Monday, October 26, 2009

The Anatomy of Miles Austin's 59-Yard Touchdown

By Josh Alper

We've taken a lot of shots at Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett on these pages this season, particularly his habit of calling formations and plays that fail because they are too clever by half. It's only fair, then, that we take a moment to point out when he does something very right and gets little to no credit for it.

Miles Austin's 59-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter of Sunday's victory is being hailed as either a sign of Tony Romo's resurgence or Austin's emergence. That's naturally what's going to get the headlines, but what really made the play work was an expert job of understanding the Falcons' tendencies by Garrett.

The Falcons enjoy blitzing and when they do blitz they committ to it with gusto. Garrett called a play that featured only two receivers going out on patterns and fullback Deon Anderson in the game. Anderson is only there for blitz pickup, but Garrett also left Jason Witten, lined up to Flozell Adams's left, in to block. That was key, because he was 100 percent correct in assuming the Falcons would overload that side of the line with their blitz to take advantage of Trippy McHoldsalot's penchant for destroying the hopes and dreams of the Cowboys offense.

What's more, Garrett had the offense in a simple I-formation with Austin and Roy Williams split right. The Falcons had eight men in the box to protect against the run, something they had to do because Garrett established that the Cowboys were going to run the ball on Sunday. When it wasn't a run, the Falcons were left with two linebackers covering the short middle, likely looking for Witten on a hot route, while Austin broke deep on a crossing pattern in single coverage.

That meant Williams, running an in route, drew most of the attention with no help for safety Thomas DeCoud. In other words, the Falcons played right into Garrett's hands and the Cowboys executed the play exactly as it was drawn up on during practice. And it all happened because of the way Garrett linked film work and a feel for the day's game with his team's strengths.

Garrett didn't always guess right. The Falcons got a pair of sacks on blitzes, and he needed Romo to bail him out on the touchdown pass with seconds to go in the first half by spinning and dancing through blitzers before delivering a strike to Patrick Crayton. More often than not, though, Garrett pushed the right buttons because he read what the Falcons did and used that to call plays rather than just doing what he wanted without regard to the moment or the wisdom of a particular call.

That led to a proper balance of run and pass, it led to Martellus Bennett's best game of the season and, in general, an offense that was unpredictable in a good way for a change. If Garrett keeps doing that while teams change their defensive looks to account for Austin, the Cowboys will be the multi-faceted offense we heard about all offseason.