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Cowboys @ Eagles Snap Counts: Winning On Second Down And With Field Position

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

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Against the Eagles, the Cowboys offense had their highest snap count of the year, notching 82 snaps, a number more commonly associated with a high-paced offense like the Philadelphia's. Conversely, the the defense played only 55 snaps, a number usually associated with a ball-control offense.

Cowboys Snap Count by Week

Offense 69 80 56 66 76 75 62 65 64 60 54 61 62 82
Defense 58 49 76 61 59 49 63 67 67 71 73 77 69 55
Difference +11 +31 -20 +5 +17 +26 -1 -2 -3 -9 -19 -16 -7 +27

What's remarkable about the high snap count on offense is that the Cowboys were only 5-for-13 on third downs, with four of those coming on the first two (scoring) drives. So how could the Cowboys go on to score 24 more points while just converting one additional 3rd down?

By converting on second down and getting some help from the Eagles in terms of penalties. In total, the Cowboys generated 26 first downs (note that a score also counts as a first down achieved). Here's how that breaks down:

First down Conversions
Down Pass Run Penalty Score
1st 2 1 - - 1 run
2nd 8 3 1 2 passes, 1 run
3rd 4 - - 2 1 pass
Total 14 4 3 5

The Cowboys were successful in the game because they avoided third downs altogether. They faced 29 second downs and converted 14 of them for a 2nd down conversion rate of 48%, 52% if you include the 1st down by penalty. The league average this year (excluding penalties) is 31.6%.

The best example for this is the scoring drive that put the Cowboys up 28-24:

Down & Distance Play Detail
1-10-DAL 22 (5:36) D.Murray right tackle to DAL 23 for 1 yard (B.Bair).
2-9-DAL 23 (4:54) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant to DAL 45 for 22 yards (B.Fletcher).
1-10-DAL 45 (4:10) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten ran ob at PHI 44 for 11 yards (C.Barwin) [M.Kendricks].
1-10-PHI 44 (3:42) D.Murray up the middle to PHI 44 for no gain (E.Acho).
2-10-PHI 44 (3:01) D.Murray left guard to PHI 23 for 21 yards (M.Jenkins).
1-10-PHI 23 (2:15) D.Murray right guard to PHI 24 for -1 yards (B.Logan).
2-11-PHI 24 (1:37) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to D.Bryant to PHI 2 for 22 yards (M.Jenkins).
1-2-PHI 2 (:50) D.Murray up the middle for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Notice how the Cowboys didn't face a single third down in that drive. Notice also that they ran on four out of the five 1st downs on this drive for a grand total of two yards.

Perhaps the long distances on 2nd down forced their hand in selecting a pass play, but maybe it was a new and highly effective wrinkle in the Cowboys' playcalling: Where we've complained in the past about their tendency to go run-run-pass, on Sunday they embraced the second down pass - much to the surprise of the Eagles, it could be argued.

On to the snap counts on offense

Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Eagles
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 82
Smith 82 Murray 57 Witten 82 Bryant 69

Leary 82 Clutts 16 Escobar 37 Williams 60

Frederick 82 Dunbar 14 Hanna 20 Beasley 35

Martin 82 Randle 3
Harris 8

Free 45

Street 5

Parnell 38

Wilcox: three snaps as the deep cover back on the final kneel downs

Jermey Parnell got his first extended game action since a three-game stretch from Week 7-9, and acquitted himself well. Pro Football Focus gave him a +0.4 grade and does not show any sacks, hits or hurries on his stat sheet.

Gavin Escobar had his highest snap count of the season. This may simply be due to the high overall number of snaps on offense, or he might have been a bigger part of the gameplan than usual, but just wasn't used during the game - at least not as a receiver, where he wasn't targeted even once.

On to the defense.

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Eagles
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 38
Mincey 38
Hitchens 46
Hayden 32
Selvie 29 R. McClain
Scandrick 52
Church 46
Melton 21
Spencer 23 Carter 24
Moore 48
Spillman 9
T. McClain 17 D. Lawrence 20 Wilber 7

Jason Garrett was full of praise for his defensive line in yesterday's press conference, and the official gamebook does show four sacks and four QB hits between Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey, but did the Cowboys really create that much pressure on Mark Sanchez?

Pro Football Focus shows that Sanchez was under pressure on just eight of his 32 dropbacks. That doesn't feel like a whole lot, especially considering that the Cowboys defense played on fresh legs almost the entire game. And it almost certainly won't be enough when the Cowboys face quarterbacks who can actually complete passes that travel more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

The defense, together with special teams, created four turnovers that helped give the Cowboys an advantage that more than made up for the lack of pressure: Field position, or "hidden yardage."

On Sunday night, the Cowboys had a cumulative starting field position of 470 yards, a whopping 176 yards more than the Eagles. Bill Parcells used to say that a 100-yard advantage in hidden yardage was worth seven points. By that measure, the Cowboys' advantage on Sunday was worth 12.3 points, which is eerily close to the 11-point advantage the Cowboys enjoyed in their 38-27 win.

Here's a look at the hidden yardage differential so far this season:

Field Position Differential

Opponent 317 226 221 259 308 387 297 296 374 336 273 371 249 294
Cowboys 180 307 233 339 268 286 306 214 253 460 353 294 400 470
Difference -137 +81 +12 +80 -40 -101 +9 -82 -212 +124 +80 -77 +151 +176
W/L Record 3-1 3-2 4-1

A lot of things go into winning games, and hidden yardage is just one of them. Nevertheless, winning the hidden yardage battle doesn't hurt. In every one of their losses this year, the Cowboys have lost the hidden yardage battle - for various reasons. And the hidden yardage totals also neatly segment the season into three distinct segments. The Cowboys started off on the wrong foot against the 49ers, but their hidden yardage was enough to help get them to a 3-1 record to start the year.

The Cowboys then had a five-game stretch in which they struggled with hidden yardage. They lost two games, needed overtime to win against the Texans and pulled off a surprising upset on the road against Seattle.

For the last five games, barring the Thanksgiving accident, the Cowboys' field position advantage has been nothing short of dominant.

The Cowboys have their defense and special teams to thank for that.

And with that, we cleverly segue into the special teams snap counts.

Special Teams Aces
Player Snaps Player Snaps
22 Hanna
Harris 21 Heath
Lawrence 21 T. McClain
Spillman 21 Four tied at 13

This week's ironman award goes to Zack Martin. While he had just as many snaps as Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, and Travis Frederick (82 on offense, six on special teams) he did it with an injured ankle for a large part of the game.

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