It’s been a tough week for our Dallas Cowboys. In the span of three days, Dallas lost a heart-breaking opener to Tampa Bay, and lost two of their premier players on offense, Michael Gallup and La’el Collins, for the near future.
Despite this, the Cowboys certainly showed some things to be excited about against the defending champs. Today, we’ll take a deeper look into the opener against Tampa, and dive into examining who should be getting more snaps, and who should be getting less.
Defense Snap Count Percentage - 65 Defensive Snaps Total
Trevon Diggs - 100%
Anthony Brown - 100%
Donovan Wilson - 85%
Damontae Kazee - 80%
Micah Parsons- 78%
Keanu Neal - 77%
Jourdan Lewis - 75%
DeMarcus Lawrence - 66%
Jayron Kearse - 62%
Randy Gregory - 57%
Osa Odighizuwa - 55%
Carlos Watkins - 46%
Brent Urban - 43%
Dorance Armstrong - 42%
Tarell Basham - 37%
Quinton Bohanna - 31%
Jaylon Smith - 25%
Leighton Vander Esch - 22%
Bradlee Anae - 15%
Maurice Canady - 3%
Darian Thompson - 2%
A Passing Of The Torch At The Linebacker Spot
1) Jaylon Smith playing just 25% of the defensive snaps (14 defensive snaps total), shows two things. One, the coaching staff, in particular Dan Quinn, clearly does not believe Smith is capable of becoming the guy we saw back in 2018. It also shows that Dallas clearly has a lot of trust in rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and the newly-converted linebacker Keanu Neal.
Coming into this game, Smith had started 50 straight games and played about 95% of the defensive snaps. His snap count on Thursday however was his lowest since Dec. 24, 2017, against Seattle.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith been an on-field fixture for past three seasons, starting 50 straight games and playing about 95% of defensive snaps. Thursday’s snap count his lightest since 14 vs. Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2017.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 10, 2021
An adjustment period for him and Leighton Vander Esch alike.
The Cowboys’ other highly-scrutinized linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, played even less than Smith, being on the field for just 22% of the defensive snaps. Vander Esch’s 14 defensive snaps are the lowest of his career in any game he has not left with an injury.
Vander Esch’s role in the defense has been diminished so much that the linebacker was even on the kickoff team on Thursday night.
Leighton Vander Esch is on kickoff team, which feels like a significant detail about linebacker roles and usage.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) September 10, 2021
While both Smith and Vander Esch did not see much of the field Thursday night, you could make the argument that some of this was because Tampa Bay threw the ball 50 times. Parsons and Neal are the team’s nickel linebackers, so they were on the field for almost every Tampa passing down.
Even so, it’s hard to not see the writing on the wall for Smith and Vander Esch. It sure seems like the Cowboys are comfortable with the duo of Parsons and Neal as their primary guys, and the two former fixtures for Dallas at the linebacker spot may not see much of the field this season unless someone goes down with an injury.
2) Maurice Canady playing just two snaps was a bit odd. Anthony Brown really struggled, but Dallas was unwilling to take him off the field at all and give Canady some snaps. Our very own Tom Ryle made some good points about this in his crunching the stats piece this week.
It is common to see your starting cornerbacks on the field for every play. Diggs had a very good game, almost totally shutting down Mike Evans, giving up only three catches on six targets for 24 yards. But in the Brown vs. Brown battle, Antonio went off against Anthony, amassing 121 yards and a touchdown. That leads to the question of why Canady only saw two plays on the field. This looked like a situation where the coaches might have tried something different as the Cowboys’ Brown was clearly in Brady’s crosshairs. Canady had an excellent camp in making the roster. He might not have done much better, but it seems like it was at least worth a try.
If Brown is to struggle again next week it will be very interesting to see if Canady finds his way onto the field more.
Hungry Running Backs
3) On Thursday night, the Cowboys’ running backs ran the ball just 14 times. 11 of the carries went to Ezekiel Elliott, while just three went to Tony Pollard. Even though he only touched the ball 13 times, Elliott still played a big role in the game. The star running back was excellent in pass protection, helping Dak Prescott have an extra second or two to make some great throws.
This week expect both Elliott and Pollard to get more touches. Throwing the ball 58 times a game isn’t sustainable, and with La’el Collins out, Dallas may try to lean on their running game more against the Chargers.
Three Cowboys Who Should See More Snaps
1) RB, Tony Pollard
2) S, Malik Hooker (If active)
3) CB, Maurice Canady