The Cowboys headed into the season opener on Sunday against the Giants with a number of roster questions: Who will start at running back? How will this running-back-by-committee thing work? What will the rotation on the defensive line look like?
But the snap counts at those positions aren't the only ones 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 which continues a trend we saw last year, is the disparity in the snap count between the offense and the defense.
The player participation stats in the official gamebook show 71 total offensive snaps for the Cowboys and and 62 defensive snaps. For the Cowboys, limiting the snaps of their defense was a part of their their success model last year, and probably remains important this year as well.
On to the snap counts on offense
|Cowboys' Offensive Snap counts vs Giants
Running Back: So this is what the running-back-by-committee looks like. Joseph Randle started the game, but it was Lance Dunbar who played the most snaps - even though he didn't have a single rushing attempt. But his eight receptions on eight targets for a team-high 70 yards more than made up for that. Odd that Darren McFadden didn't see a lot of action.
Wide Receiver: It'll be a while before Dez Bryant is back, so this snap distribution bears watching over the next few games.
Tight Ends: Gavin Escobar's continued absence from this offense continues to baffle. Perhaps with Bryant out, this is the time when he can finally make a case for himself.
On to the defense:
|Cowboys' Defensive Snap counts vs Giants
|Defensive Tackles||Defensive Ends||Linebackers||Cornerbacks||Safeties|
|T. McClain||22||J. Crawford||28||Wilber||20||Patmon
The Cowboys dressed just seven defensive linemen for the game, keeping Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop, and Ryan Russell as gameday inactives. When Randy Gregory left the game early, the defensive line was down to just six defensive linemen, and the notion of a swarming rotation went out the window.
And the Giants cleverly compounded the issue: Outside of the final two drives (the 12 plays where they unsuccessfully tried to run down the clock, and the final two plays to end the game) they played almost all possible snaps in a no-huddle.
The Giants had 48 snaps on their first eight drives. Eight of those snaps were the first downs to start the drive, and they didn't no-huddle on those. Three more snaps came after a game stoppage (two penalties, Gregory injury). That leaves 37 snaps in which the Giants could run a no-huddle, and they did it on 31 of those snaps.
But the defense dealt well with the no-huddle, which should work to its favor next Sunday against Philly. Essentially, the Giants allowed the Cowboys to test-drive their no-huddle defense in preparation for the Eagles. And considering that outside of the 17 points scored off turnovers, the Giants managed just three field goals against this defense, that test-drive seems to have turned out just fine.
And even if you don't buy into all this no-huddle stuff, at the very least the test-drive showed that the Dallas Cowboys engine has the best clutch in the game.
After one week, the defense ranks 9th overall in yards allowed with 289, while the offense ranks 3rd overall in total yards with 436 yards. You'd think that such a yardage differential would result in a much bigger score differential than the one-point advantage the Cowboys had over the Giants at the end. And this is where the three Cowboys turnovers really hurt the team, as those takeaways helped the Giants win the field position battle. The Cowboys had a combined starting field position of just 223 yards, while the Giants had 309 yards, thanks to their takeaways.
For the Cowboys, that's a differential of -86 yards. Last year, as the table below illustrates, the Cowboys had a 1-4 record in games where they had a field position differential below -70 yards, with the lone win coming on the road in Seattle.
|Field Position Differential
And finally, to round things off, special teams:
|Special Teams Aces|
Good to see that free agent acquisitions like Andrew Gachkar and Danny McCray are being put to good use, and interesting to see that there's just one offensive player among the top eight special teamers.