He may have led all tight ends in catches and yards last season, but does anybody really fear Jason Witten?

In 2012, the Giants gave up a boatload of yards:

  • 31st in yards, 383.4 yards per game.
  • 31st in yards per play, 6.0.
  • 30th in 3rd down conversions, 42%.
  • 25th in rush yards, 129.1.
  • 28th in yards per carry, 4.6.
  • 28th in pass yards, 254.2.
  • 31st in yards per pass attempt, 8.1.

And still, despite those numbers, the Giants only gave up 21.5 points per game, which tied them for 12th in the NFL with the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Why? Because they were able to force 35 turnovers, which was good for 3rd in the NFL, and they only allowed TDs on 46% of opponents’ trips into the red zone, which was good for 4th in the NFL.

That seems to be the way a lot of suspect defenses are surviving these days. Let the other team dink and dunk their way down down the field, until they eventually make a mistake (ie: turnover, penalty, dropped pass, etc). That kind of defense will typically give up a lot of yards, but if they can force teams to kick field goals in the red zone, then no worries.

This concept brings me to Jason Witten. Let’s take the 18 TEs who had at least 50 catches last season, and use them as our sample size. In 2012, Witten led them (and obviously the rest of the NFL) in receptions:

Witten 1

And yards:

Witten 2

However, among that same sample group, he was next to last in yards per catch:

Witten 3

14th in yards per target:

Witten 4

And he was tied for 14th in TDs, with just 3… on 150 targets:

Witten 5

There’s something to be said for a TE who can be a safety valve for his QB and move the chains, but that’s what defenses like the Giants can live with. If he’s not stretching the field any longer or scoring TDs when the Cowboys get down into the red zone, does anybody really fear Jason Witten anymore?

50 Comments

  1. sac louis vuitton…

    He may have led all tight ends in catches and yards last season, but does anybody really fear Jason Witten? – Blogging the bEast…

  2. wow gold says:

    wow gold…

    He may have led all tight ends in catches and yards last season, but does anybody really fear Jason Witten? – Blogging the bEast…

  3. [...] TE: Jason Witten led all TEs in catches and yards last season, but I’m not so sure his production translates to quality offense. I talked more about that earlier in the week. [...]

  4. Bill says:

    He’s old now and is just going to keep going downhill.

    It eventually happens to everyone, even Witten.

  5. [...] Apparently, Cowboys fans don’t like it when you say something negative about Jason Witten. OK, so I knew that already. To be clear from that article yesterday, nobody is saying Witten [...]

  6. NYG_Slater says:

    haha, nice job Jimmy! You sure know how to stir up the hornet’s nest.

  7. Bob says:

    Let me guess, we should be terrified of Desean Jackson because he averaged 15.6 ypc last year?He may have caught less than 3 balls a game on average, but man that’s terrifying.

    1. bucks101989 says:

      Na down a few comments he said he would rather have jared cook,possibly dwayne allen and coby fleener and tyler eifert over witten haha those are the players jimmy k ” fears” I guess

  8. David_Does_Dallas says:

    I understand that trashing the Cowboys helps your page views and adds commentary to your site, but you leave Jason Witten out of this! You didn’t even mention the fact that our run game was non-existent and in turn Jason Witten became our de facto run game with his 3-4 yard routes which were almost automatic. Do you not think there is a correlation between being the second worst in rushing yards and our all star tight end breaking the receptions record and being #1 in yards while also having a low yards per catch? Countless times he was used to put the Cowboys in manageable field position because we couldn’t do it on the ground. Now should he be feared by defenses? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think if you asked any defensive coordinator in the league he would say you were stupid if you didn’t game plan for him.

    TL/DR Jason Witten was our rushing game in 2012 and that is why he has high receptions and total yards while also having a low YPC!

    1. Bob says:

      He ain’t gonna get many yards per catch running those endless short out routes.

  9. TylerD says:

    The Whole spleen thing impressed the crap out of me, the guy is a warrior, the whole TD and Yards per cactch yards per target is an interesting anonmly. But Romo depends on him so much and everybody in the stadium knows it yet you can’t stop it. What’s Wittens number of 1st downs compared to the other Tight Ends?

  10. bucks101989 says:

    btw this argument is just about as dumb as all the “elite” vs “not elite” nonsense from last year regarding qbs.. who gives a crap if hes feared you cant name more than 3 tight ends you would take over witten so who cares.. graham, gronk, and maybe tony g, maybe, and thats it

    1. Jimmy Kempski says:

      I could absolutely name more than just those three.

      1. bucks101989 says:

        Who with a starit face could you name you would take? Injured aaron hernandez, stonehands finley? The immortal brent celek? Dennis Pitts, marty b? There’s no way

        1. bucks101989 says:

          Heath is up ther but still not as good as witten and gates is way to injriy prone

        2. I’d definitely take Vernon Davis. Jared Cook is very talented and 5 years younger. I’d probably take him. I’d have to take a closer look on film at younger guys like Kyle Rudolph, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener. I’d also even consider a guy that hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, like Tyler Eifert. And yeah… Hernandez.

          Long, sustained drives don’t win in the NFL these days. Eventually, the defense is going to get a sack, or a turnover, or Doug Free is going to hold somebody, or any of the other dozens of ways drives can end.

          It’s too hard to get 6 first downs on a drive and then score with any kind of regularity. I’m not saying Witten doesn’t serve a function, or that he isn’t good. I’m just saying that he’s not a player I fear. The guys that are making plays down the field or being weapons in the red zone are the ones that worry me.

          1. bucks101989 says:

            But you fear jared cook, dwayne allen and tyler eifert? Haha alritey than

            1. Ah, you’re one of those guys. I’ll just leave you to argue with the straw man you’ve created.

              1. bucks101989 says:

                Lol I’m just sayin you must fear them more than witten if you think they are better.. I still don’t know how you actually convinced yourself on that one but its all good

              2. bucks101989 says:

                last comment on this..cant really say im grasping at straws when you clearly stated you would take cook over witten and you would consider eifert even though he hasn’t played a snap in the nfl… im just sayin if you think someone is better you clearly fear them more so you fear jared cook more than jason witten.. btw to even consider dwayne allen coby fleener and kyle rudolph in this convo is just abusrd and i really hope you were not serious

              3. this convo is just abusrd

                Agree.

              4. slandog says:

                haha it is a crazy conversation. But what do you expect from a cowboys fan, most are a bit crazy and bucks certainly seems like one of them.

                I can see him yelling this “Every Cowboy player is better then any other player in the NFL, because he’s a Cowboy!!!”

  11. bucks101989 says:

    I could care less if he is “feared” ,i dont know how you can even define that.. pretty sure about 30 coaches would die for there tight end to put up those numbers..but as long as the senators putting up 110 catches and 1000 yards its all good with me lol. he may not be “feared” but as an opposing coach, if your game plan dosent include something about containing witten its gnna be a longgg afternoon

    1. Jimmy Kempski says:

      I not sure those “other 30 coaches” would. A lot of those numbers are empty calories.

  12. Ryan says:

    Reminds me of an old John Madden quote that Antonio Gates just gets bigger and bigger, the closer to the endzone the Chargers get. Like literally larger. I guess Witten is the Benjamin Button to Gates ‘Jack’

  13. Dan in Philly says:

    Being feared =/= effective.

  14. TylerD says:

    Giant fan here considering Witten had a game against us where he Caught like 20 balls for close to 200 yards or something stupid like that, I’m just gonna give Jason his props, he may not catch a lot of TD’s but he bails Romo out time after time…. You make a good point Jimmy but I fear him!

  15. Tim says:

    Witten remains the best combination of blocking and receiving in the league outside of a healthy Gronkowski. The title of this post is baffling– what’s the intention in phrasing a post header in a way that seems so deliberately troll-ish to Dallas fans?

    On the content of the post:
    Witten certainly saw his YPA numbers come down last year, based on the way he was used in the offense. However, he was Pro Football Focus’ #3 overall ranked TE, with a grade of 19.0 for the season:
    https://www.profootballfocus.com/data/by_position.php?tab=by_position&season=2012&pos=TE&stype=r&runpass=&teamid=-1&numsnaps=25&numgames=1

    Second, Witten’s low YPC numbers are heavily slanted toward his first three games of the year, when he was suffering from a lacerated spleen and his YPC was 4.0. In the Bears game in Week 4, Witten returned to an 8.0 YPC, which is in line with his historical averages and would put him 3rd in the league:
    http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/10/the-cowboys-offense-at-quarter-mark.html

    First downs aren’t tracked by PFF and Football Outsiders’ 2012 numbers aren’t out yet without a subscription, but Witten assuredly had a TON of them.

    Of all the problems on the Cowboys, Witten’s “decline” is not even in the top 50 that I’d consider necessary of attention.

    1. Tim says:

      Please also note the massive help that Witten is as a decoy in the offense (which also indicates that yes, opposing defenses do fear him):
      http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/09/cowboys-in-review-cant-keep-legend-down.html

      Lastly, KC Joyner had Witten as one of the best vertical TEs in the game in 2011. Detail below. What do you think is more likely– he went from insanely good in 2011 to awful in 2012, or his spleen injury threw off your full-season 2012 averages a bit?

      From KC Joyner in May 2012:
      http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/05/certain-tendency-in-cowboys-offense.html
      “When Witten flexed out as a wide receiver, he had 31 passes thrown his way in 2011. He gained 335 yards on those plays. That’s almost 11.0 yards per attempt. He either had a reception or drew a defensive penalty on 22 of those plays. He’s 22 of 31 for 335 yards, when he’s in the slot or lined up wide as a receiver.

      That’s really good. He ranked 3rd in vertical yards per attempt by a tight end. But he only had 32 vertical passes. That total ranked 12th among tight ends. So you’ve got a guy who’s incredibly productive as a flex tight end. You’ve got a guy who’s incredibly productive as a vertical threat.”

      1. I’m not sure what his 2011 season has to do with this article, which talks about his 2012 season.

        As for the spleen thing: In the 2nd half of the season: 52 catches, 501 yards, 9.6 YPC. Still puts him at the bottom of the list.

        1. Tim says:

          The reason I’m citing 2011 numbers is that that’s what’s available if we want to separate by type of route, from Joyner. I don’t find it reasonable that he would experience a massive dropoff in vertical ability from 2011 to 2012, barring injury.

          In 2011, he was an elite vertical threat (for a TE), when used on vertical routes. That’s very clear from the above.

          To me, it is much more likely that 1) his usage on routes was different in 2012 (after all, even in 2011 he was relatively underutilized on verticals according to Joyner), and 2) his spleen injury hurt his numbers a bit.

          The point of your post was that teams don’t fear Witten. If he’s still even close to the vertical threat those 2011 numbers imply, then he adds that fear dimension into opponents’ game-planning, even if Romo has ended up targeting him more on shorter routes due to OL deficiencies and other reasons.

    2. Witten remains the best combination of blocking and receiving in the league outside of a healthy Gronkowski.

      …says every fan of a team that has a good receiving TE that’s at least a decent blocker.

      Witten’s low YPC numbers are heavily slanted toward his first three games of the year, when he was suffering from a lacerated spleen and his YPC was 4.0. In the Bears game in Week 4, Witten returned to an 8.0 YPC, which is in line with his historical averages and would put him 3rd in the league:

      That’s just not accurate. If you take out his first three games, he caught 102 balls for 963 yards. That’s still only 9.4 YPC.

      1. Tim says:

        No, says a fan of a team whose TE was rated #3 overall by PFF in combined blocking and receiving. #1 was Gronkowski.

        1. Love PFF for a lot of their data points, couldn’t care less about their rankings.

          1. Tim says:

            Agree to a certain extent, but it’s as good as we’ve got in terms of ratings that incorporate receiving and blocking, and I find it hard to believe that it’s not at least directionally correct at placing Witten in the top tier of overall TEs.

            I don’t feel like one should have to work hard to make the argument that Witten is a superb overall TE, I thought that was pretty much universally understood. So I would imagine other teams still fear him, as an excellent player and one important to the Cowboys’ attack. The vertical passing numbers in particular are tackled more specifically above.

    3. First downs aren’t tracked by PFF and Football Outsiders’ 2012 numbers aren’t out yet without a subscription, but Witten assuredly had a TON of them.

      Percentage of catches that went for a first down:

      Miles Austin: 72.7%
      Kevin Ogletree: 59.4%
      Dez Bryant: 58.7%
      Dwayne Harris: 52.9%
      Jason Witten: 50.9%

      1. Tim says:

        Helpful, thanks. I’d be more interested in comparison to other TEs, if we have those numbers?

          1. PHILLYRICK says:

            Damn I gotta say I am just loving the Tim/Jimmy back and forth that has been developing on this site. Jimmy you should make debating/arguing with educated and knowledgable fans some sort of regular feature on this site. It’s fun to see the arguments develop and get supported. That being said, I kinda miss how you guys used to go at each other more, with the personal attacks and whatnot. That was very entertaining. You are all like, polite now, which is kinda lame.

            1. Tim says:

              I could bring up benchmarking again, if you think that’d really get things going?

              Joking aside, the big thing for me on this one is that the post’s central point is that Witten is not “feared” by defenses as a vertical threat, but KC Joyner’s 2011 stats clearly demonstrate Witten was still one of the most dominant TE vertical threats in the game at that point. Tough for me to believe his lower 2012 numbers are due to a massive decrease in talent/ability, and not a spleen injury in Weeks 1-3 and different route usage in the offense over the entire season.

  16. Bob says:

    Depends what you fear. What would be interesting to know how many INTs were thrown on attempts to him relative to other TEs given how you open the article.

  17. Juz Saying says:

    Nate allen fears Jason Witten!

  18. Jeff says:

    For whatever reason/s, Witten has never been a guy that has caught a lot of TDs. He caught only 1 in 2006.

    Washington’s pass defense, like NYG’s, has bad underlying stats (Y/A, NY/A) that is masked by a bunch of interceptions. Turnovers can be a very fickle thing though – think Stevie Brown will get 8 INTs again? I suspect both teams will have bad pass defenses next year, and if they aren’t able to generate a similar number of turnovers then it will be difficult for their respective offenses to compensate for their defense’s poor performance.

  19. jdiamjr says:

    Is the issue with Jason or with the leaky O-line making Romo throw to Witten before he has a chance to get downfield or get separation?

    1. A comparison to the rest of his teammates who were targeted at least 30 times would suggest it’s not just the fault of the OL:

      http://bloggingthebeast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Witten-2.png

      1. poolboy87 says:

        I’d be interested to see Witten’s red-zone targets.

        My totally baseless suspicion would be that the Cowboys know that he’s not the same player he was 5-6 years ago (although, as mentioned, he’s NEVER been a huge red-zone player) and mostly use him to move the ball between the 20s. I doubt he got a ton of attention when the Cowboys needed to score.

        I also think the whole spleen thing had a pretty nasty effect on his season. I think his YPC could go up this year, while his numbers go down. I’m doubting that he gets that obsene of an amount of targets again this season.

        1. “I’d be interested to see Witten’s red-zone targets.”

          Me too.

  20. shadow1480 says:

    If they don’t, they’re dumb. He’s not flashy, but he’s damn good.

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