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Five Players Who Will Make Or Break The Dallas Cowboys Season Part II

A rundown of the five players whose play will lead the Dallas Cowboys to the promised land, or dash their playoff hopes.


Yesterday I referred to the players in this countdown as "wildcards" and I'd like to clarify what I meant by that. When I talk about players who could make or break Dallas, that's exactly what I mean...either or. Tron having an All-Pro year won't make the Cowboy's season, because that's what we expect from him. Morris Claiborne won't break the Cowboys season, he's never played that great and we have still been 8-8. The players I'm interested in are the NFL version of NBA player Lance Stephenson, when they're on they're amazing, but when they're off it's a hot mess. And that seems to fluctuate from game to game, if not play to play. Perhaps no player epitomizes this "wild-card" factor better than number four on our countdown.

#4 Bruce Carter

If someone were to ask you the most important position in the Kiffenilli defense, the number one answer would probably be 3-tech DT. But not far behind that would be WLB, the position made famous by Derrick Brooks. It's an interesting thing though, because WLB was not always the premier linebacker position. Many don't remember but before Brooks arrived in Tampa, Hardy Nickerson was the glamour linebacker from the MLB position. We saw a similar transition with the Bears. Brian Urlacher was the heart and soul of the defense for years from the MLB position, but when he declined, Lance Briggs picked up the slack at WLB.

And for a five game stretch in 2012 it seemed like something similar was going on with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, (similar because both played ILB in the 3-4 at the time). When Lee went down Carter tore off a fantastic five game stretch, highlighted by his 11 tackle game against the Falcons. Most of us were in awe watching Bruce Carter run down Falcons WR Julio Jones from behind. It looked like the next great linebacker had arrived. That arrival was postponed however, as Carter was injured three games later.

The Good

Did I mention that in 2012 Carter ran down Falcon's deep threat Julio Jones from behind? Or that he can out-lift some offensive linemen? Pound for pound Bruce Carter may be the most athletic, physical player in the NFL. He's a tackling machine; after that 11-tackle game against the Falcons in 2012 he had a 10-tackle game against Philadelphia the next week. He can rush the passer; last year he rushed the QB 61 times, and had two sacks, four hits and five hurries. Here are DeMarcus Ware's numbers from last year by comparison.

Rush Snaps Sacks Hits Hurries Total Disruptions Disruptions in %
Carter 61 2 4 5 11 18.00%
Ware 372 6 8 34 48 13.00%

Yes, it's different being a blitzing linebacker versus a DE. Regardless, that's pretty darn good production.

And Carter can cover as well. In two games last year vs. the Eagles he was targeted five times, and gave up a total of two catches for four yards. Against LeSean McCoy and Co. I'll take that any day.

The Bad:

Remember how I said Carter can cover? The key word there is can; that doesn't mean he does cover. There were five games last year where Carter gave up a QB rating over 100, topped by the San Diego game where Phillip Rivers compiled a whopping 149.8 rating throwing at Carter and Danny Woodhead earned himself a couple million extra dollars in free agency. In our second game against the Giants, Carter gave up three catches for 21 yards. That's not bad, except the longest of those catches was for 27 yards and a TD. So two of those catches were stopped for a loss, but then he lets one go for a 20+ TD. That is the perfect summation of Carter's career.

As bad as we remember Carter being in coverage, according to PFF he was worse against the run. PFF actually graded Carter positive against the pass in 2013 with a +.4 grade. They thought he was abysmal against the run though, with a -12.5 grade. The biggest problem there seems to be impact plays. PFF graded him with 88 total tackles, but only 35 "stops" or solo tackles that constitute an "offensive failure". Missed tackles were also a problem. After missing only three tackles in 2012 he saw that number more than double to seven in 2013.

The Verdict:

Our defense has to have either the MLB or WLB play at a high level. Without that it's not going to matter how much our secondary or defensive line improve, teams will tear us apart in the intermediate passing game, and gash us in the running game.

I'm going to make a bold statement: If Bruce Carter plays like he did for that five-game stretch in 2012 we will not miss Sean Lee. At all. Carter has the potential to be the best linebacker in the game, a sideline to sideline tackling machine who can blitz the passer, is big enough to cover any TE, athletic enough to cover any running back, and fast enough to split out wide and cover any WR.

Unfortunately I don't see it happening. I think Carter will improve from his 2013 showing. But I'm not optimistic that we'll ever see the full potential that we glimpsed in 2012. Bruce Carter just doesn't seem able to stop thinking and let his athleticism and instincts take over. If I were a betting man and had to choose, I would say that in 2014 Carter is more likely than not going to bust our season.

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