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Dallas Cowboys Snap Counts Pt. II: Defense

Frank Walker has made an immediate impact at corner for the Cowboys.
Frank Walker has made an immediate impact at corner for the Cowboys.

In part one of this look at the Cowboys' snap counts, we focused on the offense, and explored the snap counts for some of the offensive skill positions.

In this second and final part, we turn our attention to the defense. We've reached the midpoint of the season, and except for Bruce Carter who just joined the team off the PUP, every defensive player has been with the team for a while now. And unless that player is a developmental project, it's reasonable to assume that the snap counts the players have accumulated paint a fairly accurate picture of who the team believes in and what their future potential could be.

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

We'll start our defensive snap counts with the front five. The interesting thing here is that in contrast to the offensive line, which has no rotation whatsoever during the game (except in case of injury), the Cowboys are playing with a lot of rotation along the defensive line. This provides a good opportunity for some of the players further down the depth chart to gradually get more playing time.

The best example of this is Sean Lissemore. The 2nd-year defensive end has seen his snap count increase from game to game so far this season, and is by now an established part of the defensive line rotation, as you can see below:

Dallas Cowboys Front Five Snap Count, 2011

wk1: NYJ wk2: SF wk3: WAS wk4: DET wk6: NE wk7: STL wk8: PHI Total
Tot. Defensive snaps 65 59 63 69 74 61 74 465
Sean Lissemore, DE
8 8 18 18 18 20 25 115 (25%)
Victor Butler, OLB
11 10 11 16 30 2 12 92 (20%)
Josh Brent, NT
9 10 14 7 15 14 - - 69 (15%)
Clifton Geathers, DE
- -
- -
- -
1 - -
7 - -
8 (2%)
Alex Albright, OLB
2 - -
2 1 2 - -
- -
7 (2%)

Sean Lissemore looks like he has progressed well, and is already playing about a third of the total defensive snaps. It'll probably be some time yet before he gets his first start, but the numbers indicate that he may be challenging some of the starters for playing time soon.

After Lissemore, we have Butler and Brent, both of whom are capable backups, but have not yet progressed beyond that role. But that's also not that easy, given which players they are backing up. Josh Brent was a surprise inactive for the first time in his career against the Eagles. I hope he just got caught up in a numbers game this one time.

Clifton Geathers and Alex Albright haven't seen any significant playing time this season, and at this point must be considered developmental players. What is interesting about this duo is that while Geathers has been inactive in five of seven games, Alex Albright has been active in every single game and has seen a lot of action on special teams (most notably on the blocked punt for the Jets). Despite not getting a lot of snaps on defensive, perhaps being active is a good sign for Albright at this stage.

On to the secondary:

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Backs Snap Count, 2011

wk1: NYJ wk2: SF wk3: WAS wk4: DET wk6: NE wk7: STL wk8: PHI Total
Tot. Defensive snaps 65 59 63 69 74 61 74 465
Frank Walker, CB
- -
20 14 33 25 22 20 134
Bryan McCann, CB
35 - -
- -
- -
- -
- -
- -
Barry Church, SS
34 18 14 27 2 2 - - 97
Danny McCray, FS
5 1 - -
8 1 - -
- -

The defensive backs data is a little more tricky. In some ways, your starting four defensive backs are a little like the offensive line: you expect them to play on virtually every snap. For the Cowboys, Elam (464), Sensabaugh (427) and Jenkins (400) are ranked number one, three and five respectively in terms of defensive snap count, and they sandwich OLBs Ware (438) and Spencer (402). That doesn't leave a lot of snaps for the respective backups, except in some special formations or nickel- or dime-packages.

Frank Walker has made a strong impact with the Cowboys despite that, and is seeing a good number of snaps in coverage. Bryan McCann had to make room on the roster for Laurent Robinson, and was snatched up by the Ravens, who signed him to a two-year contract. But Walker seems to have been a more than adequate replacement on defense.

Barry Church had become a staple in some formations, but he dislocated his right shoulder in the fourth quarter against Detroit and has hardly seen any action since. Danny McCray, who nominally backs up Gerald Sensabaugh, has hardly seen any snaps over all seven games. But the low snap count doesn't necessarily mean that the players are in imminent danger of being cut. Far from it. They just have to produce on special teams, and the two safeties do. Below is a list of the six leading special teams tacklers after seven games so far. Notice that all six players are players we've touched on in this post or the earlier post.

Special Teams Tackles through week 8, 2011
Name Solo Assist Total
Danny McCray 9 5 14
Jesse Holley 3 6 9
Victor Butler 5 3 8
John Phillips 5 3 8
Barry Church 5 1 6
Alex Albright 4 0 4

The thing that worries me overall as we've looked at snap counts on both offense and defense are the guys who are winning the snap count battle:

  • Laurent Robinson - 174 snaps
  • Frank Walker - 134 snaps
  • Tony Fiammetta - 81 snaps

No offense to those guys, and I'm happy they are contributing at the level they are. But those three guys were picked up basically off the street. Now, obviously you could argue that the Cowboys personnel department did a great job in recognizing and securing that talent.

Or you could argue, perhaps even more convincingly, that there can't be a lot of quality at the bottom of the Cowboys' roster if three free agents can just walk in off the street without a training camp and beat out quite a number of other players already on the roster. And most of the other players they've beaten out for snaps have been with the Cowboys for a year or more.

That really worries me.

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