Let me start with a quote from always hilarious Vice President Joe Biden: ”If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30% chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Old Joe might be on to something. I planned to make the case for Laurent Robinson being the starter with Dez Bryant coming into the game as the third receiver in 2011. I thought with absolute certainty that I was right, but I was wrong.
I was certain that issues with Dez not being where Tony Romo expected him to be would be reflected in the statistics and create a strong argument to support my opinion. However, during the process of building my case, statistics got in the way and instead created a case for Miles Austin to be that third receiver.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Austin as a receiver. His breakout game against the Kansas City Chiefs was one for the record books and he was always a consistent performer once he became a starter.
But we are talking about 2011, the year with no OTA’s and limited training camp. Austin was hindered all year it seems by hamstring strains. Timing between Tony and him never seemed right.
This was likely due to lack of conditioning that the lockout contributed to. He played in ten games as a starting receiver but, once Robinson emerged as Romo’s go-to guy, should have been re-positioned as the third receiver.
I will try to state my case without loading you down with statistics, because I have to tell you, when I go to the team’s official website and see that column about once a week called “RTN (Running The Numbers)”, I just skip over it because reading it puts me in a coma.
And while we are the subject, I am glad to have a voice at this site, one where I can gather evidence, come to a conclusion and share it with you. It’s not like you are ever going to see the headline: Cowboys’ Coaches Say “Man, We Should Have Started Robinson Instead of Austin”.
But they should have, and this is why. Robinson caught a higher percentage of passes when targeted than Austin (67% vs. 59%) and had more average yards per catch (15.9 vs. 13.5). So, if Robinson were targeted as many times as Austin in the ten games he participated in, and the stats shown above stayed roughly the same, the Cowboys would have produced 200 more yards of offense last season.
That extra 200 yards would have likely helped to produce more touchdowns. As close as some of the games were, this could have meant another win or two. Oh, but wasn’t Robinson successful because teams didn’t double cover him as much as Austin? I doubt it. How long does it take a team to adjust their coverage to a receiver that is making play after play? Not long at all.
And, since many of the times Robinson was on the field was a must-pass situation, there would have been more defensive backs on the field as well, allowing for more double coverage.
So, why didn’t the Cowboys see this and make the move I am suggesting they should have? The only reason that comes to mind is they did not want to get into Austin’s head and affect his play in the future, by handing him a demotion. Wait, wasn’t it Austin’s fat contract that caused the issue with the salary cap for this year and next? I guess they feel like the higher paid player needs to start. But the best players should always be on the field, don’t you think?
While we are on the subject of Robinson, I was disappointed the Cowboys allowed him to move on. How will he do? I don’t know. We have seen other good receivers move on and accomplish less with their new team. What he accomplished in Dallas certainly had a lot to do with the connection he and Romo developed early on.
That being said, I do understand the financial impact. With Austin healthy and Dez expected to come into his own this year, Robinson would definitely have been the third receiver. What Jacksonville was willing to pay was just too much for us to retain him in that role.
However, I don’t think we will replace what we lost with one of the inexperienced guys currently on the roster.
I hope I am pleasantly surprised with the play of these inexperienced guys when the preseason games begin. I have read opinions that losing Robinson isn’t a big deal because Tony can throw it to Austin, Bryant, Jason Witten, or the running backs. Well they had all of those options last year too and it was still Robinson making the key play.
Will the Cowboys add an experienced receiver, or roll with what they have? Stay tuned.