Breaking Down Jason Witten's Injury Impact on Dallas Cowboys
First, as always, the bad news.
According to Ed Werder and Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas:
Witten suffered a "very serious" small laceration that caused bleeding but it is not ruptured, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday afternoon.
Now, for the good news.
In an article by Nick Eatman of the Cowboys' official website, Witten stated:
“Right now I’m doing alright,” Witten said although he only watched the Thursday morning walk-through practice. “I’m just going to take it a day at a time. Obviously, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine not being out there against the Giants. But there’s no timetable right now.”
Plus, Witten did tweet:
Thx for all the thoughts and prayers! Tough blow, but we won't be down for long. Looking forward to a great year for the Boys!— Jason Witten (@JasonWitten) August 17, 2012
With all that in mind, Cowboys fans and fantasy players everywhere have reason to be concerned. It's less than a month until Dallas opens up against the Giants on September 5, so let's analyze how Witten's injury affects Big D's offense.
Pressure on Receivers
As disappointing as any injury is to a player, Witten's does provide the Cowboys' receivers with an opportunity of greater establishment.
Last season Witten led Dallas in targets (117), receptions (79), yards (942) and was second on the team for first downs (47). That's a lot of eclectic production coming from a tight end with receivers like Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the outside.
To this end, regardless of Witten's status early in the year, Bryant and Austin have no choice but to emerge as a dominant duo. Unfortunately, this was not the case in 2011 as Austin appeared in just 10 games and Bryant hit his best of 90 yards only one time.
Witten has easily been Big D's best, most reliable and consistent receiving weapon dating back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons where Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe were at the helm.
Yes you read that correctly, Vinny Testaverde.
The veteran tight end makes any quarterback look good and the beginning stages of 2012 will be interesting. Nevertheless, Austin and Bryant must make up for any potential lack of production from Witten.
If not, the Cowboys' season will be troublesome from the get go.
The Tony Romo Adjustment
Since taking over the Cowboys' starting role in 2006, Tony Romo's favorite target has obviously been Jason Witten.
Three times in the past five seasons has Witten eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and he's gained at least 900-plus every year since 2007 began. Now, though, Romo must prepare for the worst-case scenario and learn to adjust.
First of all is getting Bryant and Austin more frozen ropes in 2012, as they combined for 76 targets (106 receptions) and 1,507 yards with 16 scores last season. Elsewhere, the running backs will see more checkdowns out of the flats and quicker developing plays in general.
Whether it's slants, receiver screens, or short-yard outs, Dallas has to implement faster releases for Romo to widen a defense's initial coverage. This will take the pressure off Witten over the middle/underneath against better pass-defending linebackers and allow him to face more man-to-man situations.
He's always had Witten to rely on and this need of adjustment will only make Romo a more well-rounded signal-caller.
Lest we forget how well Romo adapted in 2011 into making Laurent Robinson a relevant target; never before had Robinson seen that kind of production and it certainly gave Big D's quarterback more confidence.
What to Expect From Defenses
Who is the most important target for Tony Romo?
More press coverage and Cover 2 looks will occur, forcing Bryant and Austin into tougher situations.
Witten's ability to beat any 'backer in single coverage really kept the Cowboys' offense open; however, more defensive aggression can be expected early in 2012.
Opponents will be blitzing opposite of where Witten lines up to negate him from getting open quickly over the middle. Additionally, his blocking skills are rendered moot unless he remains at the line on passing plays—which even if he's not 100 percent is still a disadvantage for Dallas.
More nickel and dime packages will also be present, because the Cowboys' have yet to really prove a consistent running game. 527 of DeMarco Murray's 897 yards came against the Rams, Seahawks and Bills last season.
That's just over 58 percent of Murray's rushing total for 2011.
So, they will see more jams at the line for outside receivers with safeties over the top, and Romo will get blitzed more. Blitzing forces the running backs to pass protect instead of release on delayed routes and find open space.
Then there's at least one inside linebacker responsible for zoning off on any underneath routes and all second level coverage defenders playing up to the shallow patterns. In short, the defenses will be playing more physical and emphasize on keeping everything in front to capitalize on Witten's potential limitations.
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