The VRR: Miles Austin and Anthony Spencer Get Some Love

We've been following the exploits of Miles Austin since 2006 when he was an undrafted free-agent at Cowboys training camp. So sometimes we forget how it must look to fans of other teams when a guy like Austin bursts onto the scene in a major way. The hardcore NFL fans had heard of Austin, but probably didn't know much about him. The casual fan is thinking where the heck did this kid come from? I don't remember him in college football? Almost no one remembered him, except for the Titans and the Cowboys, the only two teams to send scouts to check out Austin on his pro-day way back when.

Ashley Fox at the Philadelphia Inquirer has written a nice piece on the then un-wanted Miles Austin. Relays Fox, the Cowboys already knew a little about Austin.

About that time [late in college], Jim Garrett invited Austin to his backyard. It was there in Monmouth Beach that Garrett, a former longtime Dallas scout and the father of Jason Garrett (now the Cowboys' offensive coordinator), worked out small-college players hoping to turn pro. Austin ran a double move toward the hedges that separated Garrett's yard from the ocean, and Garrett was sold.

"That's a move the NFL guys do," Garrett told Austin."You could play in the league. Don't give up."

"Are you crazy?" said Austin, who finished his college career as Monmouth's all-time leader in touchdown catches, receptions, and yards.

No, Garrett said.

The Cowboys pounced once they saw Austin would probably go un-drafted.

"I was heartbroken for him when he didn't get drafted," said Steve Mucha, Austin's coach at Garfield High School. "I was going to take a ride to his house, and then he calls me. He was like, 'Coach Bill Parcells is on the other line, and I think I'm going to be with the Cowboys.' I said, 'Holy smokes.' "

Holy smokes indeed. The whole article is a good read.

It's nice to see the NFL media and talking heads giving recognition to Anthony Spencer. Better late than never.

But when you hear a teammate say something like this:

"I'm just the other guy, now," Ware said. "Maybe now I'm the other outside linebacker."

...you have to feel good. Spencer has been a beast over the last six weeks or so. What changed?

Spencer credits simple recognition as the main reason for his improved play this year, which included career-highs in nearly every category. His 98 tackles (third on the defense) were more than the 87 he registered in the previous two years combined. Spencer led the entire team with nine tackles for loss and his six sacks not only ranked third on the team, but surpassed his two-year total of 4 ½ coming into the season. All six sacks occurred from Thanksgiving until now, including four in this current three-game winning streak.

More Spencer love from Bucky Brooks.

The Cowboys' defense has been outstanding down the stretch, and it has been the vastly improved play of Spencer that has keyed the surge. The third-year pro has proven to be an effective rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware, and his ability to get to the quarterback has forced opponents to change the way they attack the Cowboys. The Eagles, in particular, had no answer for dealing with Ware or Spencer off the edges. With Philly sure to focus their attention on stopping Ware, the onus falls on Spencer to wreak havoc off the corner. He was certainly up to the challenge last week (two sacks and a forced fumble), but he has to answer the bell again in the rematch.

While we're at it, let's pass around some love to the defense in general. When Jason Cole at Yahoo! Sports ponders the question of the best defense having the advantage in the NFC, his thoughts turn to Dallas.

Specifically, the team with the best pass rush is the one to really watch. That means Dallas is the team that should do some real damage now that it has Jay Ratliff(notes) and Anthony Spencer(notes) playing so well as complements to outstanding pass rusher DeMarcus Ware(notes). During the final three games, the Cowboys have finally put together the type of stifling pass rush that everyone expected. As a result, they have, for the time being, shaken themselves of their late-season woes under coach Wade Phillips.

But, he can't convince himself and picks New Orleans in the NFC.

The 2009 season had a lot of record-setting moments for the team and individual players. A random sample from a much larger list at the Star-T.

Set an NFL record for attendance with 718,055. The previous record of 711,471 was set by the Washington Redskins in 2007.

Finished the 2009 season with 6,390 total net yards to establish a single-season team record. It is the first time the team topped 6,000 yards in a season.

David Buehler had a team-record 29 touchbacks. The previous record was 27 by Lin Elliott in 1992.

Romo’s 4,483 passing yards marked his second 4,000-yard season and is the most in team history.

We had some minor scares when we found ot that Barber and Ware missed practice time, but everything looks good to go for both, and for other guys. From the mothership:

Ware had his sore back examined on Thursday and did not accompany the team to practice at Cowboys Stadium. Indications are he will be ready to play Saturday, however.

Barber's sore knee also isn't considered serious, but it did limit him in Thursday's practice. He had full participation on Wednesday and wasn't listed on the injury report until Thursday.

The Cowboys also got some good news on the injury front Thursday: running back Tashard Choice (concussion) practiced fully for the first time this week and declared himself "good to go" for Saturday.

Right tackle Marc Colombo (ankle) and safety Pat Watkins (sprained PCL) also had full participation Thursday.

The Eagles have a dilemma and it involves Jeremiah Trotter.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows he has to find a way to put a muzzle on Marion Barber and Felix Jones, knows he has to put the players on the field who give him the best chance of doing that. Which brings us to Trotter. The Eagles clearly were much more effective stopping the run with Trotter at the middle-linebacker position in their base defense last week, rather than 230-pound Akeem Jordan.

The dilemma for McDermott is that while the Eagles are stronger against the run when Trotter is the man in the middle, they also are more susceptible to the pass because of his lack of speed.

Barber and Felix, or Witten, that is the question.

The Eagles eschewed long practices for film study this week.

With one less day to prepare and the pain still lingering from Sunday’s 24-0 beatdown in Dallas, Andy Reid decided to ease up on his team this week. The Eagles cut short their practices and spent the extra time behind closed doors in meetings and watching film.

Self-promotion alert: sbnation.com/nfl has stories running on all four playoff games for the weekend. Give 'em a visit.

Eagles-Cowboys
Packers-Cardinals
Jets-Bengals
Ravens-Patriots

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