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Jason Witten’s utilization is a problem for the Dallas Cowboys

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You’ve got to know when to move on, Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Jason Witten returned to the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. It’s been a fun story. Fun in the sense that you don’t get to see this sort of thing all too often in sports, especially when you factor in where Witten was during his one-year sabbatical. In swapping out his headset for his always-reliable cleats, Jason Witten embarked on a quest that few have ever attempted.

For the most part, Witten has been, well, Witten. He’s been the Jason Witten that we saw before he initially retired following the 2017 season. He still has an ability to find the soft spot of the field every now and then, but he’s also one of the least fast (we’re trying to be nice) players on the field at any given moment. It’s no secret that he’s not a supreme athlete at this age.

Conversation around Witten’s comeback included the notion that he would play less than he had in seasons past so as not to be a deterrent to the young and promising players (really just Blake Jarwin) that the Cowboys had.

While that is technically true, Witten has had some of his poorer professional performances lately. It might be time to tilt that balance even more.

Jason Witten is actually playing less than normal, and he’s doing more with it than before

Before you get all hot and bothered, it should be noted that Jason Witten literally is playing less (and therefore seeing less targets) than he ever has. That’s what we were told would be the case and it is. You can’t blame the Cowboys on that.

Jason Witten Career Utilization (2012 - Present)

Season Targets Receptions Catch Percentage Offensive Snaps Percentage
Season Targets Receptions Catch Percentage Offensive Snaps Percentage
2012 147 110 74.83% 98%
2013 111 73 65.77% 99%
2014 90 64 71.11% 99%
2015 104 77 74.04% 99%
2016 95 69 72.63% 96%
2017 87 63 72.41% 98%
2019 56 42 75.00% 77%
2019 Projected 81 61 75.31% TBD

As you can see the data here begins in 2012 due to that being as far back as Pro Football Reference has the data available. Still though, we’ve got a legit enough sample size to draw some conclusions.

While Witten is definitely playing more than Jarwin in the here and now, he’s playing significantly less than he ever has for the Cowboys. That is objectively true. What’s also not up for debate is that his catch percentage for now (and projected obviously) is higher than the rest of the noted seasons. If it were to finish where it is now it would be the second-best of his career. His catch percentage in 2009 was 75.8%.

Blake Jarwin hasn’t gotten a lot of time this season, the reason why we’re all here in this moment, but he’s got a better catch percentage off of less than half the targets than Witten has. He’s also averaging over three and a half yards more per reception.

Jason Witten vs. Blake Jarwin in 2019

Player Targets Receptions Catch Percentage Offensive Snaps Percentage
Player Targets Receptions Catch Percentage Offensive Snaps Percentage
Jason Witten 56 42 75.00% 76.64%
Blake Jarwin 26 20 76.90% 37.75%

We have no idea what Blake Jarwin will or won’t be in the NFL, but that’s exactly why we’re having this conversation. He has shown signs of promise before and he’s being held back so that Witten can play, and while Witten’s catch percentage is high, it seems that Jarwin might be able to do more with the opportunities.

It’s hard to bench someone like Jason Witten and to the point of it all the Cowboys have indeed kept him off the field at times; however, they’re handling this exact situation very differently on the other side of the ball in Sean Lee. The General’s new role seems far more defined whereas Witten’s seems just about the same (even though data says otherwise).

With five games left we’ll see how the Cowboys handle their tight ends. What do you want to see?