Can Cowboys afford to make Robinson No. 3 WR when Miles Austin returns?
By Rainer Sabin
Dallas Morning News
At some point in the near future, Miles Austin will return to action. There is even a chance the veteran receiver could be activated this week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones revealed Tuesday with guarded optimism.
“We could sure use him,” Jones said on his KRLD-FM (105.3) radio show. “We’ve missed him.”
That may be true. But the Cowboys have won three consecutive games since Austin strained his right hamstring in the second quarter of the Cowboys’ 23-13 victory over Seattle on Nov. 6.
They have also witnessed the unexpected emergence of Laurent Robinson, who has blossomed into a reliable, productive receiver exhibiting many of the characteristics that define Austin.
Robinson has scored seven touchdowns in the last five games and has contributed 38 receptions and 554 receiving yards since being signed off the street in late September. Unheralded as it was, his arrival has been a positive development for the Cowboys.
“I’m just trying to go out there and be in the right spots, catch the ball and make plays,” Robinson said.
He has done all of the above and, as a result, the Cowboys are faced with a dilemma once Austin is cleared to play. In the near future, the Cowboys will have to decide how they want to deploy their wideouts as their receiving corps returns to full strength.
The easiest course of action the Cowboys could take is to revert to the plan they used before Austin’s injury. Back then, Austin and Dez Bryant were the starters while Robinson served as the third wideout.
But since Austin has been out of the lineup, Robinson has flourished in his expanded role while Bryant has continued to author performances marked by inconsistency. A quick glance at the statistical evidence reveals that Robinson has been more productive than Bryant in the last three games. During that stretch, when Austin has been sidelined, Robinson has secured more catches, collected more receiving yards and scored more touchdowns than Bryant.
In turn, Robinson has demonstrated that he’s a dependable target for quarterback Tony Romo, becoming a favored option because head coach Jason Garrett says he is “quarterback-friendly.”
For that reason, it would see unwise to reduce Robinson’s role when Austin is re-inserted into the lineup. While Bryant remains the team’s most dynamic receiver, Robinson has proven to be a far more reliable player.
He’s the real reason why the Cowboys haven’t really missed Austin as much as Jerry Jones says they have.
Q: When determining whether to defer or receive at the start of the game, the Cowboys always seem to receive when given the option. I assume that means you believe your strength is on offense, and you want to score first. However, it has always seemed favorable to me to get the ball first in the start of the second half, after you have had a chance to get a feel for your opponent, and taken time to strategize at halftime.
Steve Waddell, Smithfield, Va.
SABIN: I tend to agree with your logic. But the statistical evidence doesn’t support that line of thinking. According to Elias Sports Bureau, teams that received the opening kickoff last season scored first 59.8 percent of the time. They also produced points on 34.8 percent of their first possessions. This year, the Cowboys have won the toss five times and have chosen to receive the opening kickoff on each occasion. In those games, their first drives have ended with two touchdowns, two punts and a turnover.
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Q: We have a tendency to annoint our backup running backs as the next sure thing – until they taste a full season of being the man. First it was Troy Hambrick, then Marion Barber, then Felix Jones. Is DeMarco Murray the real deal or just the flavor of the day?
Mark Mumford from Hockessin, Del.
SABIN: Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, it’s hard not be optimistic about Murray’s future with the Cowboys. He has shown power, speed, durability and dynamic playmaking ability. It’s premature to declare that he will be a perennial Pro Bowler. But his potential, at this point, seems boundless. He could become a cornerstone for a franchise that has lacked a star running back since the days of Emmitt Smith. The fact that he has already rushed for 834 yards – a greater total than Felix Jones has ever collected during a single season – gives hope that he could be the one.
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Q: It looks like the writing is on the wall for Kitna. Is it too soon to talk about what veteran QB could be on the wish list for next year? What do you think the odds are of Donovan McNabb deciding it’s time to be a backup and head to Dallas? Somewhat reminiscent of Randall Cunningham spending the later years of his career as a Cowboy, no?
Brian Adler, Vancouver, Canada
SABIN: This is an interesting question. Kitna appears to be moving closer to retirement and his lingering back injury pushed the Cowboys to place a waiver claim on Kyle Orton last week. The Cowboys would prefer to have a veteran backing up Tony Romo. The 35-year-old McNabb, who is intimately familiar with the Cowboys’ divisional foes after playing in Philadelphia and Washington, fits that description. His contract with Minnesota also expires after this season. But the Cowboys have Stephen McGee in the fold through 2012 and could draft a quarterback next April. Other decisions will have to be made before the Cowboys would entertain the idea of pursuing McNabb.
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Q: If the Cowboys make it to the playoffs, won’t they have to face Green Bay at Lambeau Field sometime in January?
Henry Hall, Elkins Park, Pa.
SABIN: It’s impossible to know at this point. If the season ended today, the Cowboys would be the fourth seed. But even if they win their Wild Card game, it doesn’t mean they would face the Packers, likely to be the top seed, in the divisional round. That’s because the highest seed is guaranteed to play the lowest seed in each round of the NFL playoffs, meaning the Packers could face the sixth-seeded team if it managed to upset the third-seeded club. That’s not far-fetched, considering Green Bay was the sixth seed last season. Yet, the Cowboys could very well find themselves on a collision course with the Packers, who would have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
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Q: This far into the season, I still believe Wade Phillips’ defense in Houston, compared to the Cowboys’, is far more dominating. Why?
Santos Ramirez, Devine, Texas
SABIN: By now, Wade Phillips has distinguished himself as one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL. Two years ago, while under his watch, the Cowboys allowed the fewest points in the NFC. Things fell apart last year and some of the players implied that his defensive schemes had become stale and too predictable. Perhaps all that Phillips needed to get back on track was a change of scenery. Right now, the Texans have allowed only 268.4 yards per game – the lowest average in the NFL. But it helps that they play in a division that includes Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville – three teams with offenses that are among the worst in the NFL.