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 six, a Dallas 30-16 win at Lambeau Field, where Dallas had won only once previously in 10 tries in team history.
Overall, this was a very impressive performance by the defense. They didn’t generate the sacks that they had last week against Cincinnati, but they forced and recovered four turnovers, which is better. And they did it even though Mo Claiborne was knocked out by Sean Lee with a concussion at the end of the first half, and Barry Church battled injuries throughout the game.
They consistently gang tackled. Eddie Lacy looked like he might go off early, with a 25-yard run on Green Bay’s first series, but he was held to 65 yards on 17 carries, and overall the Packers only got 78 yards on the ground, at 3.3 yards per carry. Definitely the best run defense of the year.
David Irving got the game ball for stripping the ball three times, and blocking a pass. Most of his damage came from inside. Like the game against Cincinnati, the Cowboys stiffened on their side of the field, this time forcing field goals rather than punts. But there were no Packer touchdowns until late in the fourth with the game in hand. It was a group effort with lots of subs, and held the Packers to 16 points at home. That’s four games in a row holding opponents to 17 or less. Impressive.
Sunday marked the sixth consecutive game the Cowboys have not allowed a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver. The Minnesota Vikings, the NFL's only undefeated team, are the only other club that can say the same.
The Defensive Line
The starting four were the same: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Maliek Collins, and Jack Crawford. Here are the overall counts (out of 70 snaps, like last week a tie for most on the season):
- Tyrone Crawford, 48 snaps
- Maliek Collins, 41 snaps
- Jack Crawford, 35
- Cedric Thornton, 30
- DeMarcus Lawrence, 29
- Terrell McClain, 23
- Ryan Davis, 20
- Benson Mayowa, 22
- David Irving, 17
How do these compare to last week (which also had 70 snaps)? Maliek Collins had 13 fewer snaps, and Terrell McClain dropped 18 snaps, but the other starters were used about the same amount. DeMarcus Lawrence increased 12 snaps, David Irving, who missed last game with a concussion, added 17 snaps and made the most of them, while Davis and Mayowa were used about the same.
The group generated very little pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but the design appeared to be to stop the run first, rush few, and flood the secondary, and it worked. One sack was negated by a too-many-men penalty.
This week, Sean Lee still played 100%, Justin Durant played 43%, and Anthony Hitchens played 41%. Instead of Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson appearing in 23% of the plays as the fourth linebacker. Kyle Wilber did not play.
- Sean Lee, 70 snaps (100%)
- Justin Durant, 30
- Anthony Hitchens, 29
- Damien Wilson, 16
Sean Lee continues humming along, and was ferocious this game with nine solo tackles. He also knocked out Mo Claiborne with a concussion and DeVonte Adams. Wilson was next with three solo tackles. Durant should have had a sack, but pulled Rodgers’ face mask and was penalized.
This time the running game was stifled, gaining only 78 yards at 3.3 yards per carry. When is Mark Nzeocha coming back?
This is definitely the best part of the Dallas defense, and it was tested by injuries this game. Orlando Scandrick was out again, Claiborne went out with a concussion at the end of the first half, and Church was hobbled. But they made it work.
- Brandon Carr, 70 snaps
- Anthony Brown, 61
- JJ Wilcox, 60
- Byron Jones, 60
- Barry Church, 51
- Jeff Heath, 33
- Mo Claiborne, 24
Anthony Brown was a monster, with nine solo tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. He took Mo’s place on the outside in the second half, with Byron Jones playing the slot. JJ Wilcox and Jeff Heath were the safeties for much of the second half, but Rodgers didn’t exploit them. It seems as if Dallas has finally learned how to play a good zone defense. Byron Jones had a nice tipped pass. And Barry Church baited Aaron Rodgers into an interception.
Overall, the defense was a rock, with the four turnovers, stiffening and gang-tackling to stop Green Bay’s rushing, and keeping the Packers out of the end zone until the end. Anytime you hold Green Bay to 16 points in Lambeau Field, you have done an outstanding job. Bob Sturm gave them an A+ grade.
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 was a perfect on two field goals and three extra points.
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 (with 5 or more snaps).
- Andrew Gachkar, Jeff Heath, 19 snaps
- Damien Wilson, 18
- Barry Church, Rod Smith, 14
- Keith Smith, 13
- Anthony Brown, JJ Wilcox, 10
- Byron Jones, 8
- Mark Nzeocha, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim, 7
- Lucky Whitehead, 5
Dallas had nothing in the return game, and hasn’t done much of anything all year. It’s a bit disappointing since Whitehead took the opening kick in preseason to the house.
The coverage was worse, allowing a 25-yard punt return and a 40-yard kickoff return. So Chris Jones lost the punting battle for this week.
Dallas isn’t losing games on special teams, but they aren’t winning them either (except for Bailey’s prowess at field goals).