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Before even getting into Brandon Carr’s play against Tampa Bay, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that the five-year, $50 million contract the team signed him to in the 2012 offseason was most definitely a mistake. He is not a number one cornerback, he is not an elite player, he is not even a Pro Bowl player, he’s not particularly versatile, nor is he a playmaker, with only one interception over the last three seasons.
What he is though is a dependable starting cornerback in the NFL who will get beaten from time to time, but by and large he does his job, and perhaps his most important trait is availability. Since 2013 Morris Claiborne has only played in 32 of a possible 62 regular season games, to say nothing of the fact that he has been entirely inconsistent and downright awful at times until this season. Since 2014 Orlando Scandrick has missed 22 of a possible 46 regular season games due to a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2015 season, a suspension that cost him two games in 2014, and various ailments have forced him to miss four games in 2016.
In the meantime, Carr has not missed a game in five years. He led the entire defense in snaps played in 2014 and 2015, and so far this season he is only two snaps behind the defensive leader, Sean Lee. Now, as mentioned previously, he isn’t much of a playmaker and he certainly didn’t deserve that contract, but there is something to be said for carrying such a heavy workload on some very good teams (2014 and 2016 that is, 2015 notwithstanding).
It seems that for years now Cowboys fans have been all too willing to run the guy out of town on a rail due to the contract that he signed, but perhaps that contract has blinded some to his quiet dependability. Sure, the defense hasn’t been dominant for years now, but the defensive back playing the most snaps has to be doing something right if a team without much of a pass rush could win 12 games in 2014, and get within a hair of the NFC Championship, and is now just one game away from clinching home-field advantage in 2016.
Now, you certainly don’t want to pay $10+ million a year for a player of Carr’s caliber but that was solved this offseason when he restructured his base salary down to just $5.5 million. That is a very reasonable number for a number two, or even number three cornerback in today’s NFL and yet fans still seem to want to get rid of him as soon as they can.
That sentiment seems to be even stronger following Sunday night’s game against Tampa Bay, but if you look closely that game was something of a microcosm of his tenure in Dallas. He was called for a questionable pass interference penalty that was more of a theatrical sell-job by Mike Evans, and had a near interception bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of a receiver for a touchdown, couple those two very visible plays with a lack of positive “splash” plays, as well as his former salary that is still in the back of many minds, and all of a sudden he’s a bum who should’ve been gone yesterday.
But if you take a closer look at what happened Sunday night you will have much more appreciation for the job that Carr did.
Everybody knows Mike Evans has established himself as an elite receiver this year. He ranks in the top five in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, and he is a match-up nightmare at 6-5, 230. So how did the Cowboys look to contain him?
By having Carr shadow him all over the field for the vast majority of the game. And the result?
A mostly quiet four catches for 59 yards and zero touchdowns.
For most of 2016 the Cowboys have chosen to keep their outside cornerbacks at the same spot no matter who lines up across from them. Carr was on the right side of the defense while Claiborne or Anthony Brown was on the left side. That changed Sunday night as Carr played on the right, the left, and even the slot depending on where Evans lined up.
Here is third and goal on the first Tampa drive of the game:
That’s Carr at the top of the screen, playing the left outside corner spot across from Evans. He has no help over the top and is in pure man on a critical third and goal. You can see that he is in Evans’ hip pocket throughout the play.
How about the next third and goal, this time from the 16 later in the half?
Now Carr is on the outside at the right corner spot, but this time he is playing zone and has some help from Jeff Heath to the inside. It’s clear that he is playing with outside leverage, forcing Evans towards his help, but the fact remains that Carr is following Tampa Bay’s most dynamic weapon all over the field in critical situations.
Here is Cameron Brate’s touchdown towards the end of the third quarter:
Now Carr is back on the left side at the bottom of the screen, matched up against Evans. He has some help to the inside as Barry Church lines up below the “O” in the end zone, but if Winston decided to throw it up to Evans towards the sideline Carr was on his own. Again, a critical situation where the coaching staff leaves Carr mostly on an island.
And here is an absolutely crucial third and 2 with just under nine minutes to go on the first Tampa drive after the Cowboys took a 23-20 lead:
Amazingly, that’s Carr in the slot at the bottom of the screen, and he actually does a great job of sticking in Evans’ hip despite the subtle pick play Tampa is trying to run with Adam Humphries. I couldn’t tell you how many times Carr has lined up in the slot this season but it has to be less than 20. The fact that he could cover a target like Evans from that position in such a critical situation is impressive.
From what I can tell Carr followed Evans no matter where he lined up on all but five of about 40 Winston dropbacks, and one of those five times actually resulted in an 18-yard reception by Evans where he was covered in the slot by Scandrick. So in essence Carr only allowed three catches for 41 yards despite traveling with Evans for almost every snap. By no means was Carr singled up on Evans all game, it was a combination of man, zone, and various coverage concepts, but the fact remains that it was primarily Carr who was tasked with covering Evans.
Yes, there were a few glaring mistakes, namely the Humphries touchdown where Carr undercut the receiver and did almost everything right except come down with the interception, and the fact that it miraculously bounced into the receiver’s hands for a touchdown obviously just made matters worse. There was also the deep shot to Evans late in the fourth quarter that was just a bit overthrown where it looked like he had gotten behind the coverage, but one could argue that if Tampa had connected on that pass the fault was on Jones just as much as Carr.
At the end of the day, this is a cornerback who has a base salary of just $5.5 million and he just shadowed one of the best receivers in the game, and that receiver’s line was 4/59/0. Many Cowboys fans won’t want anything to do with that cornerback once 2016 is over and his contract is up, but in a league where decent starting cornerbacks are being paid upwards of $10 million a year, if he’s willing to sign a deal with an annual value of what he’s currently being paid, sign me up for two or three more years of the quietly dependable Brandon Carr.