Monday, October 26, 2009

Austin's emergence makes Cowboys more diverse

By Eric Edholm

In two games, the Cowboys offense has completely changed. Sandwiching the bye week, WR Miles Austin has set a club record for yards in consecutive games (421) and has become the team's go-to wide receiver. Austin now has only seven fewer yards in two games than Roy Williams has in 17 games as a Cowboy (428). And Austin is making people forget about Williams, or at least treat him like a very distant No. 2 option. He also has earned a new saying around the Lone Star State: Austin is the capital of Texas.

The PFW spin

So just how good is Austin? Can he keep up this ridiculous pace?

You almost forget that the Cowboys' response when asked about why they released Terrell Owens was Austin. He was the reason, the team said, it cut T.O. We didn't believe them completely then, but perhaps we should now. Owens has 18 catches for 242 yards and one TD on the season in Buffalo. That's, like, five quarters' work for Austin.

Joking aside, the difference in the player — and the team — since Austin's emergence is clear. He has opened up more possibilities for coordinator Jason Garrett, and teams now must defend the Cowboys sideline to sideline. Austin's best work has been done on the edges so far. We always knew he had the speed to get downfield, but he also is using better technique and running crisper routes to get away from man coverage and safety help.

Most of Austin's yards have come after the catch, and his ability to escape tackles has been phenomenal. On the first touchdown, he ran a deep crossing post route and got into a footrace with the Falcons' safety, Thomas DeCoud, for a 59-yard TD. Later, when the Cowboys were up 17-14 late in the third, Austin beat the physical coverage of CB Brent Grimes on a sharp out route and broke the tackle for a 22-yard score.

Give credit to Tony Romo: He's trying to find the open guy. He has gone away from TE Jason Witten lately, and he's not forcing the ball into Williams. He didn't do it last season with Owens, and he's not trying to do it this season.

Austin only had shown these glimpses before, mostly in practice. He was having a terrific offseason, and sources close to the team saw a confidence in him they hadn't seen before. Only a hamstring injury in training camp prevented him from winning the starting flanker job outright to start the season. Cowboys officials knew Austin would get his chance once he was healthy, but they had no idea he would flourish the way he has so explosively in these two games.

With Austin, Witten, Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice, the Cowboys have a great mix of power and speed and have become tough to defend. If they can get Williams and TE Martellus Bennett (who, like Austin, is starting his career as an athletic tease of sorts) involved occasionally, Romo could have a terrific run in the next few games against the Cowboys' softest part of the schedule.