With no game this past week, it seemed like a good time to tally up the snap counts for the Cowboys on offense, defense, and special teams over the first six games.
Offensive Snap Counts
These are all the guys who have played on offense so far.
The Every-Down Players
This group is made up of Jason Witten, the quarterback, and the offensive linemen.
Jason Witten, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Dak Prescott and Doug Free have played every play, or nearly every play.
But the other two legs of the offensive line haven’t been as stable. Dallas’ left tackle Tyron Smith has missed two games, and its left guard La’el Collins is out for the year. That’s more missed time than all of 2014. Let’s hope the line can stay healthy going forward.
The Second Tier
This group is made up of the starting running back, the wide receivers, and second tight end.
Of these, Ezekiel Elliott is in the lead, followed by Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant, and Geoff Swaim.
Bryant’s injury caused him to miss half of the games, but the rest of the receivers have rallied to fill in.
This group is led by Lucky Whitehead, Alfred Morris, Keith Smith, and Lance Dunbar. Dunbar has been hurt, keeping his impact down. Keith Smith has settled in as the fullback over Rod Smith. Despite their modest number of plays, all have made positive impacts.
Defensive Snap Counts
The Defensive Line
This table shows the four starters have played 57% to 69% of the snaps - Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Terrell McClain.
In 2014, the top four defensive linemen by snap counts were Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden, and George Selvie. The Cowboys don’t yet have a ferocious line, but it’s improving.
Next up are Benson Mayowa and Cedric Thornton, the two free agent signings, with 43% and 36% of the snaps.
Then you have the injured guy - David Irving - the waiver wire pickup - Ryan Davis - and the suspended star - DeMarcus Lawrence. One would expect both Irving and Lawrence to begin taking more and more snaps as the season wears on. The question is where? Irving may be better inside. While Lawrence will likely cut into Jack Crawford’s snaps.
This is the most fluid roster group on the team.
As I’ve said every week, this group is Sean Lee and fillers. The main fillers right now are Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant. It’s possible this group will change over the course of the season, if Mark Nzeocha gets healthy and starts taking snaps at middle linebacker.
Will Rolando McClain make a miracle return or Jaylon Smith make a miracle recovery? Both would really upgrade this group, but we can’t expect that in 2016. How about Darren McFadden for a linebacker? That’s likely to be just as much of a long shot.
The Defensive Backs
Both Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne have been solid on the outside, elevating their games a lot. Anthony Brown has been a savior with Orlando Scandrick’s hamstring problems. And JJ Wilcox has quietly played more than 50% of the snaps without getting burned.
How much of this improvement can be attributed to making Joe Baker the new secondaries coach and hiring Greg Jackson to coach safeties, where Baker was last year?
Special Teams Snap Counts
This is where bottom of the roster guys stay on teams. Some guys are just built to be special teams players, like Jeff Heath and Andrew Gachkar. Other guys hope to play teams while they try to break into the starting lineup, like Damien Wilson. Other guys play teams and have a niche role on offense or defense, like Keith Smith, Lucky Whitehead, Rod Smith, and Kyle Wilber. The rest of the guys are offensive or defensive regulars who also have to play special teams to adequately cover kickoffs and punts, or return them. These include Barry Church, Byron Jones, JJ Wilcox, Anthony Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Jason Witten, Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Sean Lee and Geoff Swaim.
Not much has happened this season on special teams. Dan Bailey is still super solid, but not perfect. Chris Jones is punting well. But on the return side, Dallas has given up more than it’s gotten, though no returns have made a difference in games.
Injuries and suspensions
To finish, let me highlight the major injuries and suspensions so far, and who has filled in.
- Tony Romo - six games and counting (Dak Prescott)
- Orlando Scandrick - four games (Anthony Brown)
- Dez Bryant - three games (Terrance Williams and Brice Butler)
- Tyron Smith - two games (Chaz Green)
- La’el Collins - on IR, out for the season (Ron Leary)
- James Hanna - on PUP, can return (Geoff Swaim)
- Darren McFadden - on NFI, can return (Zeke Elliott and Alfred Morris)
- Charles Tapper - on IR, can return
- Rolando McClain - suspended 10 games, has not reported (Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant)
- Randy Gregory - suspended 14 games
- DeMarcus Lawrence - suspended four games, has returned (Tyrone Crawford moved outside and Maliek Collins took Crawford’s snap inside)
- Kellen Moore - out for season
- Jaylon Smith - NFI - unlikely to return
- Lance Dunbar - two games
- Mark Nzeocha - four games
- David Irving, Chaz Green, and Ron Leary have also been inactive for injury reasons.