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Snap Counts For The Cowboys’ Defense: Anthony Hitchens, DeMarcus Lawrence, And Kyle Wilber Star

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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: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Overview

Minnesota won the time of possession 33:17 to 26:43, out-gained the Cowboys 316 yards to 264, and had 74 plays on offense to Dallas’s 52. Yet the Cowboys won the game in Minneapolis 17-15, this time with the help of the biggest special teams play - a forced fumble by Kyle Wilber against the Vikings’ punt returner that gave Dallas a first and goal at the Vikings’ eight yard line. The Cowboys scored a go-ahead touchdown to Dez Bryant on the next play.

The Cowboys’ sacked the Minnesota quarterback three times for 22 yards, and hit him nine times. They had seven tackles for loss and four passes defensed. They would have had an interception but for a hands-to-the-face penalty. The Vikings drove inside Dallas territory five times before their last drive, but had to settle for three field goals and two punts. The defense gave up only two passes over 20 yards, and held the Vikings to only 87 yards rushing. Dallas is the only team in the NFL that hasn’t given up 100 yards to a rusher this season.

Aside from Kyle Wilber, who was aided on the turnover by Vince Mayle, the defensive stars were Anthony Hitchens and DeMarcus Lawrence. Both played their best games of the year.

The Defensive Line

The starting lineup has been the same for a few weeks: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Maliek Collins, and DeMarcus Lawrence. Here are the counts out of 72 snaps.

Player Pos Games Gms 1-9 Gm 10 Gm 11 Gm 12 Total Season Percent
Tyrone Crawford DE/DT 12 384 36 49 49 518 782 66%
Maliek Collins DT 12 333 28 34 49 444 782 57%
Jack Crawford DE/DT 12 356 20 25 22 423 782 54%
Terrell McClain DT 12 314 21 24 31 390 782 50%
Demarcus Lawrence DE 8 168 41 52 55 316 782 40%
David Irving DE/DT 12 179 26 43 41 289 782 37%
Cedric Thornton DT 12 193 18 21 21 253 782 32%
Benson Mayowa DE 9 202 0 0 22 224 782 29%
Ryan Davis DE 7 80 14 24 0 118 782 15%

DeMarcus Lawrence had the most defensive snaps on the line for the third week in a row. Jeff Sullivan thought he was the defensive player of the game.

Lawrence, who still has just one sack this season, finished the game with nine QB pressures. For comparison, he entered the game with 11 on the year. This goes back to my longstanding theory on statistics for defensive players being ridiculously overrated. Go look at the box score. It says that Lawrence finished with zero tackles and two QB hits. That’s the official NFL box score, which will more or less serve as the historic barometer going forward for how Lawrence played in this game. When in reality, he dominated. He was the MVP of the game, on either side of the ball, for either team.

Benson Mayowa returned for this game over Ryan Davis, and got one of the three Dallas sacks. Unlike the Washington game, in which Dallas rushed only three linemen for a third of the snaps, Dallas seemed to blitz more in this game than in any other, betting that Sam Bradford couldn’t punish them. It worked.

The official stats were:

This defensive line is what it is. They give maximum effort, but without Randy Gregory, lack anyone with real edge speed. Dallas’s offense needs to return to its ball-hogging ways to at least keep these guys fresh for the stretch run and into the playoffs.

The Linebackers

Here are the stats:

Player Pos Games Gms 1-9 Gm 10 Gm 11 Gm 12 Total Season Percent
Sean Lee LB 12 576 55 75 74 780 782 100%
Anthony Hitchens LB 12 284 26 44 52 406 782 52%
Justin Durant LB 11 220 28 5 0 253 782 32%
Damien Wilson LB 12 70 15 42 26 153 782 20%
Kyle Wilber LB 8 37 0 0 0 37 782 5%
Andrew Gachkar LB 9 29 0 0 0 29 782 4%

This was Anthony Hitchens’ best game of the year, and one of his best ever. Again, Jeff Sullivan made the case.

That’s the best all-around game Hitchens has played in his three-year NFL career and should have been even better if not for his instinctive, athletic, sensational interception being overturned on one of many ridiculous calls by the officiating crew. I should stress it was fairly brutal for both sides, the Cowboys weren’t cheated or anything. As for Hitchens, wow, he looked like Zach Thomas out there, just everywhere. He was like Bugs Bunny in that baseball game, playing all three linebacker positions at once. Finished with 10 tackles, two QB hurries, a sack and a pass defensed.

For once, he outshone Sean Lee, despite playing in 22 fewer snaps. Here are the stats.

  • Anthony Hitchens, 10 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.
  • Sean Lee, seven tackles and two tackles for loss.
  • Damien Wilson, two tackles, and a tackle for loss.

The Secondary

Barry Church returned, but Mo Claiborne was still out, and J.J. Wilcox had to sit with a thigh bruise. Anthony Brown started over Orlando Scandrick, which didn’t make Scandrick happy. It was done because of Scandrick’s lingering injuries.

Player Pos Games Gms 1-9 Gm 10 Gm 11 Gm 12 Total Season Percent
Brandon Carr CB 12 574 55 75 74 778 782 99%
Anthony Brown CB 12 338 42 59 74 513 782 66%
Orlando Scandrick CB 8 249 53 75 54 431 782 55%
Morris Claiborne CB 9 408 0 0 0 408 782 52%
Leon McFadden CB 2 17 0 0 0 17 782 2%
Byron Jones S 12 515 55 75 74 719 782 92%
J.J. Wilcox S 11 371 55 47 0 473 782 60%
Barry Church S 8 379 0 0 72 451 782 58%
Jeff Heath S 12 69 17 42 24 152 782 19%
Kavon Frazier S 1 0 0 14 0 14 782 2%

Sam Bradford was 32 of 45 for 247 yards, for a 91.6 quarterback rating. Yet once again, the Dallas defense kept its opponent out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, this time until the last 30 seconds of the game. Anthony Brown was the target for much of the night, but held his own.

Here are the stats.

  • Barry Church, nine tackles and a quarterback hit.
  • Byron Jones, eight tackles and a pass defensed.
  • Brandon Carr, eight tackles.
  • Orlando Scandrick, seven tackles.
  • Anthony Brown, four tackles and a pass defensed.

Special Teams

There are six special teams: field goal kicks and blocks, kick off returns and coverage, and punt returns and coverage. The numbers below are mostly for kick off and punt returns and coverage.

  • Jeff Heath, 25 snaps.
  • Kyle Wilber, Damien Wilson, 24
  • Andrew Gachkar, 22
  • Byron Jones, 19
  • Vincent Mayle, 18
  • Leon McFadden, 16
  • Gavin Escober, Anthony Brown, 12
  • Keith Smith, Kavon Frazier, 10
  • Lance Dunbar, Lucky Whitehead, Anthony Hitchens, 8

Outside of field goals, this was the most impactful special teams game of the year. Kyle Wilber and Vince Mayle caused the fumbled punt return that gave Dallas the ball on the Vikings eight yard line in the fourth quarter, where they scored a touchdown to take the lead for good on the next play.

Leon McFadden had a tremendous coverage play on another punt.

[It] was quite possibly the singular most spectacular individual play of the season for the Cowboys. I’ve watched it three times now and am more impressed with each viewing. Holy wow, just go watch it. Dude broke away from being double-teamed and before that a block in the back, but didn’t allow himself to be taken out of the play, which would have still graded him an A-plus on the snap. And then somehow made the tackle.

Chris Jones crushed his Vikings opponent on punts - six punts for a net of 47.2 yards per punt versus seven punts for a net of 31.9 yards per punt -- giving Dallas huge hidden field position. This forced Minnesota drives to stall before reaching the end zone, or even field goal range.

Dan Bailey added two extra points and a 31-yard field goal.

Defensive snap counts - game 2 - Washington

Defensive snap counts - game 3 - Bears

Defensive snap counts - game 4 - Niners

Defensive snap counts - game 5 - Cincinnati

Defensive snap counts - game 6 - Green Bay

Snap counts at the bye

Defensive snap counts - game 7 - Philadelphia

Defensive snap counts - game 8- Cleveland

Defensive snap counts - game 9 - Pittsburgh

Defensive snap counts - game 10 - Baltimore

Defensive snap counts - game 11 - Washington