Roster decisions are always a big deal for us fans. We like seeing how a team like the 2016 version of the Dallas Cowboys is put together, who makes it and who doesn’t, and how a team gets better (or worse) over time. Snap counts provide week-to-week insight into those 53-man roster debates, and who’s producing and who’s not.
On offense, we can break down the snap counts into three groups.
The Every Down Players.
The Cowboys have seven guys that play 100% of the snaps week after week, unless someone gets dinged up during the game and has to miss a few plays, or extended time. They are:
- The quarterback. Dak Prescott for now.
- The five offensive linemen. Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free.
- Jason Witten.
This week, these guys all played 68 offensive snaps. All but Prescott also played on the field goal and extra point attempts as blockers.
We’ve already recounted the production of Prescott multiple times. Jason Witten was targeted four times, with three catches for 51 yards, including a 29-yard catch and run to start Dallas’s 94-yard TD drive.
The Second Tier
These are critical players, but they need a breather during the game, or they sit out because of certain personnel packages. This week, it’s made up of the wide receivers and lead running back. Some weeks, if the Cowboys choose to go with more two-TE sets rather than three-WR sets, a second tight end might slip in. This week, here was the breakdown.
- Dez Bryant, 57 snaps
- Terrance Williams, 44
- Ezekiel Elliott, 43
- Cole Beasley, 41
- Brice Butler, 26
The interesting thing about this group is who was targeted and who was not. Dez, in 57 snaps, was targeted 12 times and had seven catches for 102 yards. Cole Beasley was targeted six times, and caught five balls for 75 yards. This is tremendous production from Beasley, who’s turning into a favorite outlet for Dak Prescott. Zeke had 21 rushes and two receptions for 87 yards.
Meanwhile, Terrance Williams had 44 snaps, but zero targets, and Brice Butler had 26 snaps, but only one target, without a catch. If the trade off is having Dez go off for more than 100 yards, most fans would take it. But that can’t and shouldn’t continue.
Eight other players received offensive snaps.
- Geoff Swaim, 18 snaps
- Lucky Whitehead, 10
- Alfred Morris, 10
- Lance Dunbar, 9
- Gavin Escobar, 7
- Keith Smith, 5
- Chaz Green, 2
Of these players, several had much greater impact than Williams and Butler, who played lots more snaps.
Lance Dunbar was used more in this game than last, with two receptions for 26 yards, and three rushes for six yards. So in nine plays, he touched the ball five times. And he should have been targeted a sixth time. In the red zone, Dak tried forcing a pass into the middle to Jason Witten, when Dunbar was wide open in the flat and would have scored, as Washington’s defender on that side had blitzed. Dallas settled for a field goal and a 13-7 lead.
Geoff Swaim had a huge 28-yard catch and run on 4th and one to set up Dallas’s second TD. Last week he had Dallas’s longest reception of 21 yards. He’s worked his way solidly into the #2 tight end spot.
Lucky Whitehead played 10 snaps on offense but has yet to receive a handoff on one of his patented jet sweeps. This was the second week in a row he was unused. Not sure why Linehan (or Prescott) haven’t called his number.
Alfred Morris didn’t have the rushing success he had last week, but he did score the winning TD. Meanwhile, Keith Smith is the fullback, for what that’s worth, with Rod Smith playing special teams exclusively. Keith did have a goal line lead block that resulted in Elliott’s TD, and a catch out of the backfield for five yards (more than Williams and Butler combined!). It would seem that Cole Beasley’s success has reduced the number of two-TE and FB plays for Dallas’s offense.
Gavin Escobar, meanwhile, remains an invisible man, with seven snaps this week and only three on offense last week. He did some nice downfield blocking on Swaim’s big play, but Green replaced him on some jumbo looks when Dallas needed to power for a first down or TD. He’s had no targets in two games.
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, Bailey was two for two on field goals, and perfect on 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. Here we begin to see why certain guys make the 53-man overall roster, and the 46-man game day roster. Aside from Bailey and punter Chris Jones and the long snapper, the most special teams snaps go to:
- Kyle Wilber, 22 snaps
- Andrew Gachkar, 17
- R Smith, Jeff Heath, Damien Wilson, 16 snaps each
- K Smith, Byron Jones, 14
- Barry Church, 13
- Anthony Hitchens, Gavin Escobar, 10
- J.J. Wilcox, 9
- Brandon Carr, 8
- Morris Claiborne, Lucky Whitehead, Anthony Brown, 7
As Todd Archer ruminated last week, special teams are why Dallas kept two “fullbacks” on the roster instead of activating Ryan Davis, the new DE they signed last week. Only Keith Smith played on offense, and only on 5 plays. But he added 14 special teams snaps, while Rod Smith was on 16 special teams plays and returned a kick off.
The most significant thing that happened on special teams was the botched onside kick. Otherwise, Dan Bailey remained Mr. Automatic, and Lucky Whitehead had a nice 33-yard kick off return. Punt coverage had a tougher time with Jamison Crowder, who averaged 15 yards per return.