Dallas Cowboys 2012 Snap Counts: Who's Up And Who's Down On Offense?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Over the course of the season, we've repeatedly looked at the snap counts for individual games, both on offense and on defense. Today, we're taking a step back and looking at how those snap counts have played out over all 12 games so far, with a particular emphasis on the down-roster players.

Roster battles taking place at the very bottom of the depth chart hardly ever get any airtime - certainly no national airtime - and probably rightfully so. Or would you be interested in knowing what a UDFA is doing against a 7th-round draft pick on a team like, say, the Jaguars?

But when it comes to the Cowboys, that's something different entirely. Down-roster stuff like Beasley vs. Harris 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.

This season, the official NFL gamebooks have started including snap count information, 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. So today we'll review the season to date using the officially reported snap counts, starting with the players at the bottom of the Cowboys roster on offense.

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, 2012


wk1: NYG wk2: SEA wk3: TB wk4: CHI wk6: BAL wk7: CAR wk8: NYG wk9: ATL wk10: PHI wk11: CLE wk12: WAS Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 68 58 68 70 89 68 86 57 54 90 77 785
Jones 12 19 11 9 49 33 62 34 33 46 34 342 (44%)
Murray 52 39 56 47 22 - - - - - - - - - - - - 216 (28%)
Tanner 1 - - - - 11 16 35 23 2 1 - - - - 89 (11%)
Dunbar - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - 12 10 37 27 88 (11%)
Tot. RB Snaps 65 58 67 67 89 68 85 48 44 83 61 735

The first thing that stands out here 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 for the RBs, and somebody will get them almost by default.

DeMarco Murray started the season as the feature back, but his injury in the Baltimore game meant a reshuffling of the roles and responsibilities in the backfield.

Say what you want about Felix Jones, but he has stepped up in Murray's absence, despite another plague of injuries he's battling through: He has trouble with both knees, he continues to struggle with an ankle injury and has a neck injury that's still bothering him. The Cowboys should have benched him fo a week or two to heal properly, but they simply can't afford that. Jones has gained a lot of (grudging) respect for the way he his playing through his injuries, and while it's unlikely he'll stay in Dallas after this season, his performance so far this season may have made it a little easier for him to find a job next season.

Much more troubling is what's happening to Phillip Tanner. The second-year running back began seeing increased action for a couple of games after Murray was injured, but appears to have been overtaken on the depth chart by rookie UDFA Lance Dunbar. Over the last four games, Tanner has three offensive snaps to Dunbar's 86. Tanner does have 81 snaps on special teams over that same span, but that's just not the same thing.

Tanner's situation is frustratingly similar to Tashard Choices' situation last year. After Jones went down with a separated shoulder in Week 2, the Cowboys gave Choice an extended look for four consecutive games in which he notched 105 snaps. In the next game, Choice injured his shoulder, but the Cowboys appeared to have seen enough - Tanner got Choice's snaps and Choice was released a few days later to make room for Bruce Carter, who had just been activated from the PUP.

At wide receiver, Andre Holmes was the guy at the bottom of the depth chart, and he's already been cut. So while there's some post-rationalization involved as we look at the wide receiver snap counts, we still have a battle going on for that third wide receiver spot.

Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers Snap Counts, 2012


wk1: NYG wk2: SEA wk3: TB wk4: CHI wk6: BAL wk7: CAR wk8: NYG wk9: ATL wk10: PHI wk11: CLE wk12: WAS Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 68
58
68
70
89
68
86
57
54
90
77 785
Ogletree
33
38
40
49
35
26
50
21
24
30
- -
346 (44%)
Harris
- -
2
7
6
1
7
4
15
3
26
68
139 (18%)
Beasley
4
- -
- -
13
- -
- -
- -
2
4
21
61
105 (13%)
Holmes
- -
- -
- -
8
- -
- -
- -
- -
- -
- -
8
16 (2%)
Tot. Snaps 37
40
47
76
36
33
54
38
31
77
137
606

Over the first four weeks, Kevin Ogletree was on the field for 61% of the offensive snaps. In the six games after that, his participation dropped to 42%, and his concussion kept him out of the Washington game entirely. The numbers above show that Harris had already been getting an increased snapcount recently, even while Ogletree was still healthy. And when both Harris and Beasley stepped up against the Redskins in Ogletree's absence, that may have accelerated a process that had already begun pre-injury.

It'll be interesting to see which receiver gets the snaps against the Eagles.

Ogletree's situation is also a little reminiscent of what happened last season. Ogletree initially entered the season as the number three on the depth chart, then stepped up into the number two position in Week 2 when Dez Bryant was injured. 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 had been relegated largely to special teams duty.

Dallas Cowboys Tight End/Fullback Snap Counts, 2012


wk1: NYG wk2: SEA wk3: TB wk4: CHI wk6: BAL wk7: CAR wk8: NYG wk9: ATL wk10: PHI wk11: CLE wk12: WAS Total
Tot. Offensive snaps 68
58
68
70
89
68
86
57
54
90
77 785
Phillips
30 21 26 10 48 33 33 16 18 11 7 253 (32%)
Hanna
9 3 2 - - 11 6 2 6 1 8 2 50 (6%)
Vickers
29 16 19 11 15 19 12 18 27 20 14 200 (25%)
Tot. Snaps 68 40 47 21 74 58 47 40 46 39 23 503

The reality of the tight end situation in Dallas is that Jason Witten will always be the top guy, and there are only so many snaps left to go around after that. The Cowboys are using Phillips largely as a blocker, and he's only gone out on pass routes on about a third of his snaps. That doesn't leave much for Hanna, who by some accounts seems to be a fairly good receiving option. Especially with a bad O-line, lining up two TEs wide is one sure-fire way to make sure the career of your QB ends early.

In his twelve games for the Cowboys, Vickers has seen more than 20 snaps only three times. But what are you going to do when you're a fullback and your team doesn't run the ball? Tony Fiammetta, just for comparison, only played nine full games for the Cowboys last year, exceeded 20 snaps in six of them and exceeded 30 snaps in four.

Next up: down-roster snap counts on defense.

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