Is Jason Witten Starting to Decline?

In 2007, Jason Witten pulled in 96 receptions for 1,145 yards and 7 TDs. His
average per reception was 11.9. His presence over the middle helped to open
things up for Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, and few teams could slow him
down. He had six or more receptions in 10 of 16 games and had four games where
he gained more than 100 receiving yards.

Witten’s numbers in 2008 took a hit, but they were still respectable. He
finished with 81 receptions and had at least six receptions in 9 of the 16
games. His average per reception of 11.8 was nearly the same as it was in 2008.

His performance in 2009 has been another matter entirely. During a season
where Witten should have been a central focus of the offense, he has been
limited to 49 receptions for 438 yards, averaging only 8.9 yards per reception.
He has had exactly five receptions in five of the games this season, and he has
had more than five receptions in only two of those games. He has recorded just
one touchdown reception, and that came during the second week of the season.
Against the Packers, Romo tried to force the ball to Witten on a quick out near
the goalline, but Green Bay corner Charles Woodson stepped in front of the pass
and picked it off at the goalline.

To be sure, Witten’s numbers have not quite reverted to pre-2007 numbers. In
2006, for instance, he averaged  only four receptions per game and never
had more than six receptions in a single game. His average in 2006, however, was
11.8 yards per game. In fact, the only season during which Witten has averaged
less than 10 yards per game was 2003 when he averaged 9.9 yards on 35 receptions
as a rookie.

Here’s a look at his performances in 2009:

vs. Tampa Bay: 5 rec., 71 yards
vs. N.Y. Giants: 5 rec., 33 yards, 1 TD
vs. Carolina: 9 rec., 77 yards
vs. Denver: 4 rec., 31 yards
vs. Kansas City: 5 rec., 47 yards
vs. Atlanta: 5 rec., 53 yards
vs. Seattle: 4 rec., 36 yards
vs. Philadelphia: 7 rec., 43 yards
vs. Green Bay: 5 rec., 47 yards

So, these stats raise some questions: are Witten’s skills starting to decline? Is this a symptom of a problem with the Dallas offense?

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  • Tim Truemper

    Hey Matt

    An interesting post for sure. I think that JW is being thrown more “dump off” routes or is the 2nd or 3rd read. These may be by their nature, shorter. I also think Witten’s average is compromised by the # of 2 to 4 yrd catches which average in his total rec/ydg ratio and bring it down substantially. Last year Witten had fewer catches but three games there was no Tony Romo.

    #”s ebb and flow as we have seen with other players. Perhaps this query could be analyzed by Pro Football Reference. I would venture there are other 9 game stretches in which we would find comparable #’d for JW.

    Finally, I would not say the pass to JW at the goalline was “forced.” The ball was thrown at a bad location and gave Woodson a chance to make a great play.

  • All great points, Tim. On the goalline pass, I guess I was thinking that he tried to squeeze it in to Witten, so that’s why I wrote that it was forced. I looked at the play again, and neither is the best description. It just wasn’t the best pass, and it was a very good play by Woodson.

    As far as nine-game stretches in Witten’s career, you have to go back to 2006, which is the last year that he failed to record at least one 100-yard game. I think what is really missing is that Witten seldom seems to be the first option on third down plays of longer than about five yards or so. When I can follow the plays on the HD telecast (i.e., where I can see about 15 yards downfield on the screen), Witten is often running a hook route over the middle, and Romo is seldom looking in his direction. Witten is far more often the target on quick outs and flat patterns, which aren’t likely to gain more than five or ten yards. This is all anecdotal, of course, but it’s something I’ve noticed.

  • David H

    The lack of touchdowns don’t concern me, but the yards per catch do. I’d hate to think that Witten is on the decline at such a relatively young age (27), but he has taken a lot of abuse in his career. He just seems damn slow so far in 2009. He’s always been a downfield threat (for a TE) and through nine games – nothing. I hate to say it, but 8.9 yards per catch are Eric Bjornson type numbers! Is he banged up, or does he miss Owens?

  • Tim Truemper

    Late reply to Matt

    Thanks for your response and I concur that the pass at the goaline was not the best call and had only a small window of success.

    You are also correct in that he has not had any 100 yard games for 9 games which goes back to 2006. So something has changed. But whether it is decline or scheming changes or teams are taking him away and forcing Romo elsewhere is a lot of conjecture. David above thinks he looks slow. Too me, JW has never been real nimble in running with the ball. On replays when they show him running routes, he looks pretty good. I’d like to see a breakout game for him and so we will see. And as I have said many times before, I appreciate this website greatly. For an old coot like me that has seen the Cowboys since 1966, it has been great to relive so many memories while enjoying the enhanced coverage of the present day Cowboys.