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Lions vs. Cowboys snap counts: Detroit leans on LBs to stall Dallas run game

Looking at the notable snap counts from the Detroit Lions game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions' defense continues to improve down the stretch and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn deserves a lot of credit for how he has been mixing and matching his available personnel. In their Week 17 game against the Cowboys, the Lions leaned on a more athletic front in order to stop the run and the results were promising.

Here’s a closer look at the Lions’ personnel decisions that led to them moving to 11-5 on the season.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 69 (100%)
Teddy Bridgewater: N/A
Hendon Hooker: INACTIVE

Goff, once again, played every offensive snap as this game came down to the wire.

Running backs

Jahmyr Gibbs: 43 (62%)
David Montgomery: 27 (39%)
Craig Reynolds: 0 (0%) — 19 special teams snaps (73%)

Over the last month, the Lions have been slightly favoring Gibbs over the veteran Montgomery. Against the Broncos, the Lions split snaps nearly even, but in the other three games over that time period, it’s been a roughly 60/40 split of snaps, in favor of the rookie.

Tight ends

Sam LaPorta: 69 (100%)
James Mitchell: 19 (28%) — 13 (50%)
Anthony Firkser: 0 (0%) — 12 (46%)
Brock Wright: RULED OUT, injured

With Wright injured, the Lions have leaned on Firkser as TE3 and on special teams over the last two weeks, but they have split all Wright’s offensive snaps to LaPorta and Mitchell. After playing nearly every snap against the Vikings in Week 16, LaPorta never left the field in Dallas.

Wide receivers

Amon-Ra St. Brown: 69 (100%)
Josh Reynolds: 50 (72%)
Jameson Williams: 44 (64%)
Kalif Raymond: 19 (28%) — 4 (15%)
Donovan Peoples-Jones: 3 (4%) — 5 (19%)
Antoine Green: INACTIVE

Like LaPorta, St. Brown never left the field against the Cowboys, illustrating how much the Lions lean on their slot options. Williams was once again on track to play a WR2-level of snaps, but an ankle injury put him on the sideline and Reynolds stepped in to fill the void. Raymond continues to play about a quarter of the offensive snaps, while People-Jones saw his numbers dip.

Offensive line

Taylor Decker: 69 (100%)
Jonah Jackson: 69 (100%)
Frank Ragnow: 69 (100%)
Graham Glasgow: 69 (100%) — 3 (12%)
Penei Sewell: 69 (100%) — 3 (12%)
Dan Skipper: 2 (3%) — 3 (12%)
Kayode Awosika: 0 (0%) — 3 (12%)
Colby Sorsdal: 0 (0%) — 3 (12%)

The Lions starting offensive line continues to play through their injuries and Skipper did indeed see the field as an extra offensive lineman “a couple of times.”

Defense

EDGE:

Aidan Hutchinson: 57 (88%)
John Cominsky: 43 (66%) — 4 (15%)
Josh Paschal: 38 (58%) — 4 (15%)
Bruce Irvin: 18 (28%)
Romeo Okwara: 9 (14%) — 8 (31%)
Charles Harris: 4 (6%)
Julian Okwara: INACTIVE

Hutchinson tends to hover around the 90% mark in every game, which is truly a remarkable number considering his impact. After registering 53 pressures (per PFF) and 11 sacks during his rookie season, through 17 weeks, Hutchinson has racked up 96 pressures (per PFF) and 9.5 sacks.

Cominsky and Paschal continue to see starter-level snaps because of their ability to line up both on the edge and inside. Their snaps inside are why the Lions' interior defensive linemen's usage has been reduced while Alim McNeill has been on injured reserve.

Irvin, who was elevated for the third and final time this season, out-snapped veterans Romeo Okwara and Harris combined, and was the catalyst behind Julian Okwara being a healthy scratch. You have to wonder, with the Lions needing to shuffle around their roster as three defenders appear ready to return from injured reserve this week, if the edge group could see some movement.

DT:

Tyson Alualu: 34 (52%)
Benito Jones: 30 (46%) — 7 (27%)
Isaiah Buggs: 23 (35%)
Levi Onwuzurike: INACTIVE
Brodric Martin: INACTIVE

Not only did this group see an overall reduction of snaps, but Alualu—who was making his 2023 debut—led the group in opportunities. Jones has now played 30 snaps in each of the last three games, while Buggs has seen 23 snaps twice and 24 in the third game over the same period, which appears to be the sweet spot for their usage.

It’ll be interesting to see how things change if McNeill is indeed able to return to game action this week, as is expected.

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone: 65 (100%)
Derrick Barnes: 46 (71%) — 5 (19%)
Jack Campbell: 40 (62%) — 14 (54%)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 12 (18%) — 23 (88%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 0 (0%) — 19 (73%)
Anthony Pittman: 0 (0%) — 23 (88%)

It’s clear the Lions wanted to increase their athleticism up front against the Cowboys, and in addition to leaning more on the edge rushers, Detroit also increased their linebacker usage. While Anzalone never left the field, Barnes and Campbell split reps between the MIKE and SAM, and there were a lot of instances where all three were on the field at the same time.

The Lions’ ability to use their linebackers in both off-the-ball and attacking situations allows them to be creative in their approach and has led to success, especially against the run. Over the last two weeks, they only allowed 61 yards rushing to the Cowboys and just 17 yards rushing to the Vikings.

Cornerbacks

Cam Sutton: 65 (100%)
Kindle Vildor: 64 (98%)
Brian Branch: 36 (55%)
Jerry Jacobs: 1 (2%) — 18 (69%)
Khalil Dorsey: 0 (0%) — 23 (88%)
Will Harris: 0 (0%) — 23 (88%)
Steven Gilmore: INACTIVE

Vildor got his first start of the season as the Lions continued to look for answers opposite Sutton. It’s also worth noting that when Vildor was not on the field, it was Jacobs who replaced him, not Dorsey, who had been starting the previous two games.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 65 (100%) — 5 (19%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 65 (100%) — 4 (15%)
Tracy Walker: 0 (0%) — 14 (54%)

No changes here, as Melifonwu continues to be one of the Lions’ best players in their secondary since he was given a starting role.

Special teams

Jack Fox: 12 (46%)
Jake McQuaide: 8 (31%)
Michael Badgley: 4 (15%)

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