Mailbag: Victor Butler’s true role, more

Let’s end the week in the same manner that we have been doing it for quite a few now:  With actual Cowboys-based emails from you our valued reader.  If you would care to be included in the fun, email me at, and be sure to goof on me for still using AOL for email.

The first one is in
response to our controversial blog this week about Anthony Spencer’s


Is the stat of how many snaps a given NFL player plays in a season kept anywhere? I can’t seem to find it.  I ask, cause your blog tells me that Spencer had three more sacks & 30 more tackles than Butler, but not how many plays each plays.

Jason Hathaway


Yes, there is a website that keeps snap counts on a game-by-game basis.  I am not sure why the NFL does not include these in their official stats, because it seems like something that would be both useful and desired by those that follow the sport.  Surely, if a player can do more in fewer snaps, it makes you wonder if he would be better in full time duty.

My friends at keep these stats for each player in the league.  And of the 1,053 snaps taken this season by the Dallas Cowboys defense, Anthony Spencer played 939 of them – leading the linebackers in this statistic.  DeMarcus Ware played 914, Sean Lee 868, Bradie James 414, Keith Brooking 409, Victor Butler 233, Alex Albright 43, and Bruce Carter 41.   So, by definition of sacks per snaps, Spencer was getting a sack once every 156 snaps while Butler once every 77.

Of course, there is more to the linebacker position than rushing the passer, but in pure pass rushing results, I believed even before this season that Butler was better at getting around the edge than Spencer.  For whatever reason, Spencer doesn’t have a great move to get to the QB in time to get a sack.  Butler, in limited action in the NFL and extensive play in college has always figured out a way to get home.

Here are photos of the pre snap of each of Victor Butler’s three sacks this season to see where he was lined up:

#1 – Week 3 vs. Washington, Butler is in Spencer’s spot and blows by the Right Tackle for a great edge sack.

#2 – Week 11 at Washington, Butler in Spencer’s spot again, drops into coverage and then converges on Rex Grossman when the QB looks to scramble.  This is less of a legitimate sack and more of a player forcing a QB out of play for a 1-yard loss.

#3 – Week 12 vs Miami.  Interestingly here, Butler is lined up on the inside as a nickel defensive tackle.  He beats Richie Incognito with a quick interior move and gets home from an odd spot on the field.

The issue that many people bring up is the idea that based on these ratios, Butler should be a fine in-house solution to the issues that Spencer’s free agency presents.  But, in going back and looking at many of Butler’s games this week, I noticed that he seldom is in for Anthony Spencer, but when he is, it is a passing situation on third down.  When Butler is in the game on first or second down, it is generally for DeMarcus Ware.  Ware, during long drives, would often require a break for a couple snaps, and they would sneak Butler on for him on first or second down.

Why is this important to distinguish – whether Butler is more of a Ware replacement than a Spencer replacement?  Because, Ware is always lined up on the weakside and Spencer is always on the strong side.  Where do teams love to run the ball?  On the strong side.  And that is why Spencer’s strength against the run is a key attribute and his ability to rush the passer is important, but not the be-all, end-all that many fans believe.

First and second down are vital to setting up third and long so that you can rush the passer.  If you don’t stop running plays, then you get fewer sack opportunities.  And it is my conclusion, that the Cowboys have never believed that Butler is a good player to stand up against the running plays that Spencer has done so well, where double teams sometimes find their way to him.  Spencer makes it look rather easy at times, and the Cowboys have not really had anyone behind him for a few years who could replicate that.

Butler is a very useful player.  He is a speedy edge rusher and a great pursuit guy who seems to have a superior motor to just about anyone on the defense.  I want Butler around for many reasons and really like it when Rob Ryan gets all of his edge guys on the field at the same time.  But, the coaching staff sees him as a fine Ware-understudy rather than a Spencer-type, based on how they use him.  That is why I believe that they will either franchise Spencer or take a player like him in the draft (Courtney Upshaw, Alabama is very Spencer-like), rather than give the job to Butler.  And my argument remains that while Spencer is not what I hoped, it is still a smarter decision to keep him and use my resources (especially my draft) upgrading other spots that are hurting me worse.  It is all about priorities and decisions in this league and when you have 22 starters, replacing your 4th or 5th best defensive player because he is not better is missing the real challenge:  Upgrading your biggest deficiencies.

The 2nd Email in our weekly mailbag is
regarding the column from last week on the NFL Franchise

Hey Sturm,

It would be interesting to see your point system for NFL Franchises applied to the league since the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl in 1995.  Could you rerun the numbers from 1996 to present?  I would love to see how badly Jerry has ruined this franchise in the last 15 seasons.


Cowboy Bill

Sure.  Although this one might hurt just a bit.  Before we run the numbers, I want to make sure that any and all readers are familiar with the exercise, and for that, you might want to click on the link above and check out my annual NFL Franchise Rankings in the Super Bowl Era.  I designed them based on a point system that rewarded 1 point for each playoff season, three points for each season a team advanced to the final four, five points for each season a team lost a Super Bowl, and 11 points for each won Super Bowl.

The numbers are arbitrary, but then again, so is the choice to rank from Super Bowl 1 to the present.  The Steelers and the Cowboys are tied with a league-best 108 points during that stretch, with Pittsburgh owning the tie-breaker of most won Super Bowls.  If you would rate since the inception of the NFL, then Green Bay and their 13 World Titles would be on top and Chicago would be close behind.  If you rate since 1980, the San Francisco 49ers would lead the rankings, followed by New England and the New York Giants.

But, in answer to Cowboy Bill’s query, If we simply open business in our rankings on the day following Super Bowl 30 in Arizona until present, the top five teams will look like this:


Rank Team Points
1. New England 56
2. Pittsburgh 40
3. Green Bay 37
4. New York G 32
5. Denver 30

Above are the five teams that have really hit the gas in this present generation, basically since the start of the salary cap and true free agency, although again, Cowboy Bill’s methodology is certainly not gracious to the Cowboys.  Now, let’s get the bad news as we see the Cowboys and the teams that finish below them in the standings:


Rank Team Points
23. Arizona 7
24. Dallas 7
25. Miami 6
26. Kansas City 4
27. Detroit 3
28. Washington 3
29. Cincinnati 3
30. Buffalo 3
31. Houston 1
32. Cleveland 1

There is the sad reality about the last 16 seasons here in Dallas.  Seven playoff berths, with a 2-7 record inside those playoff runs with the two wins (Minnesota ’96, Philadelphia ’09) coming in the wildcard round.  They lose the tiebreaker against Arizona as the Cardinals has a Super Bowl tie breaker having played in Super Bowl 43.  That ranks Dallas in 24th place since their last Super Bowl.

I actually thought it could have been worse, but imagine life in Cleveland or Detroit, a place that hasn’t had a strong era since players started wearing face masks.

The grass isn’t always greener if the other side of the fence is in Cleveland.