Going into the 2013 season, Dallas Cowboys fans were licking their chops to see Dez Bryant improve on his 1,382 yards last year. In the team's 36-31 victory over the New York Giants in Week 1 of the new season, it was Miles Austin who was turning heads.
Austin finished the Giants game with the most receptions out of any receiver in the game with 10 grabs. His 72 receiving yards just edged out Jason Witten for most on the victorious squad. Bryant finished with just four catches for 22 yards.
The lack of staggering numbers on Bryant's part is not Tony Romo or the No. 1 receiver's fault. If the Dallas faithful are looking for someone to blame, look no further than "Big Blue." The Giants kept Bryant double-teamed much of the game which led to a return of the Austin of old.
Interestingly enough, it was No. 19 who noted Bryant might find himself around multiple defenders early and often before the season began. The veteran receiver told ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon "[Bryant]'s going to warrant some attention his way. The rest of us have to make plays."
Austin stepped up when he was called upon by Romo, making key catches when the offense needed him. The Monmouth grad made so many catches against the Giants, he tied his career high for receptions in a single game. That's not a bad way to start the 2013 campaign.
As ESPN's Dan Graziano pointed out, Austin was a headache for his defensive matchup all night:
Miles Austin is a mismatch for Terrell Thomas in the slot, and the Cowboys appear to know this.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) September 9, 2013
Before Bryant came to "Big D," Austin had a brief moment in time where he was the receiver who was the biggest key to the offense's success. He now finds himself back in that role.
No NFL defense is going to play one of its cornerbacks one-on-one with Bryant. With No. 88 fighting through at least two defenders on most plays, Austin becomes Romo's best threat to throw to.
Witten can move the chains, and DeMarco Murray can catch the checkdowns. Austin is the only other proven guy on the Cowboys' receiving depth chart who can stretch the field.
The undrafted receiver posted back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards from 2009-2010, as outlined in Pro-Football-Reference.com. The past few years, he's been plagued with injuries (notably to his ankle) that have kept him away from that mark.
Austin can get back to over 1,000 yards this season if he stays healthy and makes defenses pay for doubling up Bryant.
Even if defenses eventually back off Bryant and turn attention to Austin, the latter wideout will have still played a key role for Dallas. Freeing up No. 88 is exactly what Romo needs in order to keep defenses on their heals.
Defensive coordinators would have to figure out how to neutralize the threat of Bryant, while keeping Austin in check. That's, arguably, a task most coordinators faced even before Austin's breakout game to start 2013.
"[Austin] seems like he’s back to what we’ve seen in the past. He has quickness. He has explosiveness," head coach Jason Garrett told ESPN's MacMahon.
Garrett likely knows his passing game is going to need a little more out of Austin this year that it has the past two. It seems as if No. 19 has his coach's confidence, and Garrett sees what many viewers witnessed on Sunday Night Football,
While he might not be the No. 1 receiver or the defense's biggest fear, Austin is the key to Dallas' passing game.
A productive Austin means attention will be forced to come off Bryant. Even if teams stick to double-teaming Bryant, Austin is capable of making them pay for doing so if he stays healthy.
Witten is the most reliable, and Bryant is the most explosive receiver Dallas has. Austin possesses a combination of reliability and explosiveness this offense will need if defenses shut down the Cowboys' No. 1 wideout or tight end.