The importance of Cowboys' Miles Austin

The thing that was so important about Laurent Robinson for the Dallas Cowboys last year wasn't his performance as a No. 3 wide receiver. It was his performance as one of the team's top two wide receivers during the weeks Miles Austin had to miss due to hamstring injuries. While he's never repeated the statistical brilliance of his breakout 2009 season, Austin remains important to the Cowboys' offense.

And as Todd Archer writes, in the wake of the Dez Bryant arrest, Austin may be more important to the Cowboys now than ever:

Austin is a dangerous wide receiver because he can be used all over the field. Lost in the talk about the team's search for a No. 3 receiver is the fact that Austin is the guy who works the slot. They don't need a slot guy. That's Austin's gig. His quickness and speed make him a matchup nightmare for cornerbacks... when healthy.

And that's the key. Austin must stay healthy, because the Cowboys don't know how much they can depend on Bryant.

We don't know whether Austin can stay healthy this year, but Todd's point is a good one. If they don't know whether Bryant faces a suspension or whether he'll get into some other off-field shenanigans that could jeopardize his availability or reliability, they need Austin to be a rock. He may not need to be the guy he was in 2009, but they'll take 16 games of whatever Austin can give them at this point and be more than happy with it. Because no matter who ends up replacing what Robinson gave them in 2011, they're not going to be able to replicate Bryant.

The Cowboys' offense relies on its star players at the skill positions -- Tony Romo throwing to top-level receivers and top-level tight end Jason Witten, ideally with DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones handling the backfield duties. They are shaky on the offensive line (in the middle, at least) and shaky on defense, so they need their studs to perform like studs. The advantage they have over most of the teams they play is the excellence of their talent at quarterback and wide receiver. They're basing part of the 2012 hopes on the idea that Austin will stay healthy this year, and this week has only underlined how important that is.