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Cowboys Defensive Snapcounts vs Vikings: "Swarming Rotation" On Full Display

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Want to know which Cowboys defensive players were on the field for how many snaps against the Vikings? We've got you covered.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

While watching a game like last Saturday's preseason game between the Cowboys and Vikings, it can be hard to keep up with who is on the field and who isn't - especially because teams trot out almost their entire roster over the course of a game.

But with the first roster cuts looming, it can be interesting to understand which player played how many snaps - and when - which is why I reviewed the entire fist half against the Vikings and charted which defensive player was in on which defensive play.

Overall, there were 73 defensive snaps in Saturday's game. This excludes all special teams plays like field goals, kickoffs and punts, but I did include the plays blown dead due to penalties, because this post is about understanding who was lining up where in which situations, not the results of the official plays.

Here's a simple snap count which details which player was in on how many plays in the first half. The players marked in green only played in the first half, they may be the presumptive starters for the season.

Cowboys' Defensive Snapcount, 1st Half vs Vikings (32 total snaps)
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
T. Crawford 18 Lawrence 22 Gachkar 27 Carr 32 Church 30
Hayden 17 Hardy 20 Lee 18 Claiborne 32 Wilcox 29
J. Crawford 12 Mincey 18 Wilson 13 Patmon 23 Scott 3
McClain 9 Gregory 12 Wilber 9 Jones 8

A few topline thoughts:

  • The Cowboys started the game in a nickel defense, and would go on to play 17 of the 32 first-half snaps in the nickel. They lined up in a dime formation (six defensive backs, one linebacker) six times, and only lined up in their base defense (four defensive backs, three linebackers) nine times.
  • Kyle Wilber's nine snaps all came in the base defense as the SAM linebacker. Once Sean Lee left the game, Damien Wilson took over as the WILL LB, and it was the WILL linebacker who stayed in on five of the six dime packages, Andrew Gachkar stayed in once as the MIKE in the dime.
  • The Cowboys lined up with four nominal defensive ends (Lawrence, Hardy, Mincey, Gregory) two times, one of which resulted in a delay of game penalty against the Vikings, the other in Brandon Carr's interception. They lined up four times with three nominal defensive ends (three times with Lawrence, T. Crawford, Hardy, Gregory; once with Hardy, T. Crawford, Mincey, Gregory).
  • The defense lined up on third down seven times in the first half. On six of those third downs, there were at least three defensive ends on the defensive line. It may be a coincidence, but the Vikings only converted one of those seven third downs - on a holding penalty against Brandon Carr.
  • Also noteworthy, the guys who didn't play on third down: Kyle Wilber, Terrell McClain, and Jack Crawford didn't play a single third down. Nick Hayden stayed on the field only once on third down, and that was when the Vikings faced a 3rd-and-1.
  • Talk about a swarming rotation on the defensive line: In the second Vikings drive of the game, the Cowboys rotated through eight defensive linemen: Randy Gregory, Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden, Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain all saw action during the first six snaps of the drive.

On to the second half snaps. The players marked in blue in the table below are the players who played in both the first- and second half.

Cowboys' Defensive Snapcount, 2nd Half vs Vikings (49 total snaps)
Defensive Tackles Defensive Ends Linebackers Cornerbacks Safeties
Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps Player Snaps
McClain 18 Gregory 16 Wilson 31 Jones 38 Scott 41
J. Crawford 14 Hardy 4 Wilber 16
Coleman 25 Edwards 25 Brinkley 23 White 38
Bishop 21 Gardner 22 Smith 10 Ross 34
Russell 19 Glaud 9 Steeples 22
Brown 7 Sweeting 15
Baggs 6
Johnson 3

The Cowboys will probably keep 25 defensive players on their 53-man roster. They played 19 players in the first half, and there's a good chance those 19 will end up on the 53-man roster. Of those 19, safety Tim Scott may be the only question mark, but with Jeff Heath and Danny McCray not playing a single snap, we might be seeing a late push for a roster spot here.

Be that as it may, there are at most six or seven roster spots left to fill on defense, and those six or seven names will have to come from the 15 players in table above who only played in the second half. Add the seven defensive players who didn't play on Saturday (Anthony Hitchens, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray, Kenneth Boatright, Dakorey Johnson, Efe Obada, Carlif Taylor) and the total climbs to 22 players competing for six or seven spots.

The first round of cuts starts tomorrow, and you can be sure that some of the down-roster guys who didn't get a lot of snaps, or some of the players who didn't play at all, will be among the list of roster cuts.

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Here's the full overview of which Cowboys defensive players were on the field for which plays in the first half:

Play No. Down Play DTs DEs LBs CBs S
98 T. Crawford, 96 Hayden, 58 J. Crawford, 97 McClain 90 Lawrence, 76 Hardy, 94 Gregory, 92 Mincey 52 Gachkar, 50 Lee, 51 Wilber, 57 Wilson 24 Claiborne, 39 Carr, 26 Patmon, 31 Jones 42 Church, 27 Wilcox, 41 Scott
MIN Drive No. 1 98 96 58 97 90 76 94 92 52 50 51 57 24 39 26 31 42 27 41
1 1-10-MIN 17 (11:03) Bridgewater pass short right for 11 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
2 1-10-MIN 28 (10:24) J.McKinnon left end for -5 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
3 2-15-MIN 23 (9:43) T.Bridgewater pass short right for 7 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
4 3-8-MIN 30 (9:09) T.Bridgewater up the middle for 6 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
MIN Drive No. 2 98 96 58 97 90 76 94 92 52 50 51 57 24 39 26 31 42 27 41
5 1-10-MIN 25 (7:10) J.McKinnon right guard for 2 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
6 2-8-MIN 27 (6:39) J.McKinnon up the middle for 3 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
7 3-5-MIN 30 (5:57) PENALTY B.Carr, Holding, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
8 1-10-MIN 35 (5:51) T.Bridgewater pass short right for 7 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
9 2-3-MIN 42 (5:21) T.Bridgewater pass short left for 4 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
10 1-10-MIN 46 (4:51) J.McKinnon up the middle for 3 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
11 2-7-MIN 49 (4:05) T.Bridgewater pass deep right for 39 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
12 1-10-DAL 12 (3:38) T.Bridgewater pass short left for 3 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
13 2-7-DAL 9 (3:01) PENALTY on MIN, False Start, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
14 2-12-DAL 14 (2:37) T.Bridgewater pass short left 5 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
15 3-7-DAL 9 (1:53) T.Bridgewater sacked (R.Gregory) x x x x x x x x x x x
MIN Drive No. 3 98 96 58 97 90 76 94 92 52 50 51 57 24 39 26 31 42 27 41
16 1-10-MIN 14 (12:00) S.Hill pass short right for 8 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
17 2-2-MIN 22 (11:28) M.Asiata left tacklefor 1 yard x x x x x x x x x x x
18 3-1-MIN 23 (10:51) M.Asiata up the middle for no gain x x x x x x x x x x x
MIN Drive No. 4 98 96 58 97 90 76 94 92 52 50 51 57 24 39 26 31 42 27 41
19 1-10-MIN 14 (8:54) S.Hill pass for 1 yard x x x x x x x x x x x
20 2-9-MIN 15 (8:19) PENALTY M.Claiborne, DPI, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
21 1-10-MIN 26 (8:10) PENALTY on MIN, Holding, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
22 1-20-MIN 16 (7:44) S.Hill pass short left 12 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
23 2-8-MIN 28 (6:58) M.Asiata left guard for 1 yard x x x x x x x x x x x
24 3-7-MIN 29 (6:10) PENALTY on MIN, Delay of Game, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
25 3-12-MIN 24 (5:53) S.Hill pass deep right INTERCEPTED by B.Carr x x x x x x x x x x x
MIN Drive No. 5 98 96 58 97 90 76 94 92 52 50 51 57 24 39 26 31 42 27 41
26 1-10-MIN 47 (3:24) S.Hill pass short middle for 10 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
27 1-10-DAL 43 (2:50) J.McKinnon up the middle for 3 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
28 2-7-DAL 40 (2:18) S.Hill pass short right for 18 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
29 1-10-DAL 22 (2:00) PENALTY on MIN, OPI, No Play x x x x x x x x x x x
30 1-20-DAL 32 (1:54) J.McKinnon up the middle 4 yards x x x x x x x x x x x
31 2-16-DAL 28 (1:19) S.Hill pass incomplete deep right x x x x x x x x x x x
32 3-16-DAL 28 (1:13) S.Hill pass short left for 1 yard x x x x x x x x x x x

Over the five first-half drives the Cowboys defense allowed two field goals and no touchdowns, 125 passing yards, and 18 rushing yards. That's not bad. Then again, it's the preseason, where we shouldn't read too much into the stats and results, both good and bad.

But you've got to like what you've seen from the defensive line, both in terms of performance and in terms of rotation.

When I first saw the term "Swarming Rotation" used to describe the potential 2014 Dallas Cowboys defensive line (Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay was the first to use the term), I thought it was just a bad euphemism for a "D-line full of nobodies." And while that may have been the case in 2014 and especially in 2013, this year's iteration of the defensive may the first that will deliver on the promise of a swarming rotation: A line that consistently brings pressure from different spots and remains fresh at the end of games.

And that's a prospect that has even the players excited:

Does the number of possibilities get Jeremy Mincey excited?

"Hell yeah," Mincey said. "You can quote that. Hell yeah."

"It’s the matchups," Mincey said of the line’s success this preseason. "You’ve got bigger defensive ends that are a little quicker than guards and can get around guards. Then you’ve got speed guys like (Lawrence), Gregory, then you’ve got guys with a little bit of speed and power like me and Greg. Well, Greg has got a lot of it. Greg is a freak. We’ve just got a lot of talent."