Is Jay Ratliff’s decline underway?

Last year, in the locker room after the first Eagles-Cowboys matchup on Sunday night, Eagles center Jason Kelce was answering questions about the game, and he said that Jay Ratliff was the best player he ever had to block.  Kelce was a rookie at the time playing in just his 7th game as a pro, but I think we can probably all agree that Kelce’s words are still a pretty solid endorsement that Ratliff can still play. I’m certainly not suggesting here that Ratliff can’t still play at a high level.

However, Ratliff turns 31 in August, and over the past six seasons, including the playoffs, Ratliff has played 98 games, missing just two.  He did so playing NT in the Cowboys’ 3-4 front at a weight far lower than normal for his position.  In fact, the average weight for the projected 3-4 starting NT’s around the league is 325 lbs.  Ratliff is listed at 285 lbs, or 40 lbs lower than the average:

NT Team Weight
Terrence Cody Ravens 360
Paul Soliai Dolphins 355
Dontari Poe Chiefs 346
BJ Raji Packers 337
Isaac Sopoaga 49ers 330
Dan Williams Cardinals 327
Sione Pouha Jets 325
Casey Hampton Steelers 325
Antonio Garay Chargers 320
Shaun Cody Texans 310
Antonio Johnson Colts 310
Barry Cofield Redskins 306
Jay Ratliff Cowboys 285
AVG   325

Ratliff is an incredibly strong player for his size, and has elite quickness for the position.  But as a NT, constantly facing double teams week in and week out, it’s probably pretty fair to say that Ratliff’s body has accumulated significant wear and tear.  The numbers say that Ratliff’s production has slipped the past two seasons:

Jay Ratliff Games Tackles Sacks FF FR TFL
2008-2009 34 96 14.5 2 5 12
2010-2011 32 69 5.5 1 3 6

Ratliff was an animal in his prime, and while he remains one of the best NT’s in the league, the arrow is probably pointing down.

25 Comments

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  8. rational says:

    or the decline off Asomgua? Or Cullen Jenkins?

  9. rational says:

    Another article trying to convince yourself that you don’t have to worry about a dominant player on the Cowboy’s defense. Ratliff had offseason elbow (dual) surgeries. The compensation for these elbows, during the season, led to a back issue toward the end of the year (he still played). I wouldn’t try to classify anyone as injury prone or declining after last years results with an atypical offseason of work, team treatment an overall off season irregularity. Why don’t you write an article about the potential decline of Michael Vick?………especially losing his All-Pro left tackle.

  10. [...] Jay Ratliff: The soon to be 31 year old Ratliff may already be in decline, but he’s still one of the best NTs in the game.  Ratliff’s backup is Josh [...]

  11. brisulph says:

    just more hate from the biggest hater of the Star… not seen that much hate due to a Star since King Herod.

    1. Biggest hater of the star… AND fearer of the star.

      1. Seanrude says:

        and double secret probation fan of the star

  12. Tim says:

    Rafael Vela is doing an extensive film breakdown on this possibility and on the possibility of a Ratliff switch to 3-4 DE (which is never going to happen, shouldn’t happen, and has been an annoying fan meme for three years now) over at http://www.cowboysnation.com last week and next week. Worth checking out. The headline so far is that Rat, while posting lower sack numbers the past two years, does not appear to be wearing down and has suffered from being one of only two legit pass rush threats (the other being Ware) in the Cowboys’ front seven.

    1. I agree with the sentiment that Rat and Ware are the only two legitimate pass rush threats on the team, but wasn’t that also the case in 2008-2009?

      1. Tim says:

        I’d call Greg Ellis a legit pass rushing threat in 2008 at least. I’ll be interested to see what Raf’s tape review reveals, but for me just a decline in sack and TFL totals, particularly in two seasons where the Cowboys’ secondary completely bottomed out, are not convincing evidence that Rat is wearing down. This seems more like “gut feel” analysis– “He’s undersized, he can’t man the nose!”– which many fans have been spitting out even during Rat’s All Pro seasons.

        For the record, Rat has played in the upper-to-mid 290s the last coupel years, not 285, and the Rob Ryan and Wade Phillips 3-4 defenses and what they require from their penetrating NT are much different than the Bill Parcells’ 3-4 which looks for a mammoth space eater. Your list of 3-4 NT weights is not overly useful since they’re playing in different versions of the 3-4.

        1. Not matter what differences there are from one 3-4 scheme to the next, the NT is still facing a ton of double teams in the run game. Over time, that’s going to wear on an undersized guy like Rat. That’s the point of showing the weights, not how they’re used within their scheme.

        2. Also, for what it’s worth, Rob Ryan’s NTs in Cleveland were Shaun Rogers (350) and Rubin Ahtyba (330).

  13. Free Plax says:

    Don’t like the Cowboys but Ratliff is one of the few Cowboy defenders I would take on my team anyday. Even if he is in decline you still better account for him.

  14. DaCrock says:

    Ratliff’s game is built on quickness. As you get up in age and lose a step or two, you’re not able to beat double teams as often by shooting gaps. Hence, fewer plays made upfield like sacks and TFLs. A better secondary may give him more time to beat a blocker, but his first step is the key to his success. Consequently, I agree with Jimmy’s assessment that Jay Ratliff–while still a very solid and talented NT–is not the guy he once was.

    The same is true, by the way, for my man London Fletcher. He still makes googobs of tackles, but many more are made further downfield after too big a gain by a running back, simply because he doesn’t have the lateral quickness he once had that made him such a force. But while the Cowboys don’t appear to have a viable backup plan for Ratliff (at least at this stage of the season; Sean Lissemore? PLEASE!), the Skins have addressed Fletch’s declining skills by signing Jonathan Goff and drafting Keenan Robinson.

    1. Free Plax says:

      Hope you realize Goff is a 2 down backer only.

      1. DaCrock says:

        Absolutely. That’s why we drafted Robinson as well, whose scouting reports mention his strong coverage skills at 6’3″ with good range.

  15. mikhaili says:

    I think a big part of the ‘decline’ was due to poor secondary support. The arrow will swing up this year and show that he still has it.

  16. FinnEagle says:

    You are just hating on cowboys!!?!! Eagles have 0 rings haha!!

    Totally agree on Ratliff, I have all the confidence in Kelce that he will handle him really well from now on.

  17. rage114 says:

    Then they should consider moving him to DE. However, I am not sure if they have anyone else that can play NT.

    If they were able to draft Poe, I would say that is a very good possibility and it would have solved two potential soft spots.

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