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Spotlight On: Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Bruce Carter

An All-22 film review of Bruce Carter's game against the Cardinals.

Dilip Vishwanat

The coaches hate Bruce Carter. That is the only possible reason I can think of for the substitution patterns at linebacker against the Cardinals. It's like they're playing mind games with him, seeing how long until he breaks.

Or maybe I'm losing my mind. I can't be sure after charting this game, and I'll tell you why. In his last year with the Bears, Rod Marinelli did not line up in a dime formation the entire season. Not once. And I don't think I've seen a dime formation yet this year. And yet when I reviewed the film, I have the Cowboys lining up in dime 13 times. Here's the breakdown:

Base 4-3:  21 times, (five times with Carter at SLB, thirteen times with Kyle Wilber in, and three times with them both in).

Nickel:  27 times, (once with Carter in for Rolando McClain).

Goal-line: Three times.

This was a really strange night for the defense. Anyway, on to the tape, (and look for some extra goodies at the end!).

Play 1:

play 1 1

The game opens with Dallas in their base 4-3. If you're wondering why Carter is lined up on the weak side of the offense, note that in Marinelli's defense WLB and SLB are not based on the offensive formation but follows the 3 tech.

play 1 2

This is about as simple as it gets. Carter is playing man on the RB, McClain is manning either the RB to the flat or the TE, (with the safety picking up the other), and Anthony Hitchens is rushing the edge.

play 1 3

Here we see Carter right in the hip pocket of the running back. It's nice to see particularly in light of his struggles covering RB's last year. Palmer has no where to throw and tries to force a pass that gets tipped and almost intercepted.

Play 5:

2 1

Again, Dallas is in their base 4-3, and again it looks like Carter is on the weak side of the offensive formation. This time however the TE is going to go into motion and cross over to Carter's side of the formation.


Arizona has called a pretty basic run between the tackle and tight end. You can see Carter marked with the yellow arrow, he should be setting the edge, and trying to funnel anything back inside. Meanwhile McClain and Hitchens should be flowing with the ball and attacking the hole.


Unfortunately, that breaks down pretty quickly. Carter is still setting the edge, but McClain was not able to cross the face of the tackle, and Hitchens is about to get picked up by the guard. There's a really nice lane developing for Arizona's RB.


For some reason the RB cuts up, (solid red line), instead of running to the gap (dashed red line). Seeing this Carter gets of his block and abandons the edge, and now McClain is in position to make a play.


Carter does a good job shedding his block, (as does McClain). However the RB sees this and makes one of the cleanest cuts I have ever seen, (the still doesn't do it justice, but you can see him planting his leg preparing to cut back).


Instead of being in prime position to make a play both Carter and McClain find themselves being blocked inside the cut. Carter ...almost...gets....there. But doesn't quite.


When breaking down J.J. Wilcox's game against the Texans I noted that Dallas struggled in run support because they played their safeties so far back. This picture is a great example of that; this was a fairly slow developing play, and yet both of our safeties are still 20+ yards downfield. Against a good open field runner that's a recipe for disaster, as this play showed.

Play 6:

6 (1)

On the very next play Arizona comes out in another running formation.


And run a very similar play. Again you can see Carter preparing to set the edge. You also see our DE and DT, (red arrows), occupying two blockers; which in theory should allow McClain and Hitchens to make a play.


Carter is doing a good job holding the edge. Unfortunately DeMarcus Lawrence is starting to get overun, putting Rolando McClain, (red circle), in a bad position. Also Hitchens, (blue circle) seems to be worried about a possible cutback; even though Terrell McClain is still occupying two blockers Hitchens is in no position to make a play.


Carter is still effectively controlling the edge of scrimmage. DeMarcus Lawrence has managed to beat his block and now has the nearest gap, (small yellow circle), covered. Unfortunately it appears that McClain is effectively blocked, (red circle). If Hitchens had cut under Terrell McClain's double team, he would have been able to fill the other lane, (large circle).


Instead a great play by RoMac bails out the defense. McClain is able to shed his block and meet the running back in the hole. Note that while it wasn't flashy Bruce Carter did exactly what he was supposed to do; he set the edge, and did not get pushed back.

Play 9:


This is the play where things start going kooky. The offense is set, but you see that Carter is just getting on the field at the bottom of the screen.


You can't tell from the still shot, but Carter literally just got to his spot, right when the ball is snapped.


So Carter, (yellow circle), is carrying the TE. Fairly basic. But look at the blue circle; that's our other two linebackers moving forward, while the other TE is running past them uncovered.


Here we see Carter has his man covered, but the other TE has cleared our other linebackers and is open in the middle of the field.


Here's what it looks like from a different angle. McClain has realized what's going on and is starting to recover, but that's an easy pitch and catch.


Back to Carter. As the TE catches the ball, (red circle), Carter has peeled off his assignment and is swarming with the other LB's to make the tackle.


This bears noting; when the ball was thrown, Carter was running with a different receiver in the other direction. He had to completely turn around and still beats everyone else to the tackle by a good three yards. It's that athleticism that makes his disappearances so frustrating.


Remember above when I said it was this play when things start getting kooky? Carter has just made the tackle, but he's clearly upset about something.


It's just weird. I don't know what he's saying, but DeMarcus Lawrence didn't look very happy with him coming off the field.

And it's not just his reaction after this play that makes me think something went wrong. I don't know if he blew his assignment, the coaches were mad he got on the field late or what. But up to this point Carter had been in on four of nine plays, a little over 50% of the snaps. We aren't going to see him again for 16 plays when he comes in as the Cardinals enter the red zone for the first time.

Play 25:


This is our standard 4-3, (Wilber is lined up just offscreen), with the wrinkle that Kyle Wilber is in for Hitchens at WLB.


Pretty basic defensive concept. All the linebackers drop into shallow zone coverage. The pass is completed for a first down on Wilber.

Play 26:


Play 26:


Pretty standard look deep in the redzone. Wilber is still in for Hitchens.


Like we saw in the last play, the LB's drop into as shallow zone, and Palmer is again looking for a quick throw to his left. Carter has really pretty good coverage on the TE however.


Palmer has no where to throw the ball, and the pressure gets to him forcing him to scramble. Notice that Carter is moving with him instead of standing still; he's savvy enough to stay in the throwing lane, and not worry about a throw back across the body. Palmer ends up throwing the ball away.

Play 27:


On 2nd and 10 on the 11 yard line Arizona comes out in a running formation. Interesting enough, this play Carter is playing the weak, (3 tech), side.


Carter doesn't do so well here; you can see he was trying to get to the edge, (you can see his foot kicking up), but is effectively moving away from the play, and can't get off the block.


Carter eventually changes direction and gets off his block. McClain makes the play though; he avoids the guard and is able to fill the lane. The RB picks up 5 yards, leaving 3rd and 6.

After playing the majority of this goal line stand, the coaches pull Carter and come out in a dime formation. On 3rd and six from the seven yard line Palmer passes for a touchdown. We don't see Carter for another 23!!! plays.

Play 50:


On 3rd and 18 Marinellis comes out in his "deep" nickle package, with Carter, (his only nickel snap), and Hitchens playing a good 10 yards deep. Notice where the defenders are relative to the yellow line, (the 45).


Instead of coming up to meet the receivers they drop at the snap. This allows the outside receiver, (red circle), to cut across the field uncontested, setting up an easy throw for Carson Palmer.


This is basically a deep screen play the receiver, (red circle), now has 3 blockers in front of him setting up a chance to make some good YAC.


This play really doesn't have much to do with Carter, but I wanted to show what happened int the red circle. The first blocker basically spears Dallas's defende, right in the stomach with his helmet. This effectively blocks two players as Carter has to swerve around our downed DB. It's a pretty play by Arizona, and picks up 15 yards, but not enough for the first.

And after his one snap Carter is again banished, and goes another 11 plays before seeing the field.

Play 61:


Kind of an interesting defensive formation with 5 down linemen and 4 linebackers.


Not much of a play though. Arizona runs it up the middle for no gain. Carter doesn't do much, but he holds his ground and doesn't get blown off the line.

Play 63: Yes 63. Carter came in on 1st down on the goal line stand, got taken out on 2nd down, and is back in on 3rd. Insanity.


Arizona is showing run with two RB's and three TE's.


Everyone crashes in, and it looks like Dallas is going to get the running back in the backfield.


Except it's a pass, and with everyone crashing in other running back leaks out for an easy touchdown. This might have been Carter's responsibility, but it's hard to say; he wasn't the edge of the defense, and everyone crashed down, so it's hard to assign blame.

And that's about it. Carter comes back in on the last three goal-line plays after Weeden's interception. On the first the Cardinals run to his side, he does a good job of beating the RB to the edge and turning the play back inside. The next two plays are runs up the middle; the DL stuffs the first, and the RB sneaks in on the 2nd for a TD. Carter really doesn't have an impact on either play.

What Does it Mean? I have no clue. Carter didn't play badly, especially in coverage, but he certainly didn't have any impact on the game. It had to have been impossible to get into any rhythm. Either he's back in the coaches dog-house or his injury is bothering him more than the Cowboys are saying; either way this was a really, really strange game.

And since that's pretty unfulfilling and sad; here's some bonus stuff!  Yay!

Thank You Henry Melton Sir: Henry Melton's first sack game early in the game on a really nifty swim move. And its' a good thing, because the coverage was a disaster waiting to happen.

melton sack 1

So we've got four receivers flooding the left of the field. Right here it looks like pretty good coverage, but if you look closer inside the circle, (Anthony Hitchens), you'll see that Hitch is looking into the backfield and has let his man get by him.

melton sack 2

This could be a bad thing. Hitchens has completely stopped moving, and his receiver is running free behind him. Meanwhile Palmer has escaped the initial pressure and is scrambling to Hitchens side.

Melton sack 3

By the time Hitch realizes what has happened the receiver is five yards past him and turning and looking for the ball. The only Dallas player left is running deep with another receiver, this could have been a huge play for Arizona.

Get Behind Me Rookie:


This is the the 8th play of the game; Patmon's pick. The formation really isn't important, except to prove I'm not crazy. That's Orlando Scandrick lining up next to McClain, and Dallas in in the dime.

int 2

This. Just this. People are talking up his instincts, and i agree the kid has them. But just take this catch in for a minute. Patmon high-points this ball like he's Dez. Jr. Just a pretty, pretty play.

int 3

And now he's got a convoy. Look at Anthony Spencer out in front, and notice that he's just passing the 40 yard line.

int 4

And here's Spencer picking up a block at the 20 yard line.

int 5

And here he is still blocking at the 10. Not bad for an old man a lot of people didn't think would play again. It was a heck of a play by the rookie, but it was the veteran who turned it into a special play. Way to be Almost Anthony.

Almost Patmon, Learning New Tricks:

cb blitz

And here's another DIme formation!  No I'm not crazy!

cb blitz 2

Two things to note; one Rolando McClain is coming in on a biltz. Second, Scandrick is hightailing it sideways, not backwards. Why is that?

cb blitz 3

Because if it's a dime formation Tyler Patmon is coming to make a play! Scandrick is running to pick up Patmon's zone, meanwhile Patmon, (yellow circle), is coming hard off the edge).

cb blitz 4

Arizona's line does a great job picking up the blitz though. Isn't this a crazy picture? If Palmer had any mobility he could walk this in for a score.

cb blitz 5

cb blitz 7

Somehow though, Patmon breaks free of the pile and is about to absolutely bury Palmer.

cb blitz 9

Except somehow, someway, Palmer escapes. Does he scramble and find an open man? Yes, yes he does. Was this 3rd and 10?  Yes, yes it was. Do the Cardinals score five plays later? Sigh.

And This Is How They Scored 5 Plays Later: Did you know that all three of Carson Palmer's touchdowns came on 3rd down? Aren't facts fun?

bad coverage 1

And it's also true that the first two touchdowns came against our dime package. Which we see here.

bad coverage 2

This play is all about McClain. Look at his eyes; he is looking to his right, (offenses left), right from the snap.

bad coverage 3

I'm not really sure what Mcclain is sighting on here, but Palmer is clearly looking the other way. At the top of the screen J.J. Wilcox has read Palmer's eyes and is making his move.

bad coverage TD

Too late though, Brandon Carr has gotten beat inside for an easy touchdown. So if Carr was clearly beat, why am I harping on McClain? Well this is one of those situations where each moving part has to be in harmony for the defense to be successful, yes Carr was beat but why?

beat td

Looking at the coverage it looks like Carr is playing with outside technique. Look at his hips; they are slanted to funnel the receiver inside. It appears as though he's expecting help, but as the blue circle show's no help is there.

td beat 2

The receiver gladly takes the inside. But with no help there is just too much room, and it's an easy touchdown. This play just looks weird; why would Wilcox and McClain be stacked vertically like that? Someone blew a coverage, and my guess is its' the middle linebacker.

Well there you go fellow BTBer's. Why do you think Carter's playing time was so sporadic? Is he injured? Ineffective? Or does Jason Garrett really just hate him?

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