First off, Witten is an admirable player, and he should be celebrated. This is hard to say: his role should be drastically reduced.
The Senator has battled through numerous injuries, many of which I'm sure we never heard about. His fierce desire to return so soon after lacerating his spleen is just the latest evidence of Witten's heroism. He is a leader and a shining example.
But, sadly, the Cowboys don't need Witten to be a hero.
Witten has been losing a step every year for the past few years. So, he's not the same vertical threat that he has been. If that were the only problem, that would probably be fine. He's a veteran, and he's never relied on being fast anyway. What matters most about Witten's play now, though, is that he's unreliable. And if Witten isn't reliable, he's nothing.
Witten's uncharacteristic drops have been the most obvious evidence, but he's committed worse football sins than those pecadillos from the Seattle game. In both games, Witten has made Romo look foolish. He was very likely the cause of both of Romo's interceptions. It makes no sense that he was, but he was.
The Interception from the Giants game seemed to be completely Romo's fault. Indeed, Jonathan Bales reviewed the play and concluded that Romo must have been confused by the coverage - even though it was an obvious cover 2. Romo was off balance and made a bad throw into coverage. I think the more likely answer, however, is that Witten ran the wrong route, thus muddling the throwing lane and forcing Romo into an impossible decision - take the sack, throw it away on third down, or go to a covered Ogletree for the first down. He chose the latter, not because he misread the defense but because Ogletree should have been open...if Witten had run the correct route (he should have run inside, drawing the linebackers away from Ogletree's route).
That game and that mistake could be chalked up to rust. How do we chalk up Witten's dismal Seattle performance then? Because, there, he was even worse. Not only did he drop many passes - each of which greatly lessened the Cowboys' chances of winning - but he also - again! - ran the wrong route to cause an interception.
Bryan Broaddus broke down the second interception at the mothership, and I agree with his conclusions. While Jonathan Bales again concluded that Romo was confused by the coverage, it seems clear that Witten should have run an outside route instead of inside.
As it happened, his route not only took away Philips's promising slant (which could have picked up the 1st down) but it also took away Dez's slant (and made Dez look foolish and lazy too). When Witten ran into Dez's area unexpectedly, what could Dez do but try to stop and redirect? If Witten weren't in the wrong place, Dez would have been open for a 1st down or for points. As it happened, Witten's route merely let Dez's defender pick up an easy interception.
These are gaffes that a veteran, 30 year old tight end, nicknamed The Senator, cannot make. And it's easy to pile on, because Witten still has a penchant for the inexplicable false start.
What makes matters worse is that Witten is also a progress stopper. We have seen nothing but good things from both Philips and Hanna. Their play in the preseason was superb. Both are faster than Witten by leaps and bounds, and both have shown themselves to be more reliable pass catchers and blockers. Hanna has had one pass thrown to him. He deserves more. So does Philips.
Although Witten is still a hero, he needs to perform the most heroic and noble act of all and step aside so that his team can perform better. I don't think it will happen. And Witten certainly has some good games left in him, but I would love to see Philips and Hanna unleashed with Witten restrained.