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WR Austin Returns To Lambeau As Bigger Threat


Dallas WR Miles Austin gets dragged down by Green Bay S Nick Collins after a 63-yard reception on Sept. 21, 2008, at Lambeau Field.

When Dallas receiver Miles Austin burned the Packers for two big receptions worth 115 yards in the Cowboys' victory at Lambeau Field last season, it looked like an anomaly - a case where a little-known contributor made good when the opposing defense was focusing on so many other offensive weapons.

But in 2009, it's Austin who's starting to attract just as much attention as the others in the Dallas arsenal, and deservedly so.

During the Cowboys' current four-game winning streak, Austin is proving to be as dangerous as anyone on their offense. Beginning with an overtime win in Kansas City in Week 5, Austin has posted 22 receptions for 531 yards and six touchdowns, the latter two totals tops in the NFL over that span. He's averaging a whopping 24.1 yards per catch and a ridiculous 42.0 yards per TD grab over the four games.

"He's a new guy on the scene," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "People haven't really paid much attention until now."

He was practically an unknown guy last year coming into Week 3 at Lambeau. But he showed the Packers what he was capable of, hauling in a 63-yard catch in the third quarter to set up a Marion Barber TD run and then pulling down a 52-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' 27-16 win.

But up to that point in his career, which began in 2006, he had caught just seven passes for 88 yards. And for the rest of 2008, following the big night against the Packers, he added just nine catches for 151 yards to his resume.

So what's been the difference this year? Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, who has faced Austin each of the last two seasons, says he isn't just a speed guy and deep threat anymore. He's also breaking tackles and making impressive runs after the catch, and that has made him a regular in quarterback Tony Romo's progressions.

"He's becoming more of a complete receiver now," Williams said. "Over the past years, when Miles is in the game, he's doing vertical things. Now he's expanding his game, so that's helping him out a lot."

Austin's emergence has allowed the Cowboys' offense to keep humming despite the departure of receiver Terrell Owens. Dallas still features tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett and receivers Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton, along with running backs Barber and Felix Jones, another speedster like Austin. Tashard Choice has been added to the backfield mix as a Wildcat and third-down guy.

That's a lot to watch out for on the league's No. 3-ranked offense, a unit Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers calls the defense's "stiffest challenge" to date.

But on a couple of occasions Austin has shown the difference he can make when that offense needs to make something happen.

Back in Week 5 at Kansas City, the Cowboys were struggling with penalties and turnovers when Austin broke loose for a 59-yard TD pass to put Dallas ahead in the fourth quarter. He followed it up with a game-winning 60-yard TD catch-and-run in overtime to give him a club-record 250 yards in one game and start the Cowboys' winning streak.

Then just last week, the Philadelphia Eagles had done an admirable job of clamping down on the Cowboys' offense, limiting them to just 268 yards and 13 points through three quarters. But then Austin, held without a catch in a game tied at 13, beat the Philly defense with a double move and got open deep for the game-winning 49-yard score.

{sportsad300}The fact that a double move - where the receiver takes a hard step inside as though he's running a crossing route before turning and taking off on a fly up the sideline - from Austin would work with the game on the line speaks to what Williams was saying about his improved all-around game.

The Eagles would have played for the deep ball from the old one-trick pony Austin, but he's become such an integral part of the Cowboys' offense that the defense has to respect his abilities over the middle. Hence Philly bit on the inside move.

"He set them up and the ball was well-thrown, and then he had to take it and run after the catch with it," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He made a nice move. I've been impressed with him, because I didn't know that much about him before. I'd seen him, but I hadn't really studied him. But after studying him, he's an impressive guy.

"Right now, you look at him as a receiver, Witten is their top guy they go to. But he's their next guy."

A guy the Packers learned about last year, and one the rest of the league is trying to figure out now.

"He's making plays for them, making some big plays for them," Woodson said. "So he's not a new guy anymore."

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