but I like that they were still there—hopefully that trends towards them not being aberrations. A similar change happened with solo tackles: 8 in the first week, and 5 last week. Again, I’d prefer to have them stay more constant, but I like that the activity is continuing and he’s still active on the field. What didn’t change is that he’s affecting the quarterback. One hit in the opener, but two hurries and a sack last week. Rod Marinelli’s defense doesn’t typically blitz very often, so linebackers like McClain will get less opportunities to harass the quarterback than a Rex Ryan defensive scheme would allow, but it seems like he’s making hay with his chances.
Also, I think the drop off in his production from week 1 to week 2 correlates to how he was used against the Titans versus against the 49ers. PFF gives grades for both run defense and pass defense as well as the detailed statistics. Against San Francisco, the standout part of McClain’s game was run defense, while against Tennessee it was his pass defense that was more productive. Neither week have the grades been close—the better part of his game was multiple times better than the inferior part of his game that week. It looks like he was in coverage more often (in line with what you’d expect from a Tampa-2 Middle Linebacker) against the Titans than he defended passes the week before. That would give him less opportunities to make statistical impact on the quarterback in the second week and could explain his production drop there. It will be interesting to see which part of his game gets the higher grade and if the quarterback-centric statistics continue to relate.
The Cowboys’ pro-scouting department is in the elite level of the league, and seem to have delivered yet again. It has only been two games, but already McClain has established himself as a productive leader on the field, and the shrewd move on Jerry Jones’s part to get him at a bargain basement price can add to the value Dallas gets from him in the future.