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Looking at defensive snap counts for the Cowboys in the Seahawks game

Let’s give equal treatment to the Cowboys defense.

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys
He needs to work on those infractions, but Sam Williams is dangerous rushing the passer.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

On Saturday, we posted what we might be able to glean from the offensive snap counts for the Dallas Cowboys in the final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. There was a lot that could be inferred on that side of the ball, and there is also a lot of info to look at on the defense as well. Let’s dive in.

Defensive backs

Before we even look at the counts, it is interesting to note how the NFL GSIS site listed some of the players involved. Markquese Bell, DaRon Bland, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and Juanyeh Thomas were designated DB rather than being defined as CB or S. This may be just a lack of information for whomever was amassing the counts, but with Bell, it also may be that he was filling multiple assignments. That may carry over to the others, and it does seem consistent with the way the Dan Quinn defense uses flexibility of its players. It should make it harder for the opposing quarterback to make pre-snap reads. That is a good thing.

Now to the numbers. Nahshon Wright was the only player on either side of the ball to see 100% of the snaps for his unit. In his case, it appears to be an attempt to get a long look at a player who is generally perceived as being on a bit of a bubble with Bland moving ahead of him on the depth chart. Bland himself only saw 49% of the plays. With the starters all on the sidelines, that lower count does look like a sign he is indeed on the 53-man roster.

Wright had a mixed evening, snagging an interception but also drawing two flags that resulted in big gains for the Seahawks. Those struggles in coverage make him a hard decision for the staff. Is there something that merits more development in his game, and is it worth spending a roster spot to do so? A lot of people don’t think it is worth the cost. A year on the practice squad may be more beneficial, but it may well come down to the numbers. Additionally, Kelvin Joseph went out with a concussion. His recovery could provide at least a temporary reprieve for Wright, but the team probably would rather Joseph be available.

The next highest snap count was for Bell with 97%, and he had a much better night. He also had a pick and played clean while contributing four tackles. From day one of camp he was seen as the UDFA most likely to make the team, and all indications are that he is living up to that.

Tyler Coyle at 93% and Thomas at 82% rounded out the group of DBs that saw the most action, but in their cases this was probably more about making it to the practice squad. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for either to break through to the 53. The only other DB to see much action was C.J. Goodwin with 30%, and it will be a surprise if the long standing special teams ace does not wind up filling that role this year.


There wasn’t a lot to see here as the Cowboys relied more on those DBs. Devin Harper led the linebackers with only 51% of the snaps, but that might be an indication that he is going to be the fifth backer on a team that may only carry five. Anthony Barr saw the field mainly to get him some reps after his late acquisition and is certain to be on the team. Jabril Cox saw a usage rate of just 34%, but managed to tie for second in tackles in the game. He will be on the team, and not just because of where he was drafted last year. Luke Gifford probably has to hope he gets a PS offer unless the team unexpectedly carries a sixth. With the logjam of talent both behind and in front of the linebackers, that seems unlikely.

Defensive line

At first glance, Sam Williams had a very similar performance to Wright’s. He had the most snaps of any players along the line with 78% of the snaps. He also was flagged twice, for roughing the passer, with a sack to go on the plus side of the ledger. But the power he displayed on that sack will probably buy him a lot of grace with the coaches. Of course, his draft status pretty much assures his roster spot. The five tackles, two TFLs, and QB hit he also put on the stat sheet don’t hurt, either. He is going to be used selectively, at least early in the season. If he just gets those penalties eliminated, though, he could be the Randy Gregory replacement we hoped for.

In preseason it can be telling who never sees the field, and two players that could be important for are Dante Fowler and Tarell Basham. One reason the team has to consider going light at linebacker is the crowd of talented players at defensive end. With DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong the presumptive starters, and Williams making the team, that puts some pressure on Fowler and Basham, but holding them out could be an indication they are on the team. However, the Cowboys might be looking to trade one or both of them and wanted to keep them healthy for that reason. When you add in Chauncey Golston, who can play both DE and DT, they are going to need a bunch of roster spots in any case.

Speaking of Golston, he saw limited work, 23%. He may well have been on the field just to have enough bodies, but he also may be more on the fringe than we might have guessed. It is hard to know what it means for his chances.

Moving inside, one player to note is Quinton Bohanna, who only saw the field on 8% of the defensive snaps. His main competition for the nose or 1-tech job is John Ridgeway, who got a lot more work with 64%. It seems the team wanted to take a long look at Ridgeway while they already know what they have in Bohanna. With so many 3-techs available, expect Bohanna to get the nod while the staff is content to give Ridgeway a year on the PS to develop. Ridgeway’s work might be like that of Josiah Bronson, who had the most snaps of any DT at 74%. No one is looking for him to break through to the 53.

Trysten Hill is a player who draws a mixed reaction. Some think he has proven he belongs on the roster, while others don’t expect there will be room. But Hill’s 18% usage was almost the same as Neville Gallimore’s 15%, and everyone knows Gallimore is on the team. Hill probably got similar treatment for the same reason.

Those are the main things the defensive snap counts told us. We will start to find out how accurate it is this week.

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