The Dallas Cowboys' secondary hasn't performed well in several years. No one's disputing that.
The pass defense was torched in 2010, and it still ranked in the bottom half of the league in pretty much every relevant category in 2011.
What's more, despite being assisted by one of the league's most potent pass-rushes, the 'Boys have been below average at making interceptions in recent seasons. Over the last four years, they've finished in the bottom five in picks twice and have averaged 13.5 interceptions per season—nearly two-and-a-half picks shy of the league average during that time frame.
You might have heard that turnovers are one of the keys to success and/or failure in this league, so it's important that Rob Ryan's defense starts picking off more passes.
That's a big reason why the Cowboys invested so heavily in new cornerbacks this offseason. And while it'll take a little time for top pick Morris Claiborne to develop as a pro, the team believes it has found a new playmaker in Brandon Carr.
Carr sometimes flew under the radar opposite Brandon Flowers in Kansas City. Flowers and Carr split up the picks, with Flowers intercepting 13 passes in four seasons and Carr settling for eight.
He and Flowers were technically thrown at about the same amount, but Carr consistently gave up fewer completions per defended pass, according to Pro Football Focus. And he flourished late in his tenure with the Chiefs, recording four of his eight career picks in the 2011 season.
That had Ryan believing Carr was about to explode in that respect, which is why he called Carr the best player in free agency (per Tim MacMahon of ESPN). That's probably also why the Cowboys were willing to give him $50.1 million guaranteed.
So far, so good. He's shined in practice, and he had two picks in Saturday night's preseason game against San Diego.
To get a better grip on Carr the playmaker, let's take a lot at both plays.
Interception No. 1: 2nd-and-18 from the San Diego 41-yard line.
Carr is very capable of jamming receivers, but he's a smart, veteran player. He also knows Philip Rivers quite well. He's a little tight on the speedy Robert Meachem as Rivers is in his cadence. Carr keeps his eyes on the Chargers' quarterback and eventually decides to give Meachem more pad.
Five seconds later, as Rivers snaps it, Meachem has gained about six yards of pad. Carr clearly isn't expecting Meachem to run an out or a go route. He's expecting a post. And a post is what he gets.
Carr gets beat, plain and simple. And he doesn't get help over the top. Rivers recognizes that and goes deep. If he leads Meachem, it's a touchdown, but these are the kinds of mistakes Rivers makes. Carr doesn't appear to panic as he swivels his head back and forth to account for both Meachem and the ball.
A second later, it's obvious that Carr has better positioning that Meachem, who is breaking to come back for an underthrown pass. It's a toss-up now.
Carr makes an athletic play and catches the ball at its highest point. Meachem's still trying to adjust.
Interception No. 2: 1st-and-10 on the San Diego 47-yard line.
Carr's covering Vincent Brown out wide. He doesn't back off but again decides not to jam.
He again gets beat, but only slightly. Rivers falls for the space and throws that way. By the time the ball's arriving, Carr has made up the gap and is in good position.
It's another jump ball, which works in the defensive back's favor quite often.
Luck was probably on his side, but it's Carr who displays the hand-eye coordination and the agility to keep himself together and make the pick.
Carr isn't particularly fast, but he's a technically-sound shutdown corner who plays smarter than the receivers and the quarterbacks he's competing against. It was almost like he was toying with Rivers on those two plays, which epitomized his ability to contribute as a versatile cover guy.
Terence Newman was supposed to be poor man's Deion Sanders as a cover guy. At least, that's what many hoped would happen. But that didn't pan out over time. This Cowboys team hasn't had a true game-changing corner since Sanders.
Now, they might have two of them. And while Claiborne might require a little time to adjust, Carr could be on the verge of a very big season in Big D.
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