IRVING, Texas | The Dallas Cowboys have Pro Bowl players all over the field. So it’s understandable that defenses facing them adjust their coverage accordingly.
Dallas’ biggest guns - wide receiver Terrell Owens, quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and running back Marion Barber - get the most attention.
As it turns out, though, some of the Cowboys’ other weapons aren’t exactly popguns.
On Sunday, backup wide receiver Miles Austin and rookies Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett hurt the Green Bay defense with long gains and quick touchdowns while Romo and Owens were struggling. The result was a relatively stress-free 27-16 victory.
The message: Beware the other guys, too.
“It’s not only the star players who have been making the plays, and that’s been good for us,” coach Wade Phillips said. “The more variation we can give, the harder it is to defend us. When you’re trying to double-cover the tight end and a wide receiver, the running back runs one all the way and the other receiver makes two big plays, and that’s going to get you beat.”
Added Owens, “It’s something a defense really has to pay close attention to.”
That point is being driven home weekly by a group of rookies and young players who have had a stunningly large impact on a veteran-filled team. Jones, for example, has emerged as a touchdown threat, scoring on a 60-yard run last week to become the first rookie in franchise history with a touchdown in his first three games.
The speedy first-round draft choice has moved seamlessly into his role as a change-of-pace back complementing the rugged Barber. He has had a big impact as a kickoff returner as well, ranking second in the league at 35.1 yards a return, including a 98-yard touchdown.
“On that kickoff return, I was in the wedge, and Felix slid off me,” fullback Deon Anderson said. “I saw the guy right there and just bumped him and, boom! Felix took off. I looked up, and all I thought was, ‘Kickoff.’ It wasn’t even a question.”
“All I ever do is just get in the way of someone, and then he’s gone. It makes me look good. When I see him break down the field, I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get ready for kickoff,’ and I start jogging off the field. My work here is done.”
Austin caught a touchdown against the Packers, but he has never been considered that sure a thing. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound wide receiver was signed as an undrafted free agent from Monmouth in 2006 and hung around as a special teams player. This season, he expected to see more playing time behind Owens and Patrick Crayton, but a sprained knee kept him out of the opener.
Finally at full strength Sunday, Austin contributed. With Green Bay’s defense rolled toward Owens on practically every play, Austin found plenty of room to operate. He hauled in catches of 52 and 63 yards, while Owens finished with two receptions for 17 yards. And while Austin knows he isn’t going to draw double teams away from Owens, he realizes he can make defenses less likely to gang up on Owens by continuing to make long receptions.
“I would think so,” he said. “That’s basically what Green Bay was doing, rolling everything to T.O.’s side, doubling him, taking him out, and we got a chance to make some plays on the other side of that. If they continue to do that, we can continue to do what we’re doing. And if they don’t, T.O. will go off and score.”
Bennett, a 6-6 tight end from Texas A&M, also has taken advantage of the coverage on Owens, as well as the attention paid to Witten. Against Philadelphia, Bennett set up a touchdown with a 20-yard catch, and he burst free for a 37-yard play against the Packers.
“Whatever they give me, that’s what I’m going to take,” said Bennett, who said he has “no idea” what his role is in the offense. “I really don’t know about being a home run hitter. It would be nice to be something. Every week it’s something different. I’m just having fun, really. Anytime I have a chance to make a play, I try my best to make it.”
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