Comparing 2010 Chris Gronkowski vs. 2009 Deon Anderson
Last season, I published an article detailing why fullback Deon Anderson was much more vital to the Cowboys’ offense than anyone realized. At that time, it was thought the Cowboys might cut Anderson due to (among other things) the emergence of John Phillips as a hybrid H-back-esque player. I showed that the ‘Boys were far superior in the run game with Anderson on the field as compared to Phillips (5.6 YPC vs. 3.7 YPC), and actually slightly more effective in the passing game. This came despite the Cowboys running the ball on 75.2 percent of Anderson’s snaps.
We all know Chris Gronkowski had some struggles as a rookie in 2010, highlighted by his missed blocking assignment that resulted in Tony Romo’s broken collarbone. But did that single event cloud our judgment on Gronkowski’s overall play? Was he better than that for which I gave him credit? Take a look at the chart below.
You can see that the Cowboys were far less effective with Gronkowski on the field in 2010 as compared to Anderon in 2009. The offense averaged 1.6 yards less per run and 1.1 yards less per pass. The sample size of around 300 plays for each player is large enough that these differences seem to mean something.
However, the Cowboys were a far more productive offensive team in 2009 as a whole. We really can’t place all of the blame on Gronkowski for the decrease in production with a fullback on the field in 2010, as the entire unit was worse. When we compare Anderson’s numbers to the 2009 season averages and do the same with Gronkowski in 2010, though, we see Gronkowski was still a downgrade from Anderson.
The yards-per-rush and yards-per-pass numbers with Anderson on the field in 2009 were 16.7 percent and 5.5 percent greater, respectively, than the team’s overall averages. Meanwhile, the Cowboys decreased their rushing and passing efficiency by 4.8 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, with Gronkowski on the field this past season.
Thus, no matter how you slice it, it appears the Cowboys desperately miss Anderson as a lead blocker. The selection of Georgia fullback Shaun Chapas suggests Jason Garrett feels the same way.