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Snap Counts For The Cowboys’ Defense: Sean Lee Saves The Day

Who played, and who produced, for the Dallas Cowboys defense? 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: Philadelphia Eagles 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 seven, a nail-biting overtime 29-23 victory over Philadelphia in Dallas, where Philly had won five of the previous six matchups.


Overall, the defense gave up a season-tying-high of 23 points, but on only 291 yards. Philly got great field position on two of its scores off special teams plays - one a gaffe by Dallas, and the other a great return by Josh Huff. Carson Wentz completed lots of short passes — he had 17 completions at the half for 107 yards, while Dak Prescott had five for 118 yards. Dallas sacked him three times, but for only eight yards.

Yet, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, the defense came up big. Terrell McClain forced a fumble that Dallas recovered at the Philly 36-yard line. That led to a field goal. Then Sean Lee made the play of the game on defense. With Philly at the Dallas 30 threatening to extend the lead back to 10 points, Lee knifed through the line and tackled Darren Sproles for a six-yard loss, and Philly punted. That allowed Dallas to drive 90 yards to tie the score.

It was the seventh consecutive game the Cowboys have not allowed a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver.

Unfortunately, Dallas lost two defensive players to injury, when Barry Church broke his forearm, and Mo Claiborne suffered a groin injury.

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 78 snaps, the most snaps on the season):

  • Tyrone Crawford, 64 snaps
  • Jack Crawford, 42
  • DeMarcus Lawrence, 41
  • David Irving, 40
  • Maliek Collins, 37 snaps
  • Terrell McClain, 37
  • Cedric Thornton, 22
  • Benson Mayowa, 19
  • Ryan Davis, DNP

How do these compare to last week? Four players increased their snap totals: David Irving up 21 snaps, Tyrone Crawford up 16, Terrell McClain up 14, and DeMarcus Lawrence up 12. Cedric Thornton dropped eight, while Maliek Collins and Benson Mayowa stayed about the same.

Tyrone Crawford had a great game with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss. He also recovered the fumble that Terrell McClain forced in the fourth quarter. Cedric Thornton had the other half sack for the line.

The Linebackers

This week, Sean Lee still played 100%, Anthony Hitchens played 50%, Justin Durant played 46%, and Damien Wilson appeared in 23% of the plays again. The other linebackers only played on special teams.

  • Sean Lee, 78 snaps
  • Anthony Hitchens, 39
  • Justin Durant, 36
  • Damien Wilson, 18

Sean Lee continues humming along, earned the game ball, and was ferocious again with eleven tackles, and two tackles for loss. Justin Durant had six tackles, while Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson had three each. Hitchens committed a costly roughing penalty that helped Philly score its last touchdown.

Darren Sproles knifed through the Dallas defense for 5.7 yards per carry, but he was the only one, and overall Dallas held Philly to four yards per carry and less than 100 yards on the game.

The Secondary

Orlando Scandrick returned, which sent Anthony Brown back to the bench, until Mo Claiborne was hurt late in the game. Barry Church broke his forearm, forcing J.J. Wilcox and some of Jeff Heath into the game.

  • Brandon Carr, 77 snaps
  • Mo Claiborne, 75
  • Byron Jones, 72
  • Orlando Scandrick, 56
  • J.J. Wilcox, 49
  • Barry Church, 45
  • Anthony Brown, 6
  • Jeff Heath, 5

Byron Jones led the way with eight tackles, followed by Brandon Carr with seven. Carr also had a pass defensed. Orlando Scandrick had a sack, a quarterback hit, three tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed. Welcome back! If Mo misses time with a groin injury, his return is none too soon.

Overall, the defense came up big in the fourth quarter when it had to, with the forced fumble and Lee tackle for loss. They kept Philly off the scoreboard and allowed Dallas to rally with the last 10 points in regulation.

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 was a perfect on three field goals from 38, 23, and 49 yards.

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 10 or more snaps).

  • Kyle Wilber, 31 snaps
  • Jeff Heath, 29
  • Damien Wilson, 28
  • Andrew Gachkar, 25
  • Rod Smith, 23
  • Keith Smith, 18
  • JJ Wilcox, 16
  • Gavin Escobar, Byron Jones, 15
  • Mo Claiborne, 13
  • Anthony Brown, 12
  • Lucky Whitehead, 11

Aside from the Bailey field goals and extra points, about the only positive play on Dallas special teams was the Chris Jones fake punt and run for 30 yards. Dallas did pin Philadelphia deep on one kick off, but this may have led them to think they could do it again, and Josh Huff ran for 53 yards to set up a Philly field goal.

Lucky Whitehead also fielded a punt on the five yard line. Though he returned it to the 20, a holding penalty backed Dallas up, and the ensuing field position Philly gained led to their first touchdown.

Defensive snap counts - week 2 - Washington

Defensive snap counts - week 3 - Bears

Defensive snap counts - week 4 - Niners

Defensive snap counts - week 5 - Cincinnati

Defensive snap counts - week 6 - Green Bay

Snap counts at the bye

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