Playmakers welcome

IRVING, Tex. - With a few exceptions, the emergence of a single player does not completely change an offense or defense.

But according to Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, the breakout performance two weeks ago by wide receiver Miles Austin, who had a team-record 250 receiving yards against Kansas City, could give re-shape the Dallas passing attack.

Head coach Wade Phillips announced this week that Austin will replace veteran wideout Patrick Crayton in the starting lineup Sunday when the Cowboys host the Atlanta Falcons, and while Witten was quick to point out that Crayton remains an integral part of the Dallas offense, he said adding Austin's speed to the lineup could end up jump-starting a sometimes-dormant aerial attack.

"Any time you have more playmakers, it just opens things up for everybody," Witten said. "But I think just for this team, (Austin's) ability, what he has shown — it's great, because as much as the expectations were for him, to see him go out there and play the way he did, I think, just puts a smile on your face, because he can score any time he gets the ball. He has that kind of ability that's few and far between.

"Patrick's a huge part of it. You talk about the underneath stuff, and I think Tony feels probably more comfortable with Patrick than he does with anybody else in some of those throws. You're going to need Patrick — he's a huge part of your team — and by no means can you let it affect it."

Witten leads the Cowboys with 21 receptions through five games, but said he has felt a little bit handcuffed by opposing defenses that are forcing him to run more short and intermediate routes, rather than letting him stretch the field by getting deep into the secondary.

"I'm sure there's some bracket coverage going, (but) you can't look at that as an excuse for anything," Witten said. "Anytime those underneath routes are there, we're pretty creative in some of the things we do, so it's hard to just say, ‘hey, we're going to take him out as a tight end,' because there's so much movement. But you'd like to stretch the field more, absolutely, and you've got to be ready to go when those opportunities are there."

He also said he has been staying in to block more than in years past, but said that is a result of the emergence of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice into one of the better running back trios in the NFL.

"Just our ability to run the ball has helped our team tremendously," he said. "That's kind of been a strong point for us, and when you have a lot of attempts, you're going to block more."

Witten said the bye week came at an ideal time for the Cowboys, who will welcome back several injured players, including wide receiver Roy Williams.

"It's huge, and to get Roy back healthy, and all the defensive guys and even some of the special teams players," Witten said. "Just to see our team healthy makes you feel good and know that things are coming together."

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