The Clutchness of Miles Austin

Seems like every time we hear mention of Miles Austin, it is with a caveat that he's not healthy and reliable, with a joke about his hammmies. With the drafting of Terrance Williams, many fans and media perceived him as Miles' replacement, as soon as next year.

Yes, Miles Austin has been injured more than we would like.

Yes, he wasn't fully available for the entire 2012 season.

But I do believe his injury-proneness has become a comfortable meme that overstates reality and ignores his actual production, and especially his clutchness.

Miles' 2012 Production

Even looking just as his raw numbers, his production is solidly in the low-end WR1 range (in the top 32 of WRs) in catches, yards and TDs.

Snaps: 888 (26th)
Targets: 115 (25th)
Receptions: 66 (23rd)
Yards: 943 (23rd)
YAC: 301 (27th)
TDs: 6 (T-26th)
PFF overall rating: 8.2 (28th)

The receivers he's in the same neighborhood with for various stats include Nelson, Bowe, Wallace, Crabtree, Maclin, Antonio Brown. He played more snaps than Julio Jones. He had the same receptions as Brown, and one more than Boldin. He had one more TD than Calvin Johnson. He had a better overall rating than Boldin or Cruz.

And that is as the team's 3rd receiving target behind a top 5 WR and the TE with most catches and yards in the whole league.

Also, there seems to be some impression that he had a lot of drops. He had 6, which isn't a huge amount among WRs (T-38th), and here's how a few other top WRs compare in terms of drop percentage.

Eric Decker 12/120 = 10%
Wes Welker 15/166 = 9.0%
Victor Cruz 12/187 = 8.8%
Dez Bryant 11/137 = 8.0%
Calvin Johnson 14/199 = 7.0%
Brandon Marshall 13/181 = 7.1%
Miles Austin 6/115 = 5.2%

Beyond the Raw Stats

Beyond the raw stats, I had a recollection of several key plays that Miles had made, and had a hunch that his clutchness was not really being appreciated. But over the course of a whole season, we tend to lose sight of all the small plays that make up those stats, when those plays occurred, and what they meant in each of the games.

So I went back through all of the play-by-plays for the season, found Miles' plays, and then watched the replays to remind myself of all the targets he had, and review the context of each in the game.

A clutch catch I would define as a drive-sustaining catch on a 3rd (or 4th) down in a drive that results in a score, or a scoring play itself that helps to clinch the game, or a big play that changes field position and is one of the biggest plays of the game. Some plays are considered clutch in retrospect because of what came after them, but that's the nature of the game.

What I found is that Miles had plays of those nature in 9 of the games, including 7 of our 8 wins (and in the other game PIT he had high production, just not anything particularly clutch), plus the NYG second game and the NO game where his catches put us in position to win those games. Iʻve also noted a couple of the other games (CHI and ATL) where his play was noteworthy, but not necessarily clutch.

Where I can I've provided links to highlight videos so you can watch the catches (and I encourage you to do so), and I've taken Advanced NFL Stats win probability graph screenshots to show how his especially clutch plays affected the win % of each game, and graphically show where they fit in the arc of the games, which gives a kind of interesting visual perspective.

Miles Austin 2012 Clutch Plays

Week 1 @ New York Giants

Opening game against the defending champs and current most hated rivals, 17-10 lead in the 4th quarter, Austin has been quiet for most of the game but has a couple nice Q4 catches on the final scoring drive, including one on a broken play where Romo rolls out right to avoid pressure, spins back inside and finds Austin.

After two catches for 30 yards on this drive, 1st and 30 (!) on NY 34, ~6:04 to play, Romo pump fake, Austin double move down the left side, leaps up and high-points the ball to catch it over heads of backup CB Tryon and safety Rolle, and runs it in for a touchdown.

 photo MilesWeek1_zps50f6d473.gif

Highlight Video

Even though this was Ogletree's one game to shine and his two TDs and final 3rd down conversion got them the game, it was Miles who scored the real game-clinching TD, and the most spectacular catch of the night.

Week 3 vs TB Buccaneers

Coming off tough loss to Seattle, this game starts off badly, with a Romo pick when Talib comes off his outside and undercuts a throw (to Austin) for a pick, which TB converts into a TD.

The next possession, Cowboys face a 3rd and 3, go empty backfield, and Romo finds Austin just across the marker for the first positive momentum of the night.

In the third quarter, Austin also catches a slant for 21 yards to the TB 17, but the scoring chance is lost through Romo's fumble.

3rd quarter, <1:00, still 10-7 Cowboys, 2nd & 9, Austin gets behind Eric Wright and snags a catch for a 49-yard gain to the Bucs 30, the biggest play of the game, reversed field position and set up a FG (should have been hit to the helmet on Romo by Bennett, not called).

 photo MilesWeek3_zpsaba41f9a.gif

Highlight Video

Week 4 vs. Chicago Bears

When the Bears went up 14-0 after the Dez misread INT, Miles catches 3 for 41 on one drive and the Cowboys first TD. But things go downhill from there.

In the 4th quarter comeback attempt, Miles converts a 4th and 3 slant for 16 yards, which is very clutch, but then a few plays later he fails to cross the DB's face and Romo throws an INT inside, which more or less cancelled out the previous play.

Week 7 vs. Carolina Panthers

Second possession, Austin makes a 14-yard catch as part of the drive, and then on 3rd and Goal at the 7, he catches one in the congested middle but can't quite reach the goal line, setting up a chip shot FG.

Later, he catches a ball over the middle but has it knocked out as he's switching hands and loses the fumble.

But then he redeems himself. Down 3-7 in the 3rd quarter, after a holding penalty pushes them back, on 3rd and 9 Austin makes one of his classic explosive catch and runs for 36 yards down the middle of the field, followed the next play with a 26-yard fade to the left pylon that Romo drops in the bucket for their only TD of the game.

 photo MilesWeek7a_zps2da8b348.gif

 photo MilesWeek7b_zps6d44d92b.gif

Highlight Video

Week 8 vs. NY Giants

Criticized for not fighting for a ball that was underthrown by Romo for an INT.

Cowboys already down 23-0 not even halfway through the second quarter having turned the ball over 4 times, then Romo hits a nice slant to Austin, then a quick out to Austin, then hits Austin on a fade for 24 yards, which gets the offense really going for the first time, and after a Witten catch ends in a Jones TD.

First play of the 3rd quarter, down 23-10, Austin beats Amukamara and draws a PI for 20 yards. After a big Dez play puts them in scoring range, on 3rd and 10 on the 16, Austin converts down right to the goal line, setting up a Romo bootleg score to make it 23-17.

Next drive, second play, Romo hits Austin on a deep slant for 25 yards to start off a drive that ends up taking the lead.

After the Giants kick a FG to retake the lead at 26-24, Cowboys are 3rd and 5 at the Giants 37, halfway through the 4th quarter, and Austin catches a slant for 15 yards, to put them in scoring range. Sadly, on the next play Felix commits our own butt-fumble and we turn the ball over once more, robbing us of momentum and resulting in another Giants FG.

 photo MilesWeek8b_zps305de413.gif

We ended up losing the game, but Austin had 9 catches for 133 yards, in what was almost an historic comeback. In all three of our touchdown drives, Austin made critical catches. What we remember from that game is probably the almost-catch by Dez at the end. And the 18 catches for 167 yards by Witten as the Giants could not stop his one basic option-out route all night. But Austin was clutch in this game, and also would have been a big part of the win if we'd managed to pull it out by a fingertip.

Week 9 vs. Atlanta Falcons

Miles has 7 for 70, a productive game but nothing particularly clutch.

Week 10 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

3-5 records, season saving game for both teams.

Miles only has 2 catches in the game for 32 yards.

The first possession and first set of downs after the Eagles have opened with a TD drive, 3rd and 1, Miles snags a high quick out to keep a drive going that resulted in a Felix TD to answer.

Miles' second catch is one of the top 5 plays in Romo's career. Aikman laughed in amazement and called it "Houdini." Trailing 17-10, two minutes left in the 3rd quarter, 3rd down and 4. Looking dead to rights, Romo slips away from two tackles and dives forward in the pocket, still looking downfield, and then as if he has eyes behind him he escapes sideways just in time, and then spins the ball 25 yards to Austin, who has adjusted when he sees the pressure from a quick hitch to go deeper and find a spot in the coverage. He's the guy Romo finds when he's just performed one of his greatest escapes ever. Three plays later Dez, 30 yard TD, game tied. Six plays later, Harris 78 yard punt return TD. Three lays later Carr INT 47 yards TD.

 photo MilesWeek10_zpsb9778eac.gif

Highlight Video

Not only was this one of Romo's greatest plays of his career, but it was also maybe the clutch play of the entire season. We lose this game, the season is likely over, and we wouldn't have even been in position to get into the playoffs in the last game. (And it would have sucked for the rest of the season for us fans.) But it kept the drive going which in the next 2:35 turned into a 21-point tsunami from which the Eagles never recovered.

This play arguably catalyzed the 5-1 run which had the Boys at least with a chance to be in it at the end. The play was all Romo, but Miles was there when his QB needed him, got open and made the catch that at the time saved the season.

Week 11 vs. Cleveland Browns

Miles makes a few catches through the game, and after a dramatically swinging game, they go to overtime.

Cowboys first possession, 3rd and 12, Austin gets a slant for 13 into CLE territory. The drive falters after that, but still an important catch for field position, as the punt pins the Browns at their own 10.

After a 3-n-out, the Boys' second OT possession starts on the Browns' 48, thanks to a Harris 20-yard return.

9 yards to Austin on a comeback. Dunbar for 7 to the 32. Borderline Bailey range.

 photo MilesWeek11b_zps48640875.gif

Then Austin seems to catch a ball on a deep slant but has it knocked out before he secures it, in what is almost a turnover, but ruled incomplete.

The very next play, Romo facing an inside blitz fires hot to Austin, who scoops it up below his knees, fights off the CB's arm on his arm, and hauls in the catch for 8 yards to the 24. The play is upheld on review. "That is a sensational catch by Miles Austin." Two short runs later, and Bailey knocks in the game-tying 38-yard field goal.

 photo MilesWeek11c_zpscd832744.gif

In OT, Romo went to Austin on 3 pass plays in a row, going back to him despite him almost losing a fumble, and he made a very high degree of difficulty catch to set them up in comfortable range to win the game.

Week 13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

He only catches two passes, but they were both clutch.

The first one is at the end of the half, Boys are down 14-3, 1:11 to play, 3rd and 13, Miles catches a shallow cross, slips a tackle, gets a first down and goes out of bounds. Next play Witten catches it down to the 1-inch line, then Murray takes it in for the score. Clutch play by Miles kept the drive alive.

Then in the 4th quarter, Cowboys are down 24-17, from the Eagles 27, Miles catches a cross then turns on the jets and weaves up the middle to the end zone for the tying score.

 photo MilesWeek13b_zps360d84a1.gif

Highligh Video

Eagles got a FG, but then the Boys scored two quick touchdowns by Dez and Mo to take control of the game.

Week 14 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Emotional game after Jerry Brown's death. Miles catches 4 for 46 (and has a TD overturned on review). Two of his first three catches are 3rd down conversions but not of great consequence.

Then midway through the 4th, Cowboys are down 19-10, it's 3rd and 10 on Cincy's 42, and Romo finds Austin on a cross for a 15-yard gain to keep the drive alive and get in scoring range. The very next play, Romo hits Dez over the middle for his broken finger touchdown, and on the next possession the Boys end up kicking the game winning field goal. In the most emotionally important win of the season, Miles' play was the turning point.

 photo MilesWeek14_zps3b193ade.gif

Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

With Dez's finger injured, Miles steps up as the leading receiver in this game with 7 for 71, but in this case none of his plays are particularly clutch, all of them on first or second down, and none in especially crucial situations. But he gets the game going with 3 in a row at the end of the first quarter "feasting" on Deloria and getting them down the field, and after a Murray run inside the 5, Miles draws a holding penalty in the end zone against Polamalu that would have given them 1st and G at the 1, but it is offset by a hold on Cook. The next play Murray fumbles at the goal line.

Miles did catch a 13 yard screen that set up the TD to Dez. So he was Romo's go to guy on first down, and like the Atlanta game, although his catches weren't in clutch situations, he produced a lot of the offense.

Week 16 vs New Orleans Saints

While Dez absolutely dominated this game, when it came down to the end, Cowboys down 31-24, 21 seconds to play in the 4th quarter, 4th down and 10 on the NO 19, touchdown to Miles in the end zone. Doesn't get much more clutch than that. They ended up losing in OT, but it was Miles' catch that gave them the chance.

 photo MilesWeek16_zpsc4646065.gif

Highlight Video

So there you have it. Hopefully that jogs some memories.

Miles definitely made a few negative plays, and he wasn't fully healthy and available the whole time. But I think overall he was healthier and more productive than we remember, and at the very least he deserves credit for finding a way to manage his injuries and be on the field and productive despite them.

He not only put up solid low-end WR1 production, Miles also proved the trust Romo has in him, and made quite a few very clutch catches that played a crucial role in our wins—and helped us nearly pull out a couple more.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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