A Look at the Cowboys’ Tight End Situation
At NBC, I posted a couple articles on the Cowboys’ tight ends. The first is a look at James Hanna’s 2012 usage and how it might affect Gavin Escobar in 2013.
I thought Hanna showed some good things as a receiver in 2012, which is why the selection of Gavin Escobar in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft was so perplexing. The Cowboys targeted Hanna only 11 times last year. That alone is probably evidence that the coaching staff wasn’t all that high on him; maybe he was terrible in practice or maybe he wasn’t a good enough blocker to stay on the field. Nonetheless, all but two of Hanna’s targets came in the final four games of the season, suggesting he was progressing.
Here are the 11 routes on which Hanna was targeted last season: drag (4), hitch (3), post (2), and flat (2). If you know anything about football, you know only the post is a vertical route. Actually, only one of Hanna’s 11 targets came more than 10 yards downfield. Yes, 10 of Hanna’s 11 targets were 10 yards or fewer, including eight that were five yards or fewer. The average depth of all of the targets was just 6.4 yards.
Hanna caught eight of his targets and totaled 86 yards, primarily because he averaged 6.5 yards on the ground after each catch. The Cowboys already had an athletic, pass-catching tight end who can’t block much but is capable of getting downfield as a receiver, but they drafted another athletic, pass-catching tight end who can’t block much but is capable of getting downfield as a receiver. Why not see what you have in Hanna before spending an early-round selection on a similar player?
I also examined the Cowboys’ passing success with Jason Witten in pass protection.
On the 78 passes Romo got off with Witten as a blocker, the quarterback completed 47 of them (60.3 percent) for 604 yards (7.74 YPA), six touchdowns, and four interceptions. That’s good for a passer rating of 88.8—below Romo’s overall mark. Historically, the Cowboys have been better with Witten out in routes, and the trend continued in 2012.
Although Witten is still an above-average receiver, his blocking has deteriorated in recent years. No one really wants to admit it, but Witten isn’t dominant as either a run blocker or in pass protection. He’s not a liability by any means, but keeping him in to block on passing plays doesn’t afford Romo any extra time to find his targets. All it does is give him one less receiver, and an important one at that.
Actually, the Cowboys have given up a higher sack rate with Witten in to block as compared to when he’s in a route. In 2012, defenses sacked Romo on 5.2 percent of his dropbacks. That rate jumped to 7.1 percent when Witten was used in pass protection.