Miles Austin is a dynamic wide out whose versatility hasn’t been properly recognized over the past few seasons. Even this year, over two-thirds of Austin’s pass snaps have come in the slot. At 6’2’’, 219 pounds, Austin doesn’t have the prototypical build of a slot receiver, but he’s been able to succeed in the middle of the field due to his exceptional combination of size and quickness.
On Thanksgiving, however, a new candidate emerged as the Cowboys’ slot receiver of the future: rookie Cole Beasley. With Austin down, Beasley was targeted 13 times. The rookie made some mistakes; he dropped a pass and appeared to run a poor route on Tony Romo’s second interception. But Beasley also displayed a unique skill set that suggests he could be a long-term solution for the Cowboys in the slot.
Most importantly, Beasley’s emergence has prompted Jason Garrett to, at least temporarily, call different sorts of underneath routes. Specifically, there were more option and crossing routes from the Cowboys on Thursday—something we haven’t seen much over the past few seasons and from which the offense could undoubtedly benefit in the future.
BREAKING IT DOWN …
On a 3rd and 5 early in the second quarter, the Cowboys lined up in Gun Tight End Trips Left with “11” personnel, i.e. three receivers. Beasley was aligned to the field on the Trips side of the formation, about five yards outside of Jason Witten.
On the snap of the ball, Witten ran a simple hitch route to just about three yards—an uncommon route length for the tight end on third down. We’ve all seen Kevin Ogletree and other receivers run their routes a bit short of the sticks on third down, but that doesn’t typically happen with the veteran tight end.
The length of Witten’s route suggests it was primarily to allow Beasley to get open on his route. The rookie ran a crossing route right underneath of Witten, giving him the separation he needed to make a big first down grab. Romo’s throw was a bit off the mark, but Beasley hauled it in with one hand to move the chains.
The combination routes we saw from the Cowboys after they got down against the Redskins are something that will probably stay. If Beasley can continue to grow, he should be able to provide the Cowboys with a tremendous presence on third downs while also allowing Dallas to keep Austin on the outside. And if his skill set encourages Garrett to design more combination routes that allow receivers to work off of one another, it will be an added bonus.