Three Cowboys will now play in the February all-star game.
RANCH EXCLUSIVE: Nothing Wrong with Witten
Witten emerged as one of the league's bright young stars when he burst out last year with 87 receptions and six touchdowns in a season that culminated with a trip to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. Pundits across the country predicted Witten would solidify his position this season among the NFL's premier pass-catching tight ends.
Thus far, that has not been the case. Through 10 games, Witten has 40 receptions and two touchdowns.
But the statistical drop is not the result of Witten not making catches when the ball is thrown to him, or of quarterback Drew Bledsoe's preference to throw elsewhere; after all, Bledsoe began his career in New England, where he played with one of the top pass-catching tight ends in NFL history in Ben Coates.
Instead, the change in Witten's numbers is more a reflection of the additional defensive attention he's drawn from opponents and his increased responsibility in the Dallas running game.
"It's a combination of the two," Witten said. "Teams are paying more attention to me, and with the young tackles (Torrin Tucker and rookie Rob Petitti) we have, I'm staying in more often to help.
"It's really tough. The times when it's hardest are when it's third-and four or third-and-five, and you just know you can beat this linebacker. Earlier in the season, I'd tell (Bledsoe), ‘I know it looks like I'm not open, but I am.' But he knows when I'm open, and he has other options. If they cover me, or if they double-team me, that means someone else is open, and Drew does a great job finding the open guy."
Head coach Bill Parcells said Witten is more valuable this year to the Cowboys than he was last year, because although his receiving numbers are down, his vast improvement as a blocker has enabled Bledsoe to survive while Petitti and Tucker go through the growing pains that many young linemen endure when they first receive significant playing time.
"Coach says I'm having a better year this year than I did last year," Witten said, admitting it's sometimes hard to agree because I don't have as many catches. But there's more to football than statistics, and as long as we're winning, it's a little easier to take. You want your numbers up, but you can't be selfish."
Witten will earn whatever receptions he gets Thanksgiving day against the Broncos, who have a strong defensive line, capable of rushing the passer and occupying blockers to allow the linebackers to run free to the ball.
"Their linebackers are probably the fastest group of linebackers we'll see all year," Witten said. "Al Wilson, Ian Gold and D.J. Williams – who used to play running back – they can all really run."
The Broncos, who play primarily out of a 4-3 defensive alignment, almost have another linebacker – at least in terms of his hitting ability – in safety John Lynch.
"He's as big a hitter as any safety in the league," Witten said of Lynch. "But I won't have my head on a swivel looking for him all the time. We play against Roy Williams in practice every day, so we know what we'll be going up against."
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