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Cowboys’ defensive snap counts: Without Sean Lee, the defense struggled, and special teams weren’t special

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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.

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas defense was missing Sean Lee in the Cowboys 35-30 loss to the Rams, and it showed.

Defensive Overview

The Cowboys surrendered 412 yards, 168 of them rushing, and 244 net yards passing, 24 first downs, seven field goals, and 35 points. Two turnovers - a muffed punt by Ryan Switzer and a Dak Prescott interception caused when his arm was hit while throwing - were costly, leading directly to 10 Rams points.

The first half wasn’t bad for Dallas, as the offense ran up 287 yards on 34 plays, with the Rams only gaining 131 and 10 first downs. The score was 24-16 at halftime, but could have been better, as the Switzer muff cost Dallas seven of those Rams points.

In the second half, however, repeated five-and-outs by the Dallas offense just wore out the Dallas defense, which allowed Los Angeles to score on five drives in a row, and turn a 24-16 deficit into a 32-24 lead. Then, when Dallas close to within two and missed the conversion, the Rams went 12 plays for 73 yards, burning 5:16 of clock. Todd Gurley carried or was targeted on eight of the 12 plays. Without Sean Lee, the Cowboys couldn’t stop him.

Defensive Line

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Gm3 Gm4 Total Season Percent
Maliek Collins DT 22 4 50 48 60 49 207 283 73%
DeMarcus Lawrence DE 25 4 34 45 56 48 183 283 65%
Tyrone Crawford DE 28 4 23 37 51 40 151 283 53%
Stephen Paea DT 29 4 39 46 31 29 145 283 51%
Benson Mayowa DE 26 4 29 40 31 35 135 283 48%
Taco Charlton DE 23 4 26 33 20 22 101 283 36%
Brian Price DT 23 4 10 33 17 21 81 283 29%
Damontre Moore DE 25 2 0 0 26 21 47 283 17%
Charles Tapper DE 24 2 11 25 0 0 36 283 13%

This was a far cry from the sack parade the Cowboys put on against Arizona. The Cowboys got one 11-yard sack - a strip sack by DeMarcus Lawrence (who else?) - but couldn’t recover the fumble. Here is the production.

  • DeMarcus Lawrence - three tackles, one assist, one sack for 11 yards, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and quarterback hit.
  • Maliek Collins - two tackles, and a tackle for loss
  • Damontre Moore - one tackle, one assist, and a quarterback hit
  • Benson Mayowa - one tackle, and a quarterback hit
  • Tyrone Crawford - one tackle, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit
  • Taco Charlton - one assist
  • Stephen Paea - one assist

Despite these stats, Pro Football Focus gave Lawrence a poor grade because the Rams and Todd Gurley were able to run over him. This strikes me as more of a linebacker problem.

Linebackers

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Gm3 Gm4 Total Season Percent
Jaylon Smith LB 22 4 36 68 54 69 227 283 80%
Sean Lee LB 31 3 56 77 75 0 208 283 73%
Damien Wilson LB 24 4 17 23 16 27 83 283 29%
Justin Durant LB 32 4 2 1 32 48 83 283 29%
Kyle Wilber LB 28 2 0 3 0 2 5 283 2%

Not having Sean Lee was the story of this game. As a result, Jaylon Smith played every down (69). Justin Durant and Damien Wilson and Kyle Wilber combined for 77 snaps, which tells you that the Cowboys typically played with only two linebackers (or even one) and went nickel or dime most of the time. Production.

  • Jaylon Smith - seven tackles, three assists, one quarterback hit
  • Justin Durant - three tackles, one assist, one tackle for loss
  • Damien Wilson - one tackle, one quarterback hit

That’s lots of tackles for Jaylon, but for whatever it’s worth, Pro Football Focus has him scored at 40.2, which is 72nd for linebackers. It’s pretty clear he’s making the effort, but the results aren’t there yet. The Cowboys need Lee AND Hitchens back.

Secondary

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Gm3 Gm4 Total Season Percent
Anthony Brown CB 24 4 50 77 81 69 277 283 98%
Byron Jones S 25 4 56 76 81 61 274 283 97%
Jeff Heath S 26 4 56 77 78 55 266 283 94%
Jourdan Lewis CB 22 3 0 65 48 56 169 283 60%
Orlando Scandrick CB 30 3 9 0 69 69 147 283 52%
Xavier Woods S 22 3 0 34 43 16 93 283 33%
Nolan Carroll CB 30 2 56 25 0 0 81 283 29%
Kavon Frazier S 23 4 18 10 22 22 72 283 25%
Chidobe Awuzie CB 22 2 38 5 0 0 43 283 15%

Anthony Brown moved up to #1 on the snap charts for the season, three snaps ahead of Byron Jones and 11 ahead of Jeff Heath. Jourdan Lewis is now in the fourth spot, despite missing a game. Xavier Woods’ snaps were cut back a lot this week. Production.

  • Anthony Brown - five tackles, an assist, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed.
  • Jeff Heath - five tackles, and an assist.
  • Byron Jones - five tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed.
  • Orlando Scandrick - three tackles, an assist, and a tackle for loss
  • Jourdan Lewis - two tackles, an assist, and a tackle for loss
  • Kavon Frazier - one tackle, and two assists
  • Xavier Woods - two tackles

According to Pro Football Focus, Anthony Brown was not the problem on defense.

Brown was a blanket in coverage this afternoon, allowing just two catches on six targets for a total of 15 yards. Brown allowed just two total yards after the catch and he also broke up a pass intended for Tyler Higbee; Goff had just a 42.4 passer rating when targeting Brown’s man in coverage on Sunday.

PFF also liked Byron Jones.

Special Teams

This was a terrible week for special teams. You could make the argument that they lost the game. The biggest play was the Ryan Switzer muffed punt, which gave the Rams the ball on the Dallas 18 after they were down 17-6. It allowed them to get their only TD of the first half, and kept the game close enough that field goals (of which the Rams scored seven) could make a difference.

But the Cowboys also allowed the Rams to return a kickoff to the Dallas 35, which set up a field goal in the first half. Without those two plays, it might have taken the Rams out of a balanced offense, and hurt their ability to come back.

Player Pos Games Gm1 Gm2 Gm3 Gm4 Total Season Percent
Kyle Wilber LB 4 19 27 27 29 102 118 86%
Damien Wilson LB 4 19 27 27 29 102 118 86%
Kavon Frazier S 4 18 19 23 19 79 118 67%
Jeff Heath S 4 17 20 22 20 79 118 67%
Rod Smith RB 4 17 19 23 20 79 118 67%
Xavier Woods S 4 13 17 14 20 64 118 54%
Keith Smith FB 4 6 19 17 18 60 118 51%
Geoff Swaim TE 4 12 15 18 14 59 118 50%
Byron Jones S 4 14 12 17 16 59 118 50%
Anthony Brown CB 4 11 15 16 17 59 118 50%
James Hanna TE 4 6 16 11 12 45 118 38%
Ryan Switzer WR 4 8 10 11 11 40 118 34%
Noah Brown WR 3 0 11 6 9 26 118 22%
Damontre Moore DE 2 0 0 10 11 21 118 18%
Ben Benwikere CB 2 0 0 12 8 20 118 17%
Nolan Carroll CB 2 13 2 0 0 15 118 13%
Chidobe Awuzie CB 2 13 2 0 0 15 118 13%
Sean Lee LB 3 1 8 4 0 13 118 11%
Jourdan Lewis CB 2 0 8 1 0 9 118 8%

Conclusion

Where does the Cowboys’ defense go from here? They have Green Bay next week, then a bye. One hopes things will go up, for three reasons.

  1. Returning players. David Irving is off his suspension this week, Anthony Hitchens should return after the bye, and Sean Lee is expected back this week. Eventually Chidobe Awuzie should be healed as well. That’s three potential starters, and another athletic secondary player.
  2. Rookie learning curve. This can’t happen fast enough. So far, only Jourdan Lewis has made the jump to a major defensive role. But one might expect Chidobe Awuzie to get more snaps when he’s healthy. Xavier Woods also might play an increased role. Will Taco Charlton have an impact this year? That’s a big question.
  3. Offensive improvement. When the offense finally finds its ball-control rhythm, it will help the defense.

2016 Defensive Snap Counts

Defensive snaps Game 1 - New York Giants

Defensive snaps Game 2 - At Denver

Defensive snaps Game 3 - At Arizona