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Jason Witten's 2010 Red Zone Performance | The DC Times

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Jason Witten’s 2010 Red Zone Performance

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Jonathan Bales

A couple days ago I posted a study detailing one of the reasons the Cowboys were successful in their 2010 red zone performance.  I argued that Jason Garrett’s first down play-calling more appropriately fit with advanced red zone statistics, namely that teams should run the ball more on first down only when inside their opponent’s 10-yard line.  The analysis was the result of a look back at a 2009 article in which I stated three ways by which the Cowboys could improve their red zone performance in the upcoming season.

In addition to first down play-calling, I also argued that the team needed to find Jason Witten more often while in the red zone.  Witten’s two touchdowns in 2009 were surpassed by a remarkable 21 tight ends that year.  Even though touchdowns can be a fluky stat, there is no reason a player with the talent and size of Witten should ever have just a pair of touchdowns in a season.

At first glance of Witten’s 2010 statistics, you might conclude the ‘Boys did a better job of finding him in the red zone.  Witten caught a career-high nine touchdowns, eight of which came in the red zone (the other one was 22 yards).  On closer inspection, however, we see that Garrett targeted Witten only a bit more in the red zone in 2010 than in 2009, and not more at all as compared to the rest of the field.

Although Witten was out in a route on 77.5% of 2010 red zone plays (up from 69.4% in 2009), that rate is barely higher than the 76.2% of overall passing plays in 2010.  The ‘Boys were slightly more effective in the red zone when Witten was in a route, averaging almost a yard more per play and scoring on 27.2% of dropbacks.

Despite the success, Witten was actually targeted just 14 times in the red zone all season. That equates to just 19.7% of all red zone dropbacks–lower than the 20.9% overall rate at which Witten was targeted.  Witten’s low red zone target numbers means a ridiculous 57.1% of his red zone targets resulted in touchdowns. Incredible efficiency, but not nearly enough looks.  Expect that to change in 2011.

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6 Responses to Jason Witten’s 2010 Red Zone Performance

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    It seems as if TE targeting inside the 20 and 10 yard lines has quite a bit to do w/ WR personnel on the field and the lack of a short yardage running game. From the games I watched, the WR slant w/ Williams, Austin and even Hurd seemed to be attempted prior to calling a play that might get Witten open. Not sure why, but I too hope you are correct in that this should change this year.

    Speaking of play calling, the lack of being able to BLOCK up front for short yardage runs led teams to being able to drop 5 and sometimes 6 into coverage on goalline plays. Defensive goalline formations typically call for 5 to 6 down linemen (or 4 linemen and 1 or 2 down LBs) w/ CB man coverage on the WRs and safety or standing LB coverage on any TE releases. There were times when other teams had only 4 down linemen and 1 or 2 standing LBs that actually dropped into zone coverage. I think the last play of the 1st Redskins game, only 5 players rushed while the other 6 were in zone. On that play, Roy caught what we all thought was a TD pass but the Skins were successful given the holding penalty by the RT. On that play, Romo actually scrambled outside the pocket given that all the receivers were covered during his initial dropback.

    Improving the run blocking in short yardage needs to happen 1st before trying to get Witten open more in the red zone.

  2. Vince_Grey says:

    I really don’t understand Witten’s lack of opportunities around the goal line. TE’s have traditionally been the preferred target in this area and certainly one as tall and talented as Jason should get ample looks, yet he hasn’t.

    What’s even more odd is that Tony and Jason have such a great trust and rapport with each other. Even if Garrett, for some reason, decided not to use Witten around the goal, I can’t see Romo and Jason going along with it so easily.

    The whole thing is just strange.

  3. bW says:

    When you say Witten was targeted 14 times, do you mean, he was thrown to that many times or it looked like he was the first read that many times?

    From what you’ve seen, how much of his numbers were affected by coverage? Did it look like he was double teamed more often than not in the red zone etc?
    If I was D Coordinator of the opposing team, Witten would be my biggest concern in the red zone.

    What I’m trying to understand is if Witten is just not a huge part of JG’s red zone play calling or if coverage is dictating for the QB to go elsewhere.

  4. bW–I mean he was thrown at 14 times. And I don’t think Witten was doubled more in the red zone. There were more defenders around because everything is bunched up, but that’s true for every receiver. I do think he’s made a priority by defenses, but not so much so that he shouldn’t even average a single red zone target per game.

  5. john coleman says:

    Seems as though we need to target Witten more for sure.

    Let me say in print that Witten seemed to return to his old self from the midpoint of the season on. Early on I thought he had lost a step. Now I think he was probably playing dinged up and simply got healthy.

    I also think both he and Bennett/Phillips will benefit from not having to cover Columbo’s butt in passpro.

    TJ- I think with the addition of Tyron Smith that the run blocking will improve. I think Davis will be able to focus on his assignment and not helping Columbo. I think that should also transfer into his run blocking as well. Even further we actually have a run blocking FB in Chapas which will also help. Gronkowski will have to step it up or lose his job. Lose his job is my forecast. The return of Phillips will give yet another option.

    All of these factors should help Witten be more effective both as a run blocker and a pass catcher.

    I still think our outside guys must reach a Irvingish level for the team to advance into the playoffs as a serious contender. Also without saying the defense must be better.

  6. Vince_Grey says:

    John – Completely agree that in 2009 it looked like Witten was slowing down, but he definitely looked back to his old self most of last season. He may have been hurt, but he HAS had a lot of wear and usage on his body since drafted, and TE’s tend to go south faster than most other positions, (Especially TE’s who block and catch as much as Jason) so I wouldn’t be surprised if the drop off happened for real sooner than later.

    I think the key number to watch is his yards per catch.

    From `06 to `08, his YPC numbers were 11.8, 11.9, and 11.8 respectively. That’s about as consistent as it gets. In `09. it dropped to 11.0 and in `10, it dropped to 10.7.

    Now, injuries and Romo’s absence for most of last year could well account for the lower numbers, but still, we’re talking about more than a yard per reception drop off from his peak, and that’s a significant decline.

    If he goes back up into the 11-12 YPC range in 2011 then fine, but if that number continues to decline say, south of 10.5 YPC…

    Well, we all know how that story will end.

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