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Cowboys’ defensive snap counts: Group effort holds Giants to three points

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: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-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 one, an opening night victory over the Giants in Dallas 19-3.

Defensive Overview

The Cowboys defense totally stifled the Giants in the first half, holding them to 49 total yards and only two first downs. On the game, the Giants only made it in to Dallas territory twice: once was on their opening drive of the second half, which led to their only points of the night, the second was at the very end of the game when they reached the Dallas 35-yard line.

All three phases played their part.

The Defensive Line

Who played on the defensive line?

Player Pos Games Gm1 Total Season Percent
Maliek Collins DT 1 50 50 56 89%
Stephen Paea DT 1 39 39 56 70%
Demarcus Lawrence DE 1 34 34 56 61%
Benson Mayowa DE 1 29 29 56 52%
Taco Charlton DE 1 26 26 56 46%
Tyrone Crawford DE 1 23 23 56 41%
Charles Tapper DE 1 11 11 56 20%
Brian Price DT 1 10 10 56 18%

All eight active linemen got into the game, with Maliek Collins and Stephen Paea leading the way inside. But it was DeMarcus Lawrence who was most dominant, getting two sacks, two quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and four solo tackles.

Here are the overall production numbers:

  • DeMarcus Lawrence: four tackles, one assist, two sacks (13 yards), three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits.
  • Charles Tapper: one tackle, one assist, one sack (9 yards), one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit
  • Tyrone Crawford: one tackle, one assist
  • Stephen Paea, one tackle
  • Maliek Collins, one tackle, one holding penalty against, one roughing the passer penalty
  • Benson Mayowa, one quarterback hit, one sack that the officials missed

Of note is that Charles Tapper had more impact than Taco Charlton in fewer than half the snaps. It will be interesting to see if their snaps change.

The Cowboys should have been given four sacks on the night, which is an outstanding number against Eli Manning, who was sacked only 21 times all last year. Maybe our Danny Phantom was onto something when he speculated whether the Cowboys could be a top-five team in sacks.

The Linebackers

Here are the linebacker snap totals.

Player Pos Games Gm1 Total Season Percent
Sean Lee LB 1 56 56 56 100%
Jaylon Smith LB 1 36 36 56 64%
Damien Wilson LB 1 17 17 56 30%
Justin Durant LB 1 2 2 56 4%

As usual, Sean Lee is on the field for every defensive down. He also led the team in tackles, and should have been credited with a turnover (see photo at top) in conjunction with Jaylon Smith. Overall, he had seven tackles, including a tackle for loss, and six defensive stops, which tied for the league lead through Sunday’s games.

Perhaps the more surprising thing is that Jaylon Smith was given 36 snaps. He had four tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus gave him a high pass coverage grade, but he didn’t fare as well in run defense. Yet, overall, the Cowboys held the Giants to 35 total rushing yards, the fewest it has allowed since giving up 31 to the Panthers in 2015.

Damien Wilson had two tackles and two assists. Even Justin Durant had an assist on his two snaps.

The Secondary

The star of the secondary was Anthony Brown, who picked off Eli Manning. He was targeted four times, giving up only a six yard catch to Sterling Shepard. Pro Football Focus gave him a rating of 86.9, third in the NFL after Sunday’s games.

The other big factor was that Orlando Scandrick left with a broken hand after only nine snaps. This forced Dallas to move Brown into the slot and bring Chidobe Awuzie in as an outside cornerback. Scandrick is undergoing surgery to have a plate installed, and may only miss one game.

Here are the totals.

Player Pos Games Gm1 Total Season Percent
Nolan Carroll CB 1 56 56 56 100%
Byron Jones S 1 56 56 56 100%
Jeff Heath S 1 56 56 56 100%
Anthony Brown CB 1 50 50 56 89%
Chidobe Awuzie CB 1 38 38 56 68%
Kavon Frazier S 1 18 18 56 32%
Orlando Scandrick CB 1 9 9 56 16%


  • Jeff Heath, four tackles
  • Nolan Carroll, four tackles
  • Kavon Frazier, two tackles
  • Byron Jones, one tackle, one assist
  • Anthony Brown, one tackle, one interception, one pass defensed

Without Odell Beckham, Jr., this was a Giants team that couldn’t really threaten the Cowboys, who know their tendencies. The Giants shelled out $11 million over two years for 33 year old Brandon Marshall, who received three targets and had one meaningless garbage time catch. Thank goodness the Cowboys don’t try to build their team that way any more.

Special Teams

This year we are going to keep a table of special teams snaps. We aren’t going to monitor all the players, however. We don’t care about who blocks for field goals, who snaps, and who kicks and punts, since these are constants. We just want to know who has the most snaps on the kick off and punt special teams units.

Here are the snaps.

Player Pos Games Gm1 Total Season Percent
Kyle Wilber LB 1 19 19 24 79%
Damien Wilson LB 1 19 19 24 79%
Kavon Frazier S 1 18 18 24 75%
Rod Smith RB 1 17 17 24 71%
Jeff Heath S 1 17 17 24 71%
Byron Jones S 1 14 14 24 58%
Nolan Carroll CB 1 13 13 24 54%
Chidobe Awuzie CB 1 13 13 24 54%
Xavier Woods S 1 13 13 24 54%
Geoff Swaim TE 1 12 12 24 50%
Anthony Brown CB 1 11 11 24 46%
Ryan Switzer WR 1 8 8 24 33%
Keith Smith FB 1 6 6 24 25%
James Hanna TE 1 6 6 24 25%

The reason the leader here has only 79% of the snaps, is because their were five special teams plays involving field goals - four by the Cowboys, and one by the Giants. We aren’t counting those plays. Several players got their only special teams snaps on the Giants field goal, including: Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Orlando Scandrick, Charles Tapper, and Jayrone Elliott.

Byron Jones had two special teams tackles, while Kavon Frazier had one. Coverage was solid, with two kickoff returns for 42 yards, and only one punt return, for one yard.

The stars of special teams were Dan Bailey, who hit field goals of 21, 48, 42, and 36 yards. This was Dan Bailey’s ninth career game with four-or-more field goals, the most in team history and tied for the fourth most in the NFL since 2011.

Also Chris Jones punted four times, pinning New York at their 6, 9, 10, and 10 yard lines. That was a major factor in the game. Dwayne Harris had to fair catch three of these. On the fourth, he gained a yard.

Ryan Switzer was the new return man on kickoffs and punts. He did return two kickoffs for 42 yards, with the longest at 25 yards. He had no punt return yards, though he tried tricking the Giants once by looking like he was fair catching when he hadn’t signaled it, then took off running. Unfortunately, the refs had blown the play dead.

2016 Defensive Snap Counts

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