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By Jonathan Bales

Comparing 2010 Chris Gronkowski vs. 2009 Deon Anderson

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Jonathan Bales

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.

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19 Responses to Comparing 2010 Chris Gronkowski vs. 2009 Deon Anderson

  1. Vince_Grey says:

    JB – By your various posts on this subject, you definitely seem to feel Gronk is a liability needing to be replaced sooner than later. It’s virtually impossible to argue against your stats, and I don’t, but as the kid was an undrafted rookie last season, do you cut him any slack for that?

    I mean, rookies have been known on occasion to get better, even much better, at their craft. Not saying you’re wrong, I’m just wondering if maybe we’d be giving up on this guy a little too quick.

    We did that just recently with Danny Amendola and look what it cost us. Anyone out there who wouldn’t trade Ogletree, Manny, Holley, and maybe even Hurd too, for Amendola straight up today?

  2. Sure. I think he should definitely get a shot to win a job in camp, and if he comes in much stronger and look good, why not? I think Garrett secretly wants two FBs anyway. I don’t see him beating out Chapas, though, if just one spot is provided. Amendola makes me cringe to this day. I like Harris’ potential, but Amendola sure would be nice in the slot.

  3. Jonny Danger says:

    Yeah don’t even get me started on Amendola. He was one of my favorites and I was really pulling for him. Glad to see him do well and play to his potential out int St.Louis. I believe we have are man in Harris yet I still feel Danny would look good in the slot with that Star on his helmet. I cut some slack for gronk for being what he was that year. Though fullback isn’t a job that requires to steep a learning curve. Still he has a cool last name. Looking to see what are new man Chapas has to show us. If anything he could be a good spokesman for Rogaine and get Dallas some solid PR. Aww to soon? Sorry big fella, knock some heads out there and Ill take it all back.

  4. Scott says:

    Jonathan, I’m curious why you think Garrett wants to keep 2 FBs. My notion is that he basically wants to create competition at the position, as he likes at every position, and he doesn’t think Gronk was so good that they couldn’t upgrade. I have to say I’d be pretty surprised if they both ended up making the team, when they have Phillips as a solid H-back as well.

    Re Amendola, I remember the first OTA day when he made a spectacular one-handed grab, and when the fans and media are grasping for anything he became the pet cat for a lot of us. I was also glad to see him get the opportunity with the Rams and then make the most of it. He was even fantasy relevant, at least in PPR leagues! But I do wonder how much was opportunity. Rams receivers were suffering Spinal Tap drummer syndrome, and he got a lot more playing time and targets than he ever would have in Dallas. If he had made the Cowboy’s roster, would he have just stayed stuck in the depth chart like Hurd? Would he have broken out like he did with the Rams? Do we think he’s better than he is just because he was the last guy standing who had any rapport with Bradford? If Amendola and Hurd switched places, I think Hurd could have made a lot of the opportunity as well. It’s so hard to tell which part is truly the skill of the receiver, and which part is just being in the right place at the right time to get playing time and plenty of targets from a decent QB.

  5. Tim Truemper says:

    I always felt that Anderson was an important part of the offense because of his blocking ability. He had good leverage, was smart about his pickups, and made good adjustments as a lead blocker to help spring the runner. I think he could have helped more as a skill player but wasn’t given the opportunity.

    I understand the argument that “Gronk” was a rookie and had to “learn” the position. But if understand the point of your article, the offense took a hit without Anderson being there as the FB over Gronk. And Anderson was a youtful player who could help some on special teams. Oh well, his transgression(s) got him off the roster. I still miss him as a player.

  6. willis says:

    I think it is necessary here to control for the sub-par play of Colombo/davis, which affected the quality of the line in general, as well as the fact that there was a different QB running the offense for half the season, the poor play of Barber, and a high number of droped passes. These stats make sense when compared side by side, but I think comparing one to the other could be spurious,without control, especially for the line.

    I agree about fullbacks being able to catch out of the backfield is not as important as being able to block. The biggest stat to me was on the biggest play of the year, a missed block by gronk leading to a broken clavickle for romo.

  7. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I hope the Boys keep 2 FBs – simply because I think they should commit more to rushing the rock than they do passing. Keeping 2 FBs would mean to me that is happening as the current rush/pass split requires only 1. Plus, the FB position is typically one where players are drafted in the later rounds (5th and beyond) if they’re drafted at all. I understand Phillips wasn’t drafted, but Witten and Bennett were both drafted in early rounds. If either of them go down (odds are one of them will for at least a few weeks), then Phillips will be needed more and will be less effective on special teams. I don’t know the #s but I’d bet the Boys run more 2 TEs sets than they do sets w/ the FB. In other words, keeping 2 FBs is more of a boost to special teams AND is a greater value than using the backup TE that will more than likely have to replace a high draft pick TE during regular play.

    As far as Amendola, I too agree that he was a special talent. However, I also agree w/ Scott in that there are lots of WRs on the roster right now (Holley, Ogletree, Hurd) that would most assuredly have greater production w/ more playing time. WR is one area that Dallas is STACKED (that’s actually part of the reason why they’re less than adequate at so many other positions). Dallas only really needs 5 WRs on the roster TOTAL and depending on how many TEs are active on game day, should only have 4 WRs active on game day. Williams, Austin, Bryant and the 2 best special teams WR (Hurd, Holley, Ogletree or Harris) should be on the team. Trade/cut the rest. If a 5 WR set is needed during the game, line up on of the TEs as the 5th WR. Special teams WR will need to be on just about ALL special teams (kickoff, punt, and return teams).

  8. starred4life says:

    I thought that they should have tried to convert Jason Williams to FB, before just cutting him. He was freakishly athletic, 6’1″ 242lbs 4.52 forty time.
    Dallas often tries to convert an athlete from one position to another: QB to receiver, CB to Safety, etc.
    It seems that fullback would be on of the easier transitions. I might not even try to draft a true fullback, but just some fast, but raw linebacker and convert him.

  9. Rick says:

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Dallas’ drops in offensive production had more to do with playing backup quarterbacks than changing fullbacks.

  10. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Good point Rick but what the article is referring to is the “butterfly” affect – a butterfly flaps his wings in the forest which causes a leaf to fall from a tree which just happens to land on a branch that makes just enough noise to startle a deer who turns and runs onto a nearby road in front of an 18 wheeler who swerves into oncoming traffic causing a15 car pileup. Did the butterfly cause the wreck?

    Did the change at FB (to Gronkowski) who missed blocking the LB who sacked Romo and broke his shoulder cause the backup QB to have to play and therefore decrease offensive production?

  11. Scott–I think JG thinks FBs represent a matchup problem for defenses. While I don’t think both players will make the team, I do think it is possible. As far as Amendola…I think you are right about opportunity, but I also think there are noticeable differences in the hands and route-running ability of he and Hurd.

    Tim–Agree totally. Anderson was a player no one respected until he was gone (and most still do not).

    Willis–No doubt there are limitations here. Agree on the sub-par line play, but it is nice to see numbers that correspond with what I thought I saw on film all year. Sometimes those things work out, and other times not.

  12. Tyrone–Yes, they run far more 2 TE sets than sets with a FB. Also a nice debate between you and Rick about a butterfly affect. I’d like to hear Rick’s rebuttal.

  13. Rick says:

    I guess I hadn’t considered that. But I also don’t think that keeping Anderson would’ve guaranteed that Romo would’ve played 16 games. The guy was being hit constantly, and Marc Colombo only got worse as the season went on.

  14. john coleman says:

    Maybe the further demise of Columbo and injuries to the OL had something to do with the averages as well.

    Drafting Chapas,clearly shows that the Cowboys didn’t think Gronk was all he needed to be.

    I do think Gronk got better at the point of attack as a blocker, as the season wore on.

    If Phillips is healthy, he and Chapas make the team and Gronk is gone. Only a big improvement during the offseason will keep Gronk’s claim to fame from being getting Romo killed.

    I never liked Anderson either and felt he was too one dimensional.

  15. Vince_Grey says:

    Those other receivers might be as talented as Amendola, or even more so, but they’re not slot guys except for Ogletree who’s quickly wearing our his welcome. The Cowboys felt they needed an upgrade in the slot receiver position enough to draft one, but if Danny was still here that probably would have been unnecessary.

    I can’t help but think if Amendola was here last year Dallas would have found some ways to use him a lot more than they used Hurd, Tree, Manny and Holley, both in the slot and as a returner.

  16. Vince_Grey says:

    As far as Gronk/Chapas, ideally, you want your FB to be a great run blocker/blitz pickup man, good enough receiver to make them pay for leaving him uncovered, and a decent runner on short yardage.

    The problem with using nothing but TE’s as FB’s is you completely remove that position as a threat to run the ball, and that’s a serious weakness, IMO.

    The best guys I ever saw with those combinations was Moose and Tom Rathman. I despised the 49ers, but I admit I really liked Rathman’s game.

  17. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Agree completely VG w/ the use of a TE at FB.

    To me, they’re different positions. TEs are usually taller and therefore have a higher center of gravity which is conducive for upright blocking (of DEs and OLBs). FBs are usually shorter and are better at fill blocking (blocking at the end of a short run) AND are typically better at running the football through the tackles (since they’ve probably been doing that since high school).

    The greatest benefit, IMO, is that FBs have better VALUE. Their special teams speed and tackling is probably just as good as most TEs but they are typically drafted LATER if at all. Why use a guy who’s a 3rd or 4th round pick to do something when a guy drafted in the 7th can do just as well?

  18. Mark Watkins says:

    I agree that the Cowboys could use more of a smash mouth, road grading FB. Hopefully Chapas can fill that role and still provide somewhat of a threat offensively as Vince suggests. I’d like to see the team be nastier, more physical, and just more tenacious on both sides of the ball and I think that some of the players they drafted do have those qualities. I’d be pretty shocked if they keep two FB’s though. Have they ever had two on the roster, I wonder?
    As for Amendola, I admit that I thought that people were just hoping that he could be another Wes Welker and that he just didn’t have the same quickness. As it turns out, he may be WW lite, but he does bring some valuable qualities to the table.

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