Dallas Cowboys Snap Counts: Who's Up And Who's Down?

Sometimes it's the bottom-of -the-roster guys like Phillip Tanner that get us fans excited.

Some of the more interesting storylines in the NFL that don't always get a lot of press are the battles at the bottom of the depth charts. And perhaps rightfully so, because I, for one, am certainly not interested in how a UDFA is doing against a 7th round draft pick on a team like, say, the Seahawks.

But when it comes to the Cowboys, those stories always pique my interest. Down-the-roster stuff like Holley vs. Ogletree or how much playing time future HOFer Sean Lissemore is getting always make for interesting conversation. But how to determine who's up and who's down? The official depth chart put out by the team is hardly a good indicator, and performance stats like receptions, yards or tackles only show a small part of the picture.

Enter snap counts. Pro Football Focus chronicles every single offensive and defensive snap for every single player in the NFL, and those snap counts can be a revealing sign of who's currently in favor with the coaching staff, and who may have fallen out of favor.

After the break, we take a detailed look at the snap counts for the players at the bottom of the Cowboys roster.

Like any stat, snap counts don't mean a lot without context. Any number of factors can influence a players' snap count, from injuries, opponent and scheme all the way through a teams' preference for rotating players in and out.

Having said that, let's dive right into the snap count for the Cowboys and start with the running backs. 

Dallas Cowboys Running Backs Snap Count, 2011

wk1: NYJ wk2: SF wk3: WAS wk4: DET wk6: NE wk7: STL wk8: PHI Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 70 70 69 79 74 65 52 479
Jones 52 23 32 46 17 - - - - 170 (35%)
Choice 13 29 24 27 25 8 - - 126  (26%)
Murray 5 18 10 6 26 43 39 147 (31%)
Tanner  - -
- -
- -
- -
- -
12 12 24 (5%)
Tot. RB Snaps 70 70 66 79 68 63 51 467

The first thing that stands out here to me is that the number of snaps for all running backs, regardless of who is on the field and how the snaps are split, is nearly identical to the number of total offensive snaps. Obviously this doesn't mean that there's a back on the field on every snap, but it makes it more obvious that there is a finite number of snaps available to the RBs, regardless of who is available.

The second interesting thing here is that the Cowboys were planning to make Felix Jones their feature back. He hogged the snaps in week one. In week two, a separated shoulder put him on ice for a while. Jones reclaimed his high snap count number in week four against Detroit, only to be injured again in week six against the Patriots, and that high ankle sprain has kept him out of two games so far, and he'll likely miss the Seahawks game as well.

Behind Jones, the Cowboys gave Choice an extended look for four consecutive games. But when Jones went down against the Patriots, it wasn't Choice but DeMarco Murray who got the extra snaps, already a sign that the Cowboys were not banking on Choice to carry the load. When Choice also injured his shoulder a week later, and Murray and Tanner stepped up ably, the writing was on the wall for Choice.

We already know how the roster battle ended at running back, so the above has a large degree of post-rationalization. But we still have a potential battle going on at wide receiver. So here's a look at those snap counts:

Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers Snap Counts, 2011

wk1: NYJ wk2: SF wk3: WAS wk4: DET wk6: NE wk7: STL wk8: PHI Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 70 70 69 79 74 65 52 479
Ogletree 29 64 44 28 3 2 2 172 (36%)
Holley  - -
26 8 2  - -
- -
- -
36 (8%)
Robinson  - -
- -
20 53 38 21 42 174 (36%)
Harris - -
1 - -
- -
- -
- -
- -
1
Tot. WR Snaps 29 91 72 83 41 23 44 383

The WR snap count is thrown a little out of whack by the injuries to the starters. Austin missed weeks three and four with a hamstring injury, Bryant was out in week two with a thigh contusion, hence the high snap counts for the backups. The other weeks, where the backups accrued ca. 30-40 snaps look more like the norm.

Kevin Ogletree, who entered the season as the number three on the depth chart, initially stepped in for the injured Bryant in week two, but by week three, the newly re-signed Laurent Robinson was already taking some of Ogletree's snaps. By week four, Robinson was the de facto third receiver on the roster, and Ogletree has since been relegated to mostly special teams duty.

Another victim of Robinson's ascent up the depth chart is Jesse Holley. After successful emergency duty against the 49ers, he's been relegated to his special teams role, and the recent rumors of his imminent release to make room for Bruce Carter could come true the next time the Cowboys need a roster spot. His snap count certainly points that way. Could he be the next to go. and how secure is Ogletree's spot?

Dallas Cowboys Tight End/Fullback Snap Counts, 2011


wk1: NYJ wk2: SF wk3: WAS wk4: DET wk6: NE wk7: STL wk8: PHI Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 70 70 69 79 74 65 52 479
Bennett - - 31 40 46 38 39 9 203 (42%)
Phillips 52 19 14 38 25 9 - - 157 (33%)
Fiammetta  - -
8 27 - -
- -
39 7 81 (17%)
Tot. TE/FB Snaps 52 58 81 84 63 87 16 383

Many fans have been looking at John Phillips as a replacement option for Martellus Bennett. The snap count numbers would indicate that the coaches are not looking at it that way, and are using Phillips much more in an H-back or fullback-type role. The snap count numbers indicate that Phillips isn't taking any snaps away from Bennett, but that Tony Fiammetta, when healthy, is taking snaps away from Phillips.

But the truly stunning number here are the numbers against the Eagles. 16 snaps for all three guys? I realize of course that the Cowboys didn't run a lot in the game and that Bennett has issues as a receiver, but who did the Cowboys expect to do all the blocking?

If you enjoyed this look at the snap counts on offense, tune in again tomorrow when we look at the snap counts on defense.

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