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Cowboys Snap Counts vs Saints: Is "Swarming Rotation" Taking Shape On Defensive Line?

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

Tom Pennington

A little over two weeks ago, in an article titled "Can The Dallas Cowboys Score 30 Points A Game?", I wrote about how the Cowboys had the personnel on offense to become one of the very few teams able to average 30 points per game over an entire season. With 115 points scored in four games, the Cowboys have the number four scoring offense in the league (and haven't yet played the Jaguars) and are closing in on that 30-point average.

I had always assumed that achieving such an average would require the Cowboys to take an inordinate amount of snaps on offense - and therefore by extension protect the defense, which would have a fairly low snap count. But at least through the first four games, that's not exactly the case.

While the defense has indeed notched the fourth-lowest number of snaps (58.4 snaps per game) through Week 4, the Cowboys offense "only" has the 17th-highest number of snaps in the league (64.0 snaps per game). That's a little odd, but it's also the reason we regularly review the snap counts here on BTB, just to keep up with what's going on.

Yesterday against the Saints, we only saw a minor discrepancy between the offense (66 snaps) and defense (61 snaps). Not much of a difference, but reason enough to review all the snap counts from Sunday’s game to get a better feel for what was happening all over the roster.

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 Saints (66 Total)
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 66
Smith 66
Murray 50 Witten 66
Bryant 59

Leary 66 Randle
7 Hanna 22 Williams 54

Frederick 66
Clutts 5 Escobar 16 Beasley 22

Martin 66 Dunbar 4
Harris 11

Free 66

Street 10


Wilcox: 3 snaps as the deep cover back on the three kneel downs

This is basically lineup as we saw last week. The Cowboys' base offense are the five linemen, and five skill position players Romo, Murray, Witten, Bryant and Williams. The skill guys occasionally get a breather here and there, and the 11th spot in this base offense rotates between the backup TEs, RBs and WRs.

On to the defense:

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Saints (61 Total)
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 42 Mincey 43 Durant 61 Carr 61 Wilcox 61
Hayden 30 Selvie 34 Carter 40 Scandrick 61 Church 55
Melton 24 J. Crawford 27 R. McClain
33 Moore 44 Heath 7
Bishop 21 Spencer 22 Wilber 1 Claiborne 4

Back in March this year we took an early look at a new phrase that was being used to describe Rod Marinelli's plan for the defensive line, the "Swarming Rotation," a phrase introduced to Cowboys Nation by Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay.

When I first saw the phrase "Swarming Rotation" used on Twitter yesterday to describe the potential 2014 Dallas Cowboys defensive line, I thought it was just a bad euphemism for a "D-line full of nobodies."

But a little number-crunching showed exactly what McClay meant with the phrase: a more even distribution of snap counts among the defensive linemen. Here's a comparison of the snap counts for the top eight defensive linemen in 2013 for the Cowboys and the Seahawks:



Notice how the Seahawks had a 7-man defensive line rotation with a fairly even snap distribution, while the Cowboys relied heavily on four starters, and played what backups they had sparingly, for a variety of reasons. This is what that chart looks like after four games this year:


I'll leave it to you to decide whether you see an improvement here or not, but I'd ask you to consider that the table shows at least a 5-deep line. Consider also that Henry Melton was limited yesterday with a hamstring strain; that Terrell McClain left last week's game early and didn't play yesterday; that Davon Coleman (52 snaps has now missed two games); that Anthony Spencer just played his first 22 snaps; that DeMarcus Lawrence will likely be available for the second half of the season.

With all of that in mind, it's not hard to envision a even distributon of snaps across eight players. But all of that also drives home the point that you will not have that even distribution if your players are not healthy.

And finally, to round things off, special teams:

Special Teams Aces
Player Snaps Player Snaps
Wilber 20
Lawrence 16
Harris 18 Hanna 15
Spillman 17 Hitchens 13
Church 16 Dunbar/Escobar 9

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