The Cowboys defense looks good so far this season. Rob’s Mob is ranked first in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed, with the pass defense looking particularly impressive, allowing only 411 passing yards in three games, the second lowest total in the league.
Against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys pass defense held QB Josh Freeman to 10-of-28 passing for 110 yards, 71 of which came on the Bucs’ final drive when the Cowboys were leading by two scores. And all of this while the Cowboys were playing without their two starting safeties, after Barry Church ruptured his Achilles heel.
The mounting injury toll on defense has resulted in some reshuffling of personnel, the most obvious of which was Brandon Carr lining up at safety. And with the absence of Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alex Albright and Barry Church, it’s worth talking a look at who exactly ended up taking the snaps against the Buccaneers.
Overall, the defense had 60 snaps, eight less than the offense.
(47 snaps): 1 tackle, 1 QB hit
(36 snaps): 3 tackles, 1 QB hit
(26 snaps): 1 tackle
(22 snaps): 1 tackle
Tyron Crawford (17 snaps): 2 tackles, 1 QB hit
Observations: In the NFL, a "starter" is a player who was on the field for the first play of the game, regardless of how many snaps that player eventually ends up having in the game. The Cowboys started the game in a nickel defense with only two defensive linemen, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore, which means that BTB-favorite Lissemore got his first NFL start on Sunday.
The key word for the defensive linemen in Ryan’s scheme is "rotation", and Ryan did just that, rotating his five players across the three spots frequently. Even rookie Tyron Crawford got a good number of snaps and the encouraging thing is that he looked quite good.
From a statistical perspective, the line did not have great production on Saturday, combining for eight tackles and three QB hits, but with the defensive line, the stats never tell the full story. Despite missing two starters, the line held up very well against a one of the better offensive lines in the league, and it’s particularly gratifying to see the young guys step up ably.
If you get a chance to re-watch the game, pay special attention to Josh Brent, who’s been holding down the NT spot for three weeks now in Ratliff’s absence. Brent may not be as fast and dynamic as Ratliff, but he is a disruptive presence in the middle nevertheless. Brent looks to have significantly improved his technique, and with the power to match he is getting a lot of push up the middle.
Lissemore, Brent and Crawford are not household names, even for many Cowboys fans. But don’t let the lack of name recognition fool you: These guys are holding down the fort quite capably, and it won’t be much longer before they seriously start challenging the greybeards along the line for starting spots.
(55 snaps): 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 tackles, 1 QB hit
(54 Snaps): 7 tackles (1 TFL), 1 QB hit
(13 snaps): 3 tackles
Observations: Ware continues to be Mr. Everything, delivering key plays throughout the game. We’re not allowed to talk about Anthony Spencer because he was once again unable to record seven sacks in one game.
Victor Butler spelled the two starters and notched three tackles in limited playing time. I didn’t re-watch every one of his snaps, but when I did notice him, he looked good against the run.
For those wondering, OLB Kyle Wilber didn’t get any defensive snaps but was on the field for 17 of the 26 special teams snaps
(60 snaps): 6 tackles (1 TFL), 1 Interception, 1 pass defended
(53 snaps): 5 tackles (1 TFL)
(3 snaps): 1 tackle
(1 snap): No stats registered on defense.
Observations: Sean Lee is Mr. 100%, the only defensive player on the field for every single snap. Bruce Carter came off the field when the defense was in its "Dollar personnel" package, a third down package where the Cowboys take an inside linebacker off the field and replace him with an extra safety to give them a physical safety at the point of attack that can also cover.
Lemon only saw one regular defensive snap after being called up from the practice squad on Saturday, but he was a staple on special teams where he played 14 of 26 snaps and recovered the muffed punt.
Dan Connor had 21 snaps on special teams, the most of any Cowboys player.
(56 snaps): 1 tackle
(32 snaps): 2 tackles
(31 snaps): 1 tackle, one pass defended
(2snaps): 1 tackle, 1 pass defended
Observations: The Cowboys started in a nickel with Jenkins playing left cornerback, Claiborne on the right and Scandrick in the slot. Barry Church was the strong safety and Brandon Carr is listed as the free safety. But those positions, especially Carr’s, changed throughout the game, and the snap count data we have is not detailed enough to show who was lined up where how often. So for this exercise we’ll consider Carr a safety, not a corner.
Claiborne missed a few snaps when he had his hand checked out by the trainers, but otherwise he looks like he’s locked down the right cornerback spot. Mike Jenkins played a surprisingly high number of snaps given that he didn’t start practicing until after training camp. He also played surprisingly well.
LeQuan Lewis was on the field for two snaps after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter and was targeted twice in succession. He defended the first pass against Mike Williams and allowed a 23-yard reception on the next pass, also to Mike Williams, whom he pushed out of bounds for a tackle.
Brandon Carr (57 snaps): 1 pass defended
(47 snaps): No stats registered on defense
Barry Church (37 snaps): 3 tackles
Manna Silva (12 snaps): No stats registered on defense
Observations: Not much to say here, except that this is it: Right now, the Cowboys have five safeties on the roster, three of whom are injured. Matt Johnson continues to struggle with hamstring- and back injuries, Church is out for the season and Sensabaugh is recovering from a calf injury. The good news is that Sensabaugh has indicated he’ll be ready for Chicago.