IRVING, Texas – It's easy to look at a box score and write off Jason Witten's contributions to the offense this year.
Witten has 10 catches for 95 yards through the first three weeks of the season, which is the third-lowest output of his career heading into Week 4. The two years below this one are his rookie season in 2003 and his 2012 campaign, when he was battling back from a lacerated spleen.
To hear it from Bill Callahan, though, the Cowboys – currently third in the league in rushing offense – have plenty to thank Witten for in the ground game. It just so happens to be a kudos that doesn't show up on the stat sheet.
"I think it's an aspect we don't talk enough about, because in the zone run you've got to be able to get to the edge," Callahan said. "You've got to be able to capture those players that are trying to set the edge, and he's such an important aspect – to get outside."
The Cowboys don't run around the edge often, but they've been quite successful when they do. On attempts to left and right end, the offense is averaging 6.2 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively. Callahan said Witten's ability to set the perimeter has been invaluable.
"If you don't have that type of blocking tight end, you're whistling in the wind," he said. "It's awfully hard to capture the outside perimeter unless you have a tight end that has his reachability."
[embedded_ad] Asked about his role in the running game, Witten said he's always taken pride in being a complete tight end. It's a bit ironic that, as the Cowboys prepare to play arguably the best receiving tight end in football in Jimmy Graham, Witten as talking about his contributions to the ground game.
To be able to have a really good running game, especially when you run the wide-zone scheme like we do, you have to be able to set the edges, because those are where the one-on-one matchups are," Witten said. "If that never gets secure, then the run game never gets off the ground."
It has certainly done that, with DeMarco Murray currently the league leader in rushing. Throughout his career, Witten has earned the reputation of one of the NFL's best pass-catching tight ends. But the Pro Bowler has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Cowboys' current smash mouth mentality – a strategy he's happy to help with.
"I can win when it's two-man and there is a safety covering, but at the same time I can block the defensive end if you need max protection," he said.
And of course, the yardage and touchdowns could still be waiting in the wings. Witten had just eight catches for 76 yards through three games in 2012, and he bounced back to set an all-time record for receptions by a tight end – not to mention the second-best yardage mark of his career.
"I don't think we've seen what the tight end can do in the passing game in this system yet. That's something that we know will come," he said. "I think just continue to be a threat in all three phases as far as pass blocking, run blocking and of course in the routes and creating mismatches."