Thursday, November 05, 2009

Commentary: Austin's play helps Cowboys change fortunes

By Danny Udero
Sun-News Sports Editor

If you build it they will come. Jerry Jones obviously heard that when he designed the new Dallas Cowboys football stadium in Arlington, Texas. And come they did, as fans have continued to lineup at the gates trying to see America's Team in the house that Jerry built.

But, what someone didn't tell Jones, was that if they play well, people will come. Dallas' 5-2 record this year should be 7-0. The Cowboys have played shaky in a couple of games, and the key factor in every game played this year has been, when quarterback Tony Romo plays well, the Cowboys play well.

You see, in football there is no I in team. But there is two I's in MIles AustIn, and the emergence of Dallas' new number one receiver has fans coming back for more, and opposing secondary's spending countless hours trying to figure out how to stop this new wide receiver that has suddenly taken Dallas into new heights.

Roy Williams and Romo aren't hooking up like a No. 1 receiver and his quarterback should. Williams has caught only 14 of 37 passes this year for 249 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, there are three receivers ahead of Williams, and it all starts with Austin, who has emerged with the second most catches on the team — to Jason Witten. Austin has tallied 26 catches for 563 yards, averaging 21.7 yards per catch and posting six touchdowns. Witten leads the team, with 37 catches. He has amassed 348 yards and a touchdown, while Patrick Crayton has 20 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns.

This situation has led to the belief that there is a lot of team unity at The Ranch in all aspects of this football team. Take the running back situation. Marion Barber and Felix Jones were to share these duties, both great backs with different and unique styles. But, injuries has caused Tashard Choice to step in and take on a bigger role in the backfield. The numbers speak for themselves, and Dallas, at one point, did have the No. 1 running game in the league. They sit at No. 6 right now.

Barber has 86 carries for 397 yards and four touchdowns. The wealth has spread to Choice, who has 48 carries for 236 yards, and two touchdowns, while Jones has 37 rushes for 288 yards and a touchdown.

Take a look at Crayton, who lost his return duties on special teams and his No. 2 receiving spot to Austin a couple of weeks ago. Crayton wasn't happy, but he didn't take on a T.O. role in letting the media and everyone know how he felt. So in the next two games, Crayton emerges to catch a touchdown pass in the first game, and three more passes for 39 yards in the second game, including being the go-to-guy in some clutch third-down conversions. And, he also returned a punt for a touchdown in each game to total three scores in two games for the Cowboys.

I think the Shut Up and Play attitude when things don't go your way is what is happening in Big D. No one at The Ranch was pointing fingers when the Cowboys had subpar performances against the Giants and the Broncos. Even owner Jerry Jones came out and said that head coach Wade Phillips' job is safe. There were no excuses, although I would have liked to give Romo and Phillips a bit of my mind after both losses.

All Dallas did was get back on track, work on the team concept, and score 101 points over the next three games, having the defense give up an average of only 19 points during those games. Romo has also posted a 100-plus quarterback rating, and for the first time in his career, has not been intercepted in three consecutive football games.

The defense is beginning to make a name for itself, tallying 11 sacks over the last three contests. They have also tallied five takeaways, and with the special teams stepping up to help boost some punt returns for touchdowns, and getting kicker David Buehler to post a league-leading 17 touchbacks, while kicker Nick Folk has only missed on two field-goal attempts. Well, that formula spells win against any formidable opponent. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons or the Seattle Seahawks.

But, the tough schedule isn't' t far from being over yet. With two road games at Philadelphia and Green Bay coming up, the Cowboys need to keep this team concept going to be able to return home and face Washington and in a Thanksgiving special the Oakland Raiders. We could quite possibly see a 9-2 record and a lead in the division before we embark on a trip to face the Giants on the road in the beginning of December.

One thing is for certain. If Dallas can remain healthy, and if the Saints continue to roll, the matchup in the Superdome on Saturday, Dec. 19, can mean the Cowboys knocking off New Orleans and wrecking an undefeated season will be a highlight for this team en route to maybe a Super Bowl appearance.

Hold on. Now I am getting a little ahead of myself, as maybe we just need to get into the playoffs, and get Romo to help us win a couple of postseason games first. Either way, this Cowboys team is looking very healthy, and America's Team has become a beauty on the football field again. Let's hope this time it lasts until the end of the season. Any time we can get Pittsburgh fans upset at the fact that we won a game, even when they won, is a great thing.