It has been about a year and a half since the Dallas Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin. In the post-draft press conference when asked about Austin’s role on the team, Stephen Jones labeled him a “web back” and said the team would like to get him the ball “a dozen, twenty, two dozen times a game.”
In seven games in 2019, Austin has touched the ball a total of 22 times. Safe to say the prediction by Jones was a bit off. It was never going to be an accurate prediction, but this far off?
Once again this year during training camp, we were treated to the narrative that Austin would fill a larger role in the offense. That under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Austin would finally be used the way Dallas imagined when they acquired him in 2018. So far, that has not been the case.
In his first season in Dallas, in nine total games, Austin hauled in eight receptions for 140 yards and ran the ball six times for 55 yards. This year, in eight games, he has caught eight passes for 90 yards and run the ball just four times for 44 yards to go with a touchdown.
Now Austin will easily break his numbers from his first season in Dallas, but that does not mean the Cowboys are using him effectively.
Almost every time Austin touches the ball, positive things happens. Now I know many will be quick to mention the fair catch on Sunday against Minnesota, but you can’t define a player by one play from an entire season.
Let’s use this play against Philadelphia as an example. Dallas uses a play-fake to Tony Pollard to allow Austin to get the ball on a pitch from Dak Prescott in open space. When Austin is one-on-one with the defender, he is going to win that matchup almost every time. Orlando Scandrick was the victim in this particular play, and he never had a chance.
TAVON AUSTIN FROZE HIM.— Steven Candelaria (@StevoCandelaria) October 21, 2019
In the Green Bay game, Austin once again got the ball on a reverse and turned it into a nice gain.
The Cowboys have tried to get Tavon Austin more involved the last two weeks. Nice pickup on the end-around here.. hold onto the football though. pic.twitter.com/ePKumooq0A— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) October 9, 2019
Austin constantly makes things happen when he touches the football, but since his touchdown run against Philadelphia he has touched the ball just one time. Just the threat of Austin getting the football can open up things in the offense.
For example, take this play against the Giants from Monday Night Football. Dallas runs a very similar play that Austin scored the touchdown on; this time Prescott hands the ball to Elliott instead. The defense bites and three defenders think Prescott or Austin are going to have the football, and it opens up a huge lane for Elliott. If Zeke had been a little more patient, this run could have turned into a touchdown.
Ezekiel Elliott’s second carry of game. Perfectly schemed with Tavon Austin in pre-snap motion vs. man coverage. Elliott behind Travis Frederick at third level. A tad more patience from Elliott; could have dipped-and-slipped to reach outside. Chance at 75-yard TD. Goes for 12. pic.twitter.com/oCfyS3dAJ9— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 15, 2019
Creativity will help the offense as a whole, and defenses having to actually worry about Austin getting the ball will open up more things for the Dallas offense. More packages with Austin and Elliott or Pollard in the backfield will create more opportunities to confuse defenses.
This season things were supposed to be different under Kellen Moore and in some respects they have been. Still, Dallas needs to be more creative with their offense, and getting Austin the football can help with that. Stephen Jones prediction of even a dozen touches a game was way too high, but there is no reason Austin should not be touching the ball at least five times a game on offense, either on runs or through screens and other quick-hitter passing plays.