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
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:
|Defensive Tackles||Defensive Ends||Linebackers||Cornerbacks||Safeties|
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)
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
||46||35||38||9||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
||38||42||42||41||40||7||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -||- -|
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|