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Cowboys Snap Counts vs Giants: The Nickel Defense And An Offensive Wrinkle

Want to know which Cowboys players were on the field for how many snaps? Look no further.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Uncharacteristically for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys, the offense came off the field fairly quickly on a number of drives against the Giants. Three three-and-outs in the first half, a first half interception on the fifth play of a drive and another punt after five plays in the fourth quarter limited the amount of snaps for the offense and contributed to more snaps than usual on defense. In fact, the defense played more snaps than the offense for only the second time this season. Not by much, just one snap more, but more nevertheless. Here's how that fits in to the snap counts for offense and defense over the first six games of the season:

Snap Count by Week
Titans Rams Saints Texans Seahawks Giants
Offense 69 80 56 66 76 75 62
Defense 58 49 76 61 59 49 63

But the defense held its own regardless. Six of the Giants' 11 drives stalled after five plays or less (three punts, two fumbles, one end-of-half). The 20 first downs allowed are slightly above the 17.4 first downs this defense has allowed per game so far, but those 17.4 first downs allowed rank the Cowboys No. 1 in the NFL through Week 7.

On to this week's snap count review, starting with the defense.

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Giants
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 43 Mincey 44 Durant 63 Scandrick 63 Wilcox 61
Hayden 31 Selvie 37 R. McClain
59 Carr 63 Church 56
Melton 31 Spencer 29 Wilber 12 Moore 51 Heath
T. McClain 21 Edwards 16 Hitchens 2 Patmon 1

The numbers look largely like last week's edition, but there is one thing quite remarkable about them: the Cowboys spent 51 of 62 defensive snaps in a nickel formation. Kyle Wilber was in as the SAM linebacker on 12 snaps, Sterling Moore was brought in as an extra corner on the 51 other snaps.

Effectively, the Cowboys were daring the Giants to run on them, which the Giants did, but to little effect, as  Rabblerousr wrote earlier this morning:

Subtract Andre Williams's 22-yard run - which was the result of a Justin Durant over-run - and the Giants had 25 for 82 yards on the ground (3.28 per) and Williams's total was a 17 for 29, for a paltry 1.7 yards per carry.

If you can stop the run out of the nickel, that's pretty impressive. Of course, if you could stop the pass out of the nickel, that would be even more impressive, but that didn't happen yesterday. The Cowboys allowed Eli Manning to throw for a 116.7 passer rating, the second best effort they've allowed by an opposing QB this season

Passer Rating Differential, 2014

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 6
Season Average
-64.7 +33.3 +18.8 +36.8 +33.6 +62.6 +19.0 +16.2

Also noteworthy: for the second straight week, the Cowboys chose Kyle Wilber over Anthony Hitchens for the strongside linebacker spot, and Anthony Spencer still seems to be on a limited snap count (Wk 7: 29, Wk 6: 29, Wk 5: 23, Wk 4: 22)

On to the offense:

Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Giants
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 62
Smith 62 Murray 44 Witten 62 Bryant 54

Leary 62 Dunbar 7 Hanna 28 Williams 42

Frederick 62 Randle 7 Escobar 25 Beasley 20

Martin 62 Clutts 5
Street 8

Parnell 62

Harris 7
Wilcox: one snap as the deep cover back on the final kneel down

Again, not many surprises here, especially for the key players. Murray was in for 71% of the snaps, which seems to be what the Cowboys are comfortable with. The two backup tight ends, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar, got the most action they've seen all season. Their 53 combined snaps are quite a bit higher than their 34 average combined snaps per game:

Wk 1: 22 | Qk 2: 35 | Wk 3: 34 | Wk 4: 38 | Wk 5: 24 | Wk 6: 39 | Wk 7: 53

The Cowboys have a base offense with the five linemen, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Terrance Williams as its core personnel. That by itself is hard enough for opponents to prepare for, but each week it seems like they change up the roles of their backup players. This week we got a heavy dose of the tight ends, last week fullback Tyler Clutts saw his highest snap count of the season, the week before Cole Beasley had the highest snap total since opening weekend.

Adding an extra wrinkle to the offense each week by emphasizing different positions in the game plans seems to be a staple of this offense, and seems to be working. Let's see what that personnel wrinkle will be next week.

And finally, to round things off, special teams:

Special Teams Aces
Player Snaps Player Snaps
Wilber 19 Lawrence
Heath 19 Hanna 14
Spillman 19 Wilcox 14
Harris 19 3 tied at 12

With those totals, J.J. Wilcox is officially this week's ironman, having played a total of 76 snaps, 61 on defense, 14 on special teams, and one in the victory formation on offense.

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