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Snap Counts For The Cowboys’ Defense: Four Sacks? That’s More Like It!

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Who played, and who produced, for the Dallas Cowboys offense? In our weekly look at the snap counts, we’ll evaluate whether Dallas is using it’s players well, and how well each of them is producing.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys defense is where snap counts tend to be the most interesting, because defense tends to use more substitutions and rotations than you have on offense. We’re going to break it down by position group to see what’s going on. This is for week five, a Dallas 28-14 home win over the Bengals that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.

Defense

The Defensive Line

This was DeMarcus Lawrence’s first game back from his suspension, and while he didn’t get any sacks, the line as a whole looked transformed, with four sacks, nine quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss. Terrell McClain had 1.5 sacks, Benson Mayowa and Cedric Thornton had one each, and Jack Crawford had the other .5 sack. Ryan Davis had a sack negated by a defensive holding call on Justin Durant.

Tyrone Crawford continued starting at left defensive end, with Jack Crawford also outside, and Lawrence splitting time on both ends. Terrell McClain and Maliek Collins started in the middle. Here are the counts (out of 70 snaps, the high for the season):

  • Maliek Collins, 54 snaps
  • Tyrone Crawford, 45
  • Terrell McClain, 41
  • Jack Crawford, 39
  • Cedric Thornton, 31
  • Ryan Davis, 26
  • Benson Mayowa, 22
  • DeMarcus Lawrence, 17

How do these compare to last week (which had 53 snaps)? Maliek Collins jumped up 10 snaps, but the other starters were used about the same amount. The big gainers in the reserves were Ryan Davis up 18 snaps, Cedric Thornton up 12 snaps, while Benson Mayowa increased 6 snaps. DeMarcus Lawrence, in his first game back, brought up the rear. David Irving was sidelined for the game with a concussion.

This looked like a completely different unit from prior weeks, but what a welcome surprise!

The Linebackers

This week, Sean Lee still played 100%, but Anthony Hitchens dropped a bit to 47%, Justin Durant came in at 36%, with Andrew Gachkar appearing in 16% of the plays. Kyle Wilber had his bell rung early on his only defensive snap of the game.

  • Sean Lee, 70 snaps (100%)
  • Anthony Hitchens, 33
  • Justin Durant, 25
  • Andrew Gachkar, 11
  • Kyle Wilber, 1

Sean Lee continues humming along, but one wonders if the Cowboys shouldn’t try to find time to spell him occasionally. He had five solo tackles and five assists to lead the tackling. No one else stood out.

The running game for Cincy averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but was held under 100 yards because Dallas had a huge lead and Cincy had to pass 41 times.. This group still needs reinforcements.

The Secondary

This is definitely the best part of the Dallas defense, though the front four gave them a run for their money this game.

  • Brandon Carr, 70 snaps
  • Mo Claiborne, 70
  • Barry Church, 61
  • Byron Jones, 61
  • Anthony Brown, 58
  • JJ Wilcox, 35

Orlando Scandrick was out again, so Anthony Brown took his place. He did a great job with a tackle for loss that helped stop a Cincy drive. He came off a block and still got his man. This kid is a keeper. JJ Wilcox had three tackles on defense and three more on special teams.

The star of the secondary was again Mo Claiborne, who kept AJ Green largely in check. He perfectly timed a jump at the goal line to swat away a potential TD pass meant for Green. (One wonders if Odell Beckham would have made “the catch” if Mo had been guarding him?) He also had another pass defensed. On the downside, he was flagged for two penalties. Byron Jones also made a leaping pass defense play, and Brandon Carr was credited with one, too.

Overall, the defense was fantastic, especially in the first half. The gave up yards from the Bengals 20 to the Dallas 40, but stopped Cincinnati several times there and forced punts. Both of Cincy’s TDs came in the fourth quarter after the game was well in hand.

Special Teams

There are six special teams: field goal kicks and blocks, kick off returns and coverage, and punt returns and coverage.

Field Goal Kicks and Blocks

These teams are made up mostly of offensive and defensive linemen and tight ends, plus the long snapper, holder and kicker, and some speed guys for the edge. I mostly want to focus on the other teams. This week, Dan Bailey played despite ongoing concern about a tightening back. He wasn’t needed for any field goal tries, just four extra points and kick offs.

Kick Off and Punt Returns and Coverage

Bob Sturm broke down the kick off teams for the Giants game, complete with screen shots of the coverage and return units. It is largely the same guys on the punt return and coverage groups.

  • Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson, 18 snaps
  • Jeff Heath, 15
  • Barry Church, 13
  • Anthony Brown, 10
  • Byron Jones, 9
  • Keith Smith, JJ Wilcox, Anthony Hitchens, Sean Lee, 8 each
  • Gavin Escobar, 7
  • Mo Claiborne, Brandon Carr, 6
  • Mark Nzeocha, 4

Lucky Whitehead had a nice kickoff return to start the game, but also muffed a punt, only to recover it. Chris Jones continues to punt very will, with no returns on two kicks. No game changing plays either way.

Defensive snap counts - week 2 - Washington

Defensive snap counts - week 3 - Bears

Defensive snap counts - week 4 - Niners