The primary question mark this offseason concerning the Dallas Cowboys was their perceived lack of big play receivers. Since releasing wide receiver Terrell Owens, many pundits questioned whether the trio of Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin would be able to consistently get open, create mismatches and get deep.
None of these three receivers are the perceived deep threat Owens was, and except for big drops by Crayton two seasons ago, none had particularly distinguished themselves in the NFL. But they also don’t carry the baggage Owens did, and do not demand the ball all the time and don't cry when they the ball doesn't come their way.
While Crayton (drafted) and Austin (free agent) were signed by former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, the Cowboys obtained former first-round pick Williams in a desperation move last season when they lost quarterback Tony Romo for a few games with a broken pinkie.
At the time I didn’t see how picking up a receiver in midseason helps a backup QB, but Jones has won three Super Bowls and wants to let eveyone know he knows what he is doing.
Williams is a self-proclaimed possession type receiver, Crayton has had cases of the drops in pressure situations and Austin has an injury history, while not having a full opportunity to perform.
With each of those players having some negative aspects to their game, it was interesting to see where the Cowboys were going to get their “non-T.O.” big plays during Sunday's game.
Actually, the Cowboys got their big plays from the Big Three – Williams, Crayton and Miles Austin.
While none of the three touchdowns were of the Daryle Lamonica “long bomb” variety, each receiver caught a short to medium Tony Romo pass and used their speed and maneuverability to score a long touchdown pass play.
The trio had a combined eight receptions for 263 yards and the three touchdowns, averaging a big play 32 yards per catch (and run).
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett used his variety of weapons creatively, wanting to getting everyone involved. Seven different receivers had passes thrown in their direction, while six different receivers caught passes.
The Cowboys started by going to Williams for the first two pass plays, both completions. It is important to get a new receiver into the game early, especially one so embattled during the offseason as Williams.
Pressured much of the first half, Romo made the most of the situation, hitting a variety of short patterns to TE/WR Jason Witten, two for key first downs.
Then the Cowboys struck gold just before the first half, with Romo eluding a rusher before throwing an out to Austin, who came back nicely to the ball, caught it over far shoulder and deked two defenders before going into the end zone.
This late-second-quarter touchdown came one possession after Romo overthrew an open Austin streaking down the field for what would have been an easy touchdown. Austin has four TDs in his brief career, with the yardage accounting for 52, 11, 14 and 42 yards each.
Those are big play numbers.
The second half for the Cowboys' offense was more of the same. Tony Romo said after the game, “Once again, it was taking what the defense was giving us.” Garrett made some adjustments and the Cowboys began to attack the Buccaneers' weaknesses.
What was billed as a sturdy set of cornerbacks began to break down in the second half. Williams caught a nice seam route from Romo, split two defenders and bolted for a 66-yard TD. One possession later, Romo looked towards Witten in the flat, and on a short roll out, pump-faked both the corner and safety up, then hit Crayton in stride for an 80-yard catch and run.
It was a play the Cowboys were setting up all day. The starting safety for the Bucs, Tanard Jackson, was suspended for the game, and the Cowboys picked on his backup, Sabby Piscitelli, for both Crayton and Williams’ long touchdowns.
While this big play outburst will likely not happen every game, Romo has insisted all summer that the Cowboys have the weapons to consistently break the big play, especially against aggressive defenses.
Their big play TE/WR Jason Witten also had five catches, three of which went for first downs. I say WR because the Cowboys love spreading both Witten and second-year man Martellus Bennett out wide to allow them to match up either on a smaller safety or slower linebacker.
Bennett’s size (6’6”, 265 lbs.) and speed allow him to be a weapon near the goal line on jump balls. I am surprised the Cowboys did not try that more often down near the goal line.
The big play ability of the Dallas Cowboys is still apparent, even without their leading receiver from a year ago. They had seven completions of more than 18 yards, two long runs (23 yards from Marion Barber & 19 yards from Felix Jones), plus Jones’ 36-yard kickoff return to open the game.
That is ten potential game breaking, long distance plays from six different players.
Big plays from the wide outs, aggressive and balanced play calling from offensive coordinator (27 passes, 24 rushes), and probably the best closer in the game in Barber, gives the Cowboys lots of weapons for opposing defenses to worry about.
What the Cowboys don’t have to worry about are major off-the-field distractions, and that is welcome news.