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Snap Judgments: Cowboys Snap Counts vs Titans

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

Vaughn Ridley

One of the key roster questions heading into yesterday's game against the Titans centered on the defensive line: Will Henry Melton start? How many snaps will Terrell McClain play? Who'll play defensive end?

But the defensive line's snap count isn't the only one worth looking at. Today we’re going to review all the snap counts from Sunday’s game to get a better feel for what is happening all over the roster.One of the numbers that immediately popped out and has been widely reported on is disparity in the snap counts between the offense and the defense. The offense played 80 snaps versus the Titans, while the defense only saw the field on 49 snaps.

Check out the snap distributions below, and let us know what your reactions are in the comments section. We'll get started with the offense:

Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Titans
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 80
Smith 80
Murray 56
Witten 80
Bryant 60

Leary 80 Dunbar
Hanna 20
Williams 60

Frederick 80 Clutts 14 Escobar 15 Beasley 36

Martin 80 Randle 7

Harris 19

Free 80

Street 10


O-line: 80 snaps is a lot. Last year, NFL teams averaged 65 plays per game, and the fact that the O-line was still pushing hard in the run game in the fourth quarter without needing a breather is a good sign. Or as Garrett said in today's afternoon press conference:

What I thought was most impressive about it was in the second half of the game, particularly late in the game when there's 8-, 9-, 10-men fronts and everybody is around the line of scrimmage and the run looks are not favorable, we were very good at running the football there and be successful in those situations. That's not something we've been able to do in the past.

When you can run the ball against pass looks, that's a good thing. When you can run the ball against run looks, that's a better thing. And when you can run the ball against really hard, difficult run looks by the defense, that's really, really good for your team.We were able to that for a lot of the fourth quarter yesterday.

Running Back: Remember when the Cowboys had a running-back-by-committee approach? Those were the days. Today, Murray is the unquestioned lead back, but you've got to wonder whether having Murray out there virtually all the time and rushing 29 times is good for his continued health.

Wide Receiver: The snap count looks exactly like the current depth chart.

Tight Ends: Gavin Escobar's continued absence from this offense is baffling. After notching only nine snaps in Week 1, Escobar is up to 15. At least that's progress of some sort.

On to the defense:

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Titans
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Melton 26 Mincey 35 Carter 49 Carr 49 Church 45
Hayden 25 T. Crawford 30
R. McClain 48 Claiborne 45 Wilcox 41
Coleman 19 Selvie 22 Wilber 11 Moore 44 Heath 10
T. McClain 18 J. Crawford 12 Hitchens 9 Spillman 1

At first sight, this table suggests that the Cowboys played in a nickel formation most of the time. And while that's true, there are some oddities readily apparent in this table as well: How can the DTs have less snaps as a group than the DEs? Did the Cowboys play with three safeties on some snaps? And how many snaps did they really play in a nickel formation? Let's take a look:

For one thing, the Cowboy played 10 of their 49 defensive snaps with just one classic defensive tackle on the DL, and all 10 snaps were pass plays.

  • On nine of these snaps, Melton was the only DT, Coleman was the sole DT on one other snap.
  • On nine of these snaps (most of them presumably third downs), Kyle Wilber was brought in as an extra defensive end while one of the other defensive ends moved inside.
  • Only once did the Cowboys play with three classic defensive ends (Mincey, T. Crawford, Selvie) and a DT (Melton).

One of the points that intrigued me when I looked at the player participation numbers was to figure out how often the Cowboys went into a nickel (five defensive backs) or dime formation (six defensive backs), and how many of these were "heavy" formations - a Heavy Nickel (also "Big Nickel") is when an extra safety is brought in to the game for a front seven player instead of a cornerback, a Heavy Dime is when instead of adding an extra nickel corner (two nickels make a dime, get it?) you feature an extra safety so that you have three corners and three safeties on the field.

The results show once again that Rod Marinelli likes his defenses simple: The Cowboys didn't line up in a dime formation once all day. Of the 49 defensive snaps, the defense lined up in the nickel 40 times, eight times in the base defense with four DBs, and once in a formation with just three DBs.

And no luck with the "heavy nickel" either. The nickel featured three corners and two safeties every single time. Of note, the CB trio of Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore played every single one of the 40 nickel snaps.

Yet despite what looks like a fairly simple defensive scheme, the Cowboys used 28 different lineups on their 49 defensive snaps, in large part due to the constant rotation along the defensive line. That's what you get when you commit to the idea of an eight-man rotation on your defensive line.

And finally, to round things off, special teams:

Special Teams
Special Teams Aces Starters playing Special Teams
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Wilber 21
Lawrence 17 Wilcox 15
Heath 19 Hanna 13 Church 14
Harris 19 Dunbar 13 Carter
Spillman 18 Escobar 8 Crawford

The table lists the snap counts for the special teams aces with the most special teams snaps - as well as the starters who also saw special teams action.

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