Once a week throughout the 2013 season, we will focus upon on a player or matchup that could prove troublesome for the Giants in their upcoming game. We’ll begin the series with a study of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
No Dallas Cowboys player has caught more regular-season passes for the franchise than Jason Witten. In 10 NFL seasons, the club’s star tight end has registered 806 receptions.
Witten’s reliability is his defining trait. Time and again, he gets open for quarterback Tony Romo. Witten does not have great speed, but he knows how to find open space in a defense.
This skill was on display when the Giants last met the Cowboys. While New York came away with a 29-24 win in Dallas on Oct. 28, Witten caught a team-record 18 passes — despite not having a catch in the first quarter.
A recent review of that Giants-Cowboys game showed Witten repeatedly getting a clean release off the line, breaking in front of Giants defenders and hauling a pass. Most of Witten’s catches gained small chunks of yardage in the grand scheme of things — two-thirds went for less than 10 yards. That said, the bulk of his catches were on first down. Moreover, 12 of these 13 first-down catches went for six yards or more. In short, Romo would look for Witten to start a new set of downs on a positive note, and it usually worked.
As the game went on, the Giants appeared to try some different strategies against Witten. Late in the game, they put cornerback Michael Coe on him for multiple plays. This didn’t work, as Witten worked open for a couple of catches.
Overall, Witten caught all but five passes thrown his way by Romo — a 78.3 percent success rate.
Clearly, the Giants had their problems with Witten. However, they did defend him very well on one of the game’s pivotal plays, double-teaming him and forcing Romo to scramble on a fourth-down play with close to a minute left. Romo had to throw the ball up for grabs, and Stevie Brown came down with the interception.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants cope with Witten in this matchup. Getting more physical with Witten could be one potential strategy; he simply had too easy a time getting off the line in the last meeting. The Giants might also want to give Romo a variety of coverage looks.
No matter the strategy, the Giants can’t allow Romo to keep hitting Witten for healthy gains on first down.