Cowboys: Without Witten we could see more creativity on offense
With future Hall of Famer, Jason Witten, on the roster, the Cowboys were slaves to the tight end position. Without him, they may be able to try something new.
Thursday, Jason Witten made it official, retiring from the Dallas Cowboys and beginning a career in the broadcasting booth. While his loss will surely be felt, it also opens up opportunities for the offense to get creative.
For over a decade, Jason Witten has been a fixture on this Dallas team. Even at the ripe age of 35, he logged 1,038 snaps – good enough for fourth in the NFL. The season before it he played 1,084 snaps, the most amongst tight ends in the NFL. The iron man will walk away from the longest active streak of consecutive starts and leaves the Cowboys offense searching for answers. But that may actually be a good thing…
No More Obligation
Having a Pro Bowler like Jason Witten comes with an obligation. If he’s ready and able to play – you play him. Jason Garrett’s offense soon became a slave to Jason Witten’s legend. And much the same way they felt obligated to play Dez Bryant every chance they could, they felt the need to play Witten every snap possible.
This obligation damned them in the creativity department. No matter what personnel package the Cowboys used, a tight end was sure to be involved. Whether it was 11 (1 TE, 1 RB, 3 WR), 12 (2 TE, 1RB, 2 WR), or 13 personnel, you can bet a digit greater than zero populated the second numerical field. For better or for worse, that’s because of Witten.
Sans Witten, the Cowboys can explore all knew personnel groups. Even the much talked about but never employed ‘10’ personnel group.
10 personnel is something I discussed at this time last year when we were all trying to think of ways to use shiny new toy, Ryan Switzer. Since Switzer and Beasley appeared to be only capable of playing inside, it seemed a 10 personnel group, which utilizes two slot receivers at the same time, was the only way to get both players on the field (with Zeke, of course).
While it was a fun idea to throw around, it wasn’t realistic since Jason Garrett would never ask No. 82 to sit on the bench. With Witten gone and Garrett and staff coaching for their jobs, there’s nothing stopping them from giving these other personnel groups a try in 2018.
Not only do two slot receivers play to Dak Prescott’s strengths (he loves throwing out-breaking routes from the inside) but it also plays to the strength of the roster – receiver.
Strength of the Roster
The Dallas Cowboys may lack a true No. 1 receiver on this roster, but they are extremely deep as a whole. As it stands now, the Cowboys will need to cut multiple receivers who can easily play at the NFL level.
The tight end group is a completely different story. Dalton Schultz, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers aren’t exactly an all-star cast. That’s why if the Cowboys opt to go long at WR and short at TE, they would be playing to their roster’s strengths.
It would also potentially pave the way for a more regularly occurring 10 or 20 personnel group.
Why it matters?
Teams love to stack the box against the Dallas Cowboys. They know Dallas is a run-heavy team and wants to stop Ezekiel Elliott above all else. By operating out of a 10 package, the Cowboys will force opponents into a nickel or possibly even a dime defense (because someone’s gotta cover the four receivers).
Even if all four receivers are single covered and only one safety sits over the top, that leaves six players to stop the Cowboys’ running game.
With five linemen against the remaining six defenders, it’ll be on Zeke to beat one man. I like those odds.
If the defense cheats to stop the run, it’ll be on Dak Prescott to complete a pass to one of his four targets in the passing game. That’s why removing inconsistent route runners (Dez and Switz) and replacing them with less dynamic, but more consistent, route runners (Hurns and Gallup) is notable.
The greatness of Jason Witten started holding the Cowboys offense hostage. But with Witten moving to the booth, Garrett and Linehan get one last opportunity to open the playbook.
Obviously, betting on the creativity of Garrett to make up for a loss like Witten is not something a reasonable person should do. But the stage is set and the roster paves the way, so if it’s ever going to happen, now’s the time for the Dallas offense to surprise.