Robert Tonyan’s Slow Statistical Start to 2021 Not a Cause for Worry

Last season, Packers tight end Robert Tonyan had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. The former Indiana State star had 19 career receptions in his first two years with Green Bay but more than doubled that in 2020, his first year as a starter. He also caught 11 touchdown passes, nine more than he had in his first two NFL seasons combined.

Tonyan’s numbers are well off his 2020 pace thus far this season and there are several reasons for it, some of which have nothing to do with the way Tonyan is playing.

First, it would be difficult for any player to match the efficiency Tonyan showed last season. The big tight end had 52 catches on 59 targets according to pro-football-reference.com, an incredible 88.1 percent catch percentage. By comparison, All Pro wide receiver Davante Adams, widely considered one of the league’s best receivers (if not the best) had a catch percentage of 77.2.

The 88.1 percent catch percentage is nearly unheard of and Tonyan could catch 10-15 percent fewer of the passes thrown his way and still be performing at an elite level. This year, through the first five game, Tonyan’s catch percentage is only 52.9 percent.

It’s not just Tonyan’s efficiency that has gone down this season. The entire Packers offense has not matched its 2020 production. In 2020, the Packers led the league in scoring. Their red zone efficiency was also a league-best 76.81. Through five games this year, the Pack is 13th in the league in points scored and has fallen to 27th in the league in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 55 percent of the time they get deep into opponent’s territory.

A big reason for the falloff in offensive productivity and efficiency is another reason for Tonyan’s statistical drop: the injuries to the Packers offensive line. The Packers have not had All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari all season because of a knee injury he suffered before last year’s season finale. He remains on the PUP list.

In Bakhtiari’s absence, the Packers moved Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins to left tackle. Jenkins played well in the first two games of the year, but then he injured his ankle and has missed the last three contests. Yosh Nijman stepped in and did a respectable job starting the last three games but the Packers had to give him help in pass blocking and that meant that tight ends like Tonyan had to help chip pass rushers and block more often than they normally would in the Packers normal offense.

The team also had to alter their play calling to emphasize shorter, quick release passes that favored wide receivers and running backs more than tight ends. The result is fewer opportunities for Tonyan to get open and make plays.

The injuries to the offensive line also hurt the Packers ability to convert inside the red zone this season. Remember, Tonyan was a big weapon in the red zone in 2020 with seven of his 11 scoring plays coming from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. If the Packers can re-open their entire playbook once the offensive line gets healthy again, Tonyan’s touchdown total should go up as well.

The absence of Marquez Valdes-Scantling has also hurt Tonyan’s productivity. MVS is the Packers best deep threat. Because defenders always had to respect his speed, more room would open-up underneath and over the middle on plays when Valdes-Scantling ran long patterns downfield. Tonyan was able to take advantage of those open spaces to make critical catches.

But the Packers offense has reason for optimism. Bakhtiari is eligible to start practicing with the team again after the Bears game. Jenkins is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Chicago but did practice more this week than he has since the injury. Starting center Josh Myers is also expected back in the lineup after missing last week’s game in Cincinnati and MVS is eligible to come off the IR after the Bears game.

Tight ends coach Justin Outten didn’t seem very worried about Tonyan’s slower start to this season. “If you look at Bobby right now, you could say he's having a slow start statistically,” Outten said. “The other aspects of his game have really improved, and that's what fires me up about his situation because in those aspects, when he is improving in those worlds, he's helping us with the most important stat, which is a win. He is a major piston in our engine, and he brings everything to light. The responsibility he has on his plate, whether it's a chip or a run block or he's going out in a route, he takes pride in it. I'm just proud of his process and sticking with everything that's asked of him. I'm just excited to see the whole picture coming into play here.”

There are still 12 games left on the schedule for Tonyan to back to his 2020 level of production. All signs point to a stronger finish this season for the Packers top pass catching tight end.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

NFL Categories: 
11 points

Comments (10)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
LambeauPlain's picture

October 16, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Good analysis, Gil. The aspects of the O that are slow 5 games in would ordinarily have me concerned, yet 4-1 is impressive knowing the Pack could easily be 2-3.

Besides Tonyan...Lazard, Deguara, M. Taylor aren't involved much, MVS injury, very little use of 22 formations, 3 new starters at Gs and C, very conservative play calling, Red Zone struggles, Rodgers awful play under pressure.

Most, if not all of this can be fixed...starting with Bahkt and Jenks getting back to their usual posts.

3 points
4
1
Gee's picture

October 16, 2021 at 01:45 pm

Hmm you have looked at Rodgers stat this year under pressure? Yep he has thrown 3 int, which for him is nuts, but he's still has 101. qb rate and thrown for 1200 yards. He's still in the top 10 and s you say no Bahkt or Jenkins. I know its not usually Rodgers, but I'll take it

3 points
4
1
HarryHodag's picture

October 16, 2021 at 03:43 pm

Check out how many targets Adams is getting. That's a bigger factor. Adams has been open more often and Rodgers has found him. Rodgers also has found Jones frequently.

There's only one ball.

3 points
3
0
Leatherhead's picture

October 16, 2021 at 08:16 pm

I’ve broken it down a bunch of times.

Approximately 65 offensive snaps. More than half of those plays go to the RBs, by run or pass.

Of the remaining 30 or so, half are to Davante.

Now we’re down to 15 remaining plays to Cobb, Tonyan, MVS, Lazard, Lewis, Deguara , Amari,…... These guys won’t get their number called a lot, but they contribute when they can.

3 points
3
0
jannes bjornson's picture

October 16, 2021 at 08:54 pm

If Tonyan is a Pro bowl TE, then he should be involved in the Game Plans.

0 points
1
1
LeotisHarris's picture

October 16, 2021 at 04:39 pm

A lot of people are saying lauraj's friend's sister is abusing laxatives.

0 points
2
2
Leatherhead's picture

October 16, 2021 at 08:17 pm

What is “Who gives a shit?😎 “ for $400, Alex?

4 points
4
0
Philarod's picture

October 16, 2021 at 08:57 pm

I think that injuries on the O-line seem to be the biggest factor.
Perhaps, Tonyan's blocking has improved by necessity, and hopefully, when Jenkins and Bakh (and Myers) return, we'll see the offense open up a little, including more of 85.

6 points
6
0
PatrickGB's picture

October 16, 2021 at 09:18 pm

As the article points out needing the TE to chip against a good pass rush is just as important than receiving yards. Despite all the injuries, most of them are not season ending. The offense will evolve to meet the needs of each opponent. It’s still early and looking good enough for now. Just beat the Bears and worry about the stats some other time.

3 points
3
0
Duneslick's picture

October 17, 2021 at 10:36 am

Hes not getting open especially in the red zone. Red zone are quick passes and he does not need to chip blockers on the way down field

0 points
0
0