When tight end Martellus Bennett left Dallas in the offseason for the rival New York Giants, many fans said good riddance.
Bennett had a “different” personality, to say the least, and never really capitalized on his massive potential as a receiver. Parting with Bennett was probably a smart move for the ‘Boys, but it wasn’t like Bennett was horrific on the field.
Contrary to what most believe, Bennett actually did a really good job of what the Cowboys needed from him.
It’s easy to look at Bennett’s receiving stats—an average season during his four-year career was 21 receptions for 212 yards and one touchdown—and call him a bust. The reality is that Bennett was really the fifth receiving option whenever he was on the field. While there’s no debating that he should have developed into a better receiver, his primary job responsibility in Dallas was blocking.
And as a blocker, Bennett was outstanding. Asked to block on 62.6 percent of his snaps, I recorded Bennett as never allowing a sack in his four-year NFL career. He also allowed pressure on quarterback Tony Romo just seven times, or 3.6 percent of his snaps in pass protection. As a comparison, Jason Witten allowed pressure on 5.8 percent of his pass protection snaps over the same period.
Bennett was good in pass protection, but he was sensational as a run blocker. Over the past three seasons, the Cowboys averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry when running behind Bennett—compared to 4.9 yards-per-carry behind Witten. It’s never popular when I say this, but Bennett is a better blocker than Witten (who is a great blocker in his own right).
At first glance, you’d expect the Cowboys to simply not run as many two-tight end sets in 2012. With the loss of wide receiver Laurent Robinson and uncertainty at the No. 3 wide receiver spot, however, that doesn’t seem likely.
John Phillips and rookie James Hanna will be the only players sitting behind Witten at the position, meaning one of them will probably receive a decent number of snaps this season. Hanna is a slightly undersized tight end whose strengths lie as a receiver. He won’t be counted on as a blocker too much in 2012.
Phillips is probably the favorite for the No. 2 tight end job, at least initially. Phillips struggled as a blocker last year, with the team averaging only 3.9 yards-per-carry with him at the point-of-attack. He has 22 career receptions.
It might seem trivial to worry about the departure of a second tight end, but it could really shift the nature of the Cowboys’ offense. Will they continue to run more two-tight end sets than just about any other team in the NFL, or will they begin to utilize more three-receiver packages? Either way, the loss of Martellus Bennett could hurt more than you think.
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