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

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

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This week Dallas fans got two pieces of competing news; on one hand the Cowboys locked up All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith long term. On the other hand we've lost our second-round draft pick defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. This just reinforces the notion we've had all offseason, the Cowboy's offense is in good shape, and will challenge for the league's best. The defense? That's another story. Which is why yet another defensive player makes it on our "make or break" list.

#3 Brandon Carr

For someone who signed a 50 million dollar contract just a few years ago, Brandon Carr is often the forgotten man on defense. He doesn't say much. He doesn't get hurt, which is something that gets a lot of press around here! There's been some highs and some lows, but by and large Carr just goes on, doing his job. On a defense filled with young up and comers, high picks with question marks, injury concerns, and the recent departures of high-profile veterans, it's pretty easy to overlook Carr. His play on the field contributes to this as well. In his two years with the Cowboys, he has received cumulative season grades from Pro Football Focus of +1.0 in 2012 and -0.3 in 2013. Not good, not bad, just huh.

The Good

Which is a shame, because when Carr is on, there are few cornerbacks in the league who are better. Look no further than weeks six and seven last year against Washington and Philadelphia. In those two games Carr allowed seven receptions on 21 targets for a completion percentage of 33%. He also had one pass deflected and an interception. The QB rating against him for those two games? 49.0 in Washington and a jaw-dropping 2.8 in Philadelphia. Oh, and that's not the best two game stretch of his career. The year before when Dallas was in the midst of its playoff race we played the Bengals and the Steelers back to back. In those games Carr was targeted 16 times and gave up seven receptions for a 43.7 completion percentage. He had two interceptions and two passes deflected and gave up QB ratings of 29.9 in Pittsburgh and a zero against the Bengals. Yes zero.

The Bad

Who can forget the Lions game last year? Fresh off the back-to-back games mentioned above, Carr was riding high and garnering Pro Bowl talk. Then this happened: 13 targets, 10 receptions for 204 yards (including an 84-yard touchdown), for a QB rating of 143.9. How does a cornerback go from giving up a 2.8 QB rating one week, then a 143.9 rating the next?

Here are Carr's PFF numbers for his career.

Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Overall Score -21.9 +8.2 +10.7 +4.2 +1.0 -0.3
Coverage Score -16.7 +9.3 +10.8 +4.8 -0.1 -1.3

After peaking in 2010 Carr has shown a slow but steady decline each year, a decline which coincidentally started before he came to Dallas. Even more disturbing, last year for the first time in his career, Carr's coverage score was lower than his overall score. What we're seeing from Carr is usually something we see from older veterans near the end of their careers; is it possible that Carr's physical style has already taken its toll and we signed a player at the end of his career?

The Verdict

I don't think Carr is at the end of his career. For starters, he has never been a player that relied on physical skills to win in coverage. As an NFL athlete, Carr doesn't stand out. He has succeeded because of physicality and technique. Unfortunately for Carr, he has only played under the same defensive coordinator for more than a year once; in 2010 and 2011 under Romeo Crennell. Even that coaching consistency was marred however, as Crennell was promoted to head coach of Kansas City in 2011 while retaining his coordinator responsibilities. So this will be the first time in his career that Brandon Carr will be in the same scheme, and with the same coaching staff (Marinelli has replaced Kiffin but the latter is still with the team). For a position that relies so much on the mental side and technique, this continuity is going to be huge. Familiarity with scheme and coaching, Marinelli hinting that the team will be playing a more physical coverage style, and Carr entering what should be the prime of his career all make me confident that we will see much more of the "good Carr" who will go a long way towards making this year's defense better.

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