Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was never a world-beater athletically, but what little speed and open-field ability he had is drying up with age. Which is why it’s remarkable to see him continue producing.
These days, Witten is a bit of a one-trick pony. However, it turns out that one trick is often more than enough to allow him to make a positive impact on an offense that desperately needs it at the moment.
The Cowboys running game is uncharacteristically struggling and the big plays in the passing game that typically come with it have been almost nonexistent. That’s made Witten’s reliability as important as ever.
Which is a good thing, because it’s about all Witten has left.
He doesn’t create a lot of separation anymore and he does next to nothing after the catch, but you can count on him to be in a spot and to make the catch when the football arrives. He uses a couple of the things they can’t take away from him — his size (6-foot-5, 257 pounds) and the nuances — to shield the football from defenders and make contested grabs.
Dallas has chosen to lean on that limited skillset heaviest in some of the most pivotal situations.
Witten has been targeted 5 times on third downs with between 4-6 yards remaining and he’s made 4 catches in those situations for 3 first downs. Inside the 20-yard line, he’s been targeted 6 times, making 4 catches for 33 yards and a touchdown.
They look to him in those situations because that’s where his reliability can shine. They don’t need him to make somebody miss in the open field, they just need him to be on time and to make a catch.
He’s the grandfather who has gone from raising five kids of his own (read: the focal point of the offense) to simply taking the grandkids to and from school. It’s not nearly as glorious, but it’s still an important job and, if you don’t think so, just think about the panic that ensues if grandpa simply doesn’t show up.
At 35, Witten’s days of carrying an offense are over. However, if you’re looking for reliability, you can still count on Witten to be on time and, chances are, he’ll be wherever you need him for at least a few more years.
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