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Cowboys @ Redskins Snap Counts: Winning With An Opportunistic Defense

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

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When you're up 27-10 at halftime, snap counts for an entire game begin to lose their significance. Defenses tend to play with more of a prevent mode, offenses focus more on protecting the ball and avoid taking risks that may be necessary to convert those long third downs.

For the Cowboys, limiting the snaps of their defense was (and remains) their success model in tight games. When the game's an early blowout, that model goes out the window. With that out of the way, here's the season summary of the Cowboys' snap counts

Cowboys Snap Count by Week

SFO TEN STL NWO HOU SEA NYG WAS ARI JAC NYG PHI CHI PHI IND WAS Total
Offense 69 80 56 66 76 75 62 65 64 60 54 61 62 82 63 63 1,058
Defense 58 49 76 61 59 49 63 67 67 71 73 77 69 55 62 69 1,025
Difference +11 +31 -20 +5 +17 +26 -1 -2 -3 -9 -19 -16 -7 +27 +1 -6 +33

Overall, the Cowboys offense took 1,014 snaps according to ProFootballReference.com (whose numbers differ slightly from those in the official gamebooks). That's the 18th most in the NFL. The defense was on the field for only 978 snaps, the fifth-lowest value in the league in 2014. That's significantly down from the 1,094 snaps in 2013 (6th most in the NFL), and one of the reasons why the Cowboys finished this year with 22.0 points allowed per game (ranked 15th) versus last year's 27.0. That five-point swing per game is all you need to know about why the Cowboys are 12-4 this year and were 8-8 last year.

On to the snap counts on offense

Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Redskins
QB O-Line RB TE WR
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 63 Smith 64 Murray 40 Witten 63 Bryant 55
Weeden
1 Leary 64 Clutts 15 Hanna 24 Williams 46

Frederick 64 Dunbar 12 Escobar 9 Beasley 24


Martin 64 Randle 9

Harris 12


Parnell 64


Street 9


Hills 2



As the Cowboys had announced prior to the game, they played their starters, only bringing in Brandon Weeden for one glorious handoff. Apart from that, the snap distribution here looks just like the snap count from any other one of the previous games.

Note also that Jermey Parnell started five games for the Cowboys instead of the injured Doug Free, and it doesn't look like the O-line skipped a beat. Pro Football Focus gave Parnell a grade of +8.7 for his play this year, which is slightly higher than Doug Free's 8.5 grade, which Free accumulated over 11 starts. Interestingly, on a per snap basis, Parnell grades out the highest among all Cowboys offensive linemen. Read into that whatever you want, but know one thing for sure: At the very least, this gives the Cowboys options in free agency at right tackle.

On to the defense:

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Redskins
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 46
D. Lawrence 38
Carter 56
Carr 69
Wilcox
66
T. McClain 40
Mincey 35
Lawrence 44
Scandrick 61
Church 52
Hayden 37
Selvie 26 Hitchens 21
Moore 56
Heath 15
Melton 6
Spencer 25
Wilber 20
Patmon
17
Spillman 5

Boatright 16
Smith 8




Injuries to Henry Melton and Anthony Hitchens throw this week's snap counts a little out of whack, but overall we're seeing roughly the same snap distribution as in previous games.

Nobody is going to confuse the Cowboys defense for a Top 10 unit just yet. But for a unit widely expected to be one of the worst in the league this year, the defense has made remarkable progress.

Prior to Sunday's game, Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said the Cowboys defenders "pursue and play really hard". Redskins fullback Darrel Young described the defense as "relentless." Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said the Cowboys defense is a "group of guys that play really hard." Those statements echo a similar sentiment offered by Rod Marinelli last week:

"Everybody is hustling and hitting. No houseguests. Everybody has got to tackle, everybody has got to hustle, and it’s fun when you’re playing that way. They’re just a bunch of unselfish guys who go to work every day."

The Cowboys are not a great defense by any means. They don't have the talent or draft pedigree other defense have. They played Sunday without Sean Lee, Justin Durant, and Rolando McClain, a linebacking trio that would upgrade almost any defense in the NFL and still made do.

But above all, the defense is an opportunistic defense. Over the last four games, the Cowboys have recorded 12 takeaways, three more than the next best team over that span. That's the kind of momentum you want to maintain for the playoffs. And those takeaways have been critical in winning the field position battle.

Against the Redskins, the Cowboys didn't have as big a field position advantage as the final score might indicate, in part because of Tony Romo' interception in the 4th quarter that gave the Redskins the ball on the Cowboys' 16-yard line. Overall though, winning the field position battle has worked out well for the Cowboys this season.

Field Position Differential

SF
TEN STL NO HOU SEA NYG WAS ARI JAC NYG PHI CHI PHI IND WAS
Opponent 317 226 221 259 308 387 297 296 374 336 273 371 249 294 244 359
Cowboys 180 307 233 339 268 286 306 214 253 460 353 294 400 470 422 389
Difference -137 +81 +12 +80 -40 -101 +9 -82 -212 +124 +80 -77 +151 +176 +178 +30
Result L W W W W W W L L W W L W W W W

And finally, the special teams snap counts.

Special Teams Aces
Player Snaps Player Snaps
C. Lawrence
23 Hanna
17
Harris 21 Wilcox
16
Wilber 20 Dunbar
15
Heath 19 Spillman 15

This week's ironman award goes to J.J. Wilcox for 82 total snaps, even without a victory formation.