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Cowboys Defense Suffocates Dolphins With Season-Low Snap Count

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

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys won 24-14 against the Dolphins, but simply by looking at the box score, you'd probably have a hard time believing that the defense had its lowest snap total of the last two season. But it's true. The defense played just 48 snaps yesterday, the lowest total of the season and lower than any game last year.

Cowboys Snap Count by Week, 2015
Giants Eagles Falcons Saints Patriots Giants Seahawks Eagles Bucs Dolphins
Offense 71 85 53 61 72 73 60 78 54 71
Defense 62 62 74 73 59 53 62 74 71 48

Three factors combined for a phenomenal defensive performance, and an unusually low snap count. The Cowboys defense allowed just nine first downs the entire game, and allowed the Dolphins to convert only one of 10 third downs. As a result, the defense did not allow a single drive of more than five plays.

Just how dominant of a performance the defense delivered yesterday becomes obvious when you look a little closer at the 11 Dolphins "drives":

  • 5 drives were three-and-outs
  • 4 drives went for four plays
  • 2 drives went for five plays

Here are the snap counts for the defenders that made that possible:

Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Dolphins (48 Total)
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 34 Hardy 33 Lee 48 Carr 48 Church 46
Hayden 27 Lawrence 32 McClain 46 Jones 47 Wilcox 34
Mincey 19 Gachkar 8 Patmon 40 Heath 20
Gregory 18 Hitchens 2 Olatoye 1 McCray 1
J. Crawford 13
Irving 11

The Cowboys played quite a few snaps with just three down linemen, hence the low snap totals for the defensive tackles, but they also frequently had DEs like David Irving or Jack Crawford move inside.

At linebacker, with Rolando McClain finally in football playing shape, the Cowboys may have one of the best duos in the league playing for them right now, and they hogged almost all available snaps.

The Cowboys started the game in a nickel formation, and continued playing in the nickel for most of the game. Even without Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, the pass defense held up well, allowing just 13 completions all game. The depth beyond Patmon may be nothing to get excited about, but it worked out for the Cowboys yesterday.

During the game, many observers talked or wrote about the inability of the Miami offense to get anything going on the field. Very few talked about the Cowboys defense and how it prevented the Miami offense from getting anything going on the field. That's just the way it is sometimes, when you stick to old clichés rather than put in the work to understand what you're seeing.

In any case, Thursday's game against the panthers will be the real test for the Cowboys defense, and if they can remotely repeat what they did on Sunday, good things await.

On to the offense:

Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Dolphins (71 total)
QB O-Line RB TE WR
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
Romo 71
Smith 71 McFadden 48 Witten 71 Bryant 50
Collins
71 Turbin 20 Escobar 20 Williams 46

Frederick 71 Clutts 13 Hanna 19 Beasley 36


Martin 71 Whitehead 15

Free 71


Street
15

Brown 2


Much has been made about the number of running backs the Cowboys have had on their roster this year, and much of the reporting surrounding the issue was looking to ridicule the Cowboys for their running back situation. What most of those reports conveniently forgot to mention was that the Cowboys, despite some uncertainty at the RB position, and missing an NFL-quality QB for most of the season, rank a cool No. 8 in rushing yard per game so far this season. In fact, with 123.7 rushing yards per game, they are just 25 yards off the league-leading Seahawks. Sure, that's nowhere near where they were last year, but nobody was expecting the team to produce the league's leading rusher for two straight years.

Last year, DeMarco Murray played at least 60% of the offensive snaps in all but one game, as the table below shows.

Percentage of offensive snaps by lead back, 2014-2015
Games
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Murray (2014)
88 70 79 76 88 71 71 66 67 60 94 79 94 70 49 62
Dunbar (2015)
46 35 38 9 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Randle (2015)
38 42 42 41 40 7 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
McFadden (2015)
14 22 23 33 44 81 78 78 81 68

This year, the Cowboys started out not quite sure who their lead back would be. Darren McFadden had missed significant time in training camp, and didn't appear fully ready to start the season, so they went with the combo of Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. Dunbar got injured and Randle was eventually released, So what started out as a RBBC approach switched back a single lead back approach after the bye week, when McFadden saw 81% of the total offensive snaps against New York. And he hasn't dipped below 68% since. In that span of five games as the lead back, McFadden has registered three 100+ yard rushing games.

Noteworthy parallel to Rolando McClain, who has been playing superbly the last two games: Both players missed significant time in training camp for various reasons. It took McFadden four or five games to get back in football playing shape, and after McClain sat out his first four games due to a suspension, he also needed about four games to get back into football playing shape.

And finally, on to special teams:

Special Teams Aces
Player Snaps Player Snaps
Wilber
17 Wilson
14
Gachkar 17 Wilcox
13
Heath
15
Jones
13
McCray
15


This week's ironman, because of the imbalance between offensive and defensive snaps, has to be an offensive player, and the award fittingly goes to Jason Witten and all five offensive linemen, who played 71 offensive snaps plus four more on special teams.