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Cowboys’ offensive snap counts: Jason Witten was a lonely bright spot against Denver

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Who played, and who produced, for the Dallas Cowboys offense? 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 Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

An ugly game for the Cowboys. On the road against the Broncos, the Cowboys lost 42-17, and were never in the game.

Offensive Overview

What a difference a week makes! Against the Giants, Dallas had 47 offensive plays by halftime, and rolled to a 16-0 lead.

Against Denver, at the end of the first half, with the score 21-10 Denver, Dallas only:

  • Had run 25 plays
  • Had five first downs
  • Was one for six on third down, for 17%
  • Had gained 97 total yards on 25 offensive plays, and
  • Had a net 12 yards rushing, seven from Dak Prescott, and five from Ezekiel Elliott.

Dak was actually 14 of 20 for 85 yards, one TD, and a 94.8 passer rating. The lone touchdown was off a DeMarcus Lawrence strip sack that gave Dallas first-and-goal from the Denver three. A first down run went no where, but Dak then threw a TD pass to Dez Bryant to briefly tie the score at 7-7.

After Denver rolled to a 35-10 lead in the second half, Dallas got most of its 268 yards, but the efficiency actually went down instead of up, as Dak was picked off twice and ended 30 for 50, with a 68.6 quarterback rating. Amazingly, that’s was the average for quarterbacks against Denver last season. The biggest difference is that Denver surrendered 130 yards rushing on average last season, but only 40 to Dallas in this game, 24 of which was off three Dak Prescott scrambles. Ezekiel Elliott gained 8 yards on 9 carries.

Did Dallas give up on the run too early? Were the runs not varied enough to see what might work against the stacked Denver front? Did Dallas try to pass them out of the stacked run box? All of the above is likely the correct answer.

Hopefully, this will be the low water mark for the Dallas offense in 2017. It may be the best defense they face all year.

Offensive Line

All five linemen again played every snap.

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Total Season Percent
Travis Frederick C 26 2 74 71 145 145 100%
Zack Martin G 27 2 74 71 145 145 100%
La'el Collins T 24 2 74 71 145 145 100%
Tyron Smith T 27 2 74 71 145 145 100%
Chaz Green G 25 2 74 71 145 145 100%
Byron Bell G 28 2 0 0 0 145 0%
Joe Looney C 27 2 0 0 0 145 0%

Byron Bell and Joe Looney were again the backups, but only got special teams snaps.

Last week we looked at Pro Football Focus to try to get some numbers on the Cowboys line. We’ll look there again.

As standouts on the bad side, they gave La’el Collins a 30.1 overall grade, which is dreadful.

Collins had looked much improved at right tackle over his play at guard for the Cowboys, but on Sunday that came undone, as he was completely unable to block Von Miller, arguably the game’s best pure edge rusher. Collins surrendered a sack, a hit and 11 total pressures, and was bailed out of even more poor plays by plays getting nullified by penalty. At one point Von Miller was able to jump offside, jump back, and still beat him for pressure around the edge.

That dropped La’el Collins from 68.1 to 37.5. Zack Martin, on the other hand, was given an 80 grade, good for fourth-best on the Cowboys, to go from 85.8 to 87 (as we said, their numbers can be a mystery). Chaz Green went from a 66.4 to a 43.1. Tyron Smith went from 77.1 to 68.2. Travis Frederick went from 54 to 66.8.

That suggests that Frederick and Martin were the best Cowboys linemen yesterday, yet Zeke’s multiple runs up the middle went nowhere.

Whatever the numbers, the offensive line has to take a big part of the blame for Zeke’s horrific day, and for Dak getting hit so often, even if he was only sacked twice.

Quarterback

Dak played every down.

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Total Percent Percent
Dak Prescott QB 24 2 74 71 145 145 100%

His stat line was not pretty. (See second line below.)

WEEK OPP SCORE CMP ATT CMP% YDS ANY/A TD INT RATE QBR RUSH YDS TD SACKS YDS
1 NYG W19-3 24 39 61.54% 268 7.08 1 0 90.55 69.6 3 24 0 1 5
2 DEN L42-17 30 50 60% 238 3.42 2 2 68.6 35.1 3 24 0 2 10
Total 54 89 60.06% 506 5.01 3 2 78.21 54.6 6 48 0 3 15

As bad as this was, it is very close to an average quarterback performance against Denver’s defense from last year. So, while Dak deserves his share of the load for this loss, it was only part of the problem. For more analysis, see this week’s Dak and Zeke Report.

Running Backs

Zeke had almost all the running back plays. But there were almost no runs.

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Total Percent Percent
Ezekiel Elliott RB 22 2 60 63 123 145 85%
Alfred Morris RB 29 2 8 1 9 145 6%
Rod Smith RB 23 2 2 4 6 145 4%
Keith Smith FB 25 2 2 2 4 145 3%

As we wrote in the Dak and Zeke Report,

Zeke’s line yesterday may end up being the worst of his career. Let’s hope so.

WEEK OPP SCORE RUSH YDS Y/A REC YDS Y/C TD FUM
1 NYG W19-3 24 105 4.3 5 36 7.2 0 0
2 DEN L42-17 9 8 0.88 4 14 3.5 0 0
Total 33 113 3.42 9 50 5.55 0 0

This is not the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should be close to 50-50 pass-run splits. Perhaps the Cowboys will return to that approach next week in Phoenix.

Wide Receivers

How did the wide receiver snaps break down?

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Total Percent Percent
Dez Bryant WR 29 2 67 66 133 145 92%
Cole Beasley WR 28 2 52 57 109 145 75%
Terrance Williams WR 28 2 38 49 87 145 60%
Brice Butler WR 27 2 35 22 57 145 39%
Ryan Switzer WR 22 2 2 6 8 145 6%
Noah Brown WR 21 1 0 5 5 145 3%

One thing that is apparent after two games is the snaps do not match the productivity. Let’s do something we haven’t done before, and look at the yards per snap for each receiver.

Player Game Snaps Targets Catches Percent Yards TDs Yds/Snaps 2016 Snaps 2016 Yds 2016 Y/S
Dez Bryant NYG 67 9 2 22% 43 0 0.64
At DEN 66 16 7 44% 59 1 0.89
Total 133 25 9 36% 102 1 0.77 688 796 1.16
Cole Beasley NYG 52 5 3 60% 32 0 0.62
At DEN 57 8 4 50% 33 0 0.58
Total 109 13 7 54% 65 0 0.60 603 833 1.38
Terrance Williams NYG 38 7 6 86% 68 0 1.79
At DEN 49 5 4 80% 17 0 0.35
Total 87 12 10 83% 85 0 0.98 746 594 0.80
Brice Butler NYG 35 3 1 33% 30 0 0.86
At DEN 22 2 1 50% 18 0 0.82
Total 57 5 2 40% 48 0 0.84 429 219 0.51
Ryan Switzer NYG 2 0 0 0% 0 0 0.00
At DEN 6 0 0 0% 0 0 0.00
Total 8 0 0 0% 0 0 0.00 NA NA NA
Noah Brown NYG 0 0 0 0% 0 0 0.00
At DEN 5 0 0 0% 0 0 0.00
Total 0.00 NA NA NA

These numbers also don’t match last season. Only Terrance Williams has a higher catch percentage than he did last year. On the yards per snap numbers from this year and last year, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley are down, but Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are up.

For those who want to give up on Dez after two games, you are making a mistake. The answer is to find a way to get these numbers up. Easier cornerbacks and secondaries are on the horizon. Dak and Dez need to get in sync and take advantage.

Tight Ends

Once again, Jason Witten is the ironman. playing every snap. You have to wonder if the Cowboys would be served by finding a way to give him some time off. Without a receiving threat like Rico Gathers, however, that may be hard to do.

Player Pos Age Games Gm1 Gm2 Total Percent Percent
Jason Witten TE 35 2 74 71 145 145 100%
James Hanna TE 28 2 21 9 30 145 21%
Geoff Swaim TE 24 2 9 0 9 145 6%

These snaps may partially explain the Cowboys inability to run the ball. James Hanna was only in nine snaps all game, and Geoff Swaim was active, but only played special teams. Also, Keith Smith only played two snaps. So the Cowboys only had an extra blocker on 11 of 71 offensive snaps, well below the first game and their norm.

Witten is also enjoying a resurgence in the passing game. So far, he’s been the most productive receiver on a per snap basis, which is hard to do when you play every down.

Player Game Snaps Targets Catches Percent Yards TDs Yds/Snaps 2016 Snaps 2016 Yds 2016 Y/S
Jason Witten NYG 74 9 7 78% 59 1 0.80
At Den 71 13 10 77% 97 1 1.37
Total 145 22 17 77% 156 2 1.08 1017 673 0.66

With neither James Hanna nor Geoff Swaim having received a target yet, Rico Gathers can’t return to this offense soon enough.

Witten also broke Ed “Too Tall” Jones’ record for most games played as a Cowboy.

Offensive snap counts 2016

Offensive snaps Game 1 - New York Giants