The Ravens signed free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr to a 4-year contract last week.
While he’s played 9 seasons with Kansas City (4) and Dallas (5), he’s a player about whom I had little first-hand knowledge. When the Ravens acquire such a player, I typically select games from the most recent season to develop a sense of his style of play. While these games aren’t necessarily representative of all circumstances, I picked games with a mix of receiving and QB talent as well as 2 home and 2 road. Those included:
• Week 2 at Washington
• Week 5 vs Cincinnati
• Week 10 at Pittsburgh
• Week 15 vs Tampa Bay
If you read the Tony Jefferson piece, you’ll recognize the process and format. I watched every play from those games, and noted Carr’s impact on each play. In addition to recording positioning, targets, yards etc. Here are my notes by play for folks who’d like to follow along with the coach’s film on Game Pass:
• (Q2, 13:54) Covered Garcon man/off, gave lots of space. Cousins underthrew by left sideline as he took a QH.
• (Q2, 13:48) Covered Jackson man/off, slow to break on out PL12 (10 + 2 YAC) by left sideline.
• (Q2, 13:16) Opposite Doctson man/off, blocked effectively on Jones RL14 TD.
• (Q2, 10:02) Man/press on Garcon crossing, who appeared to be intended receiver as Crawford S-6.
• (Q2, 3:44) Had disruptive press on Garcon.
• (Q2, 2:00) Covered Jackson man/press, used sideline well.
• (Q2, 1:31) Stayed with Jackson from man/press 25 yards by left sideline.
• (Q2, 1:26) Passed off Jackson in zone, but slow to get back for Davis PL10 (4 + 6).
• (Q2, 0:49) Disrupted Jackson at line with heavy hands, not targeted.
• (Q3, 13:49) Dropped to cover-3 zone, lost Garcon on break but recovered to tackle quickly, PL16 (16 + 0) by left sideline.
• (Q3, 2:20) Maintained tight press/man coverage on Doctson as Cousins rolled right.
• (Q3, 0:16) Lined up 5 yards off Doctson, contact past 5 yards but elevated for PD, no flag.
• (Q4, 12:46) Lined up off Jackson, stacked with Doctson, S Jones motions to Carr pre-snap then at snap (stay outside?) Carr followed Jackson post between the hashes, Jones tried to recover and pushed Doctson OOB PL57 (42 + 15) near left sideline. There was no video evidence of Jones gesticulating/talking to Carr after play.
• (Q4, 10:48) Rubbed effectively by Jackson in slot covering Garcon crossing, but Cousins already threw incomplete right.
• (Q4, 1:30) Played soft zone as Redskins started down 4 from 10-yard line. Surrendered PL8 (6 + 2) by left sideline to Reed.
• (Q4, 1:25) Maintained soft zone coverage underneath when Cousins looked left. Crawford S-8 from right.
• (Q4, 1:05) Negated Grant with zone coverage deep left. Cousins to Thompson PM38 (6 + 32) between numbers and left hash. Carr leisurely pursued.
• (Q4, 0:40) Cousins passed to Crowder PL6 (4 + 2) by left sideline, Carr was soft zone and pushed OOB.
• (Q4, 0:37) Pressed effectively vs. Doctson. Cousins to Thompson PL10 (5 + 5) between numbers and left hash. Carr contained quickly forcing Thompson to stay in bounds.
• (Q4, 0:04) Disrupted Doctson’s Hail Mary route with press and tight coverage, INC (Wilcox PD) to end game.
• (Q1, 10:30) Blocked effectively by Green on Bernard RL14.
• (Q1, 9:48) Dalton PL8 (4 + 4) to Uzomah (TE) as he crossed into Carr’s zone, Carr tackled.
• (Q1, 9:14) Green maintained 3-4 second block on Carr on Dalton read option RL5.
• (Q2, 12:06) Blocked effectively by Boyd on PL14 (-1 + 15) bubble screen left.
• (Q2, 9:56) Green shed Carr press for inside position on PL9 (5 + 4) near left numbers, Carr tackled.
• (Q2, 3:34) Maintained tight man coverage of Lafell by left sideline, Dalton looked middle then took S-6.
• (Q2, 0:25) Maintained man/press coverage on Lafell for approximately 8 seconds as Dalton scrambled then threw incomplete for Lafell.
• (Q3, 13:03) Maintained handsy press coverage (but good position) of Green by left sideline, Dalton threw incomplete, Green gesticulated for flag.
• (Q3, 12:57) Maintained tight coverage of Green from line but did not use hands until ball arrived, no PD credited.
• (Q3, 10:50) Flagged for DPI covering Green slant 7 yards.
• (Q3, 10:37) Blocked effectively by Lafell on Hill RL-1.
• (Q1, 12:08) Blocked effectively by Hamilton on Bell RM8.
• (Q1, 10:01) Maintained excellent press vs. Bell wide left, Roethlisberger overthrew Bell.
• (Q1, 0:03) Used hands vs. Brown but Brown made contested catch, PL9 (6 + 3) by left sideline.
• (Q2, 10:29) Off vs. Brown on WR Screen left PL2 (-2 + 4) by left numbers, Carr missed tackle in backfield.
• (Q2, 9:06) Rushed passer from outside press left, blocked effectively by Bell, incomplete, QH negated by RTP on Durant.
• (Q2, 1:43) Was slow to pinch Brown as he crossed from left inside to left outside zone, PL9 (6 + 3) near left numbers.
• (Q2, 1:10) Man/off coverage of Brown 30 yards down left sideline, Carr over top looked like receiver after Brown appeared to fall for Roethlisberger pump fake. Ball eluded Carr’s fingertips at sideline.
• (Q3, 15:00) Surrendered PL39 to Hamilton who had inside position despite Carr’s proximity.
• (Q3, 5:27) Effectively blocked by Hamilton on Bell RL4.
• (Q3, 4:12) Disrupted Brown with press and maintained tight coverage. Roethlisberger stared left and took S-8.
• (Q4, 9:48) Evaded block from Rogers on bubble screen to tackle Brown PL2 (-2 + 4) near left numbers.
Week 15—Tampa Bay
• (Q1, 9:40) Blocked effectively by Evans on Martin RR8.
• (Q1, 9:06) Ran through Evans for DPI (21 yards) down right sideline.
• (Q1, 7:54) Moved opposite tight end with Tampa 4TE/1RB, unblocked vs. zone left, but did not throw himself at Martin.
• (Q2, 14:56) Stayed with Evans crossing from press/man, Winston looked for Evans, but took SF-7.
• (Q2, 11:55) Lined up inside RSCB (opposite Evans), rushed Winston, blocked effectively by LT Smith.
• (Q2, 4:53) Beat by Evans on slant PM11 (11 + 0) between hash and right numbers.
• (Q2, 3:02) Unobstructed path to RB Corte RM-5. Showed disinterest in assisting Mayowa on tackle.
• (Q2, 0:03) Lined up as 1 of 7 DBs at goal line in Hail Mary defense. Jostled Evans at goal line, Jones collected interception, Evans begged for flag.
• (Q3, 13:36) Beaten on cut outside by Evans for PR13 (12 + 1) by right sideline.
• (Q3, 11:52) Beaten by Humphries from man/off for PM42 (42 + 0) TD, near left hash. Carr was behind a step, but elevated to tip the pass which was then collected by Humphries.
• (Q3, 5:30) Lined up opposite Evans press/man, did not use hands, lost on inside break for PM17 (16 + 1) between numbers and left hash.
• (Q4, 11:59) Covered Evans slant from press/man. Winston was hit by Irving and threw interception by Heath which was overthrow of Evans and Humphries (target not clear).
• (Q4, 9:00) Gave lots of space vs. Evans crossing, Winston hit for PD/QH by Irving while apparently targeting Evans.
• (Q4, 2:24) Trailed Evans slightly on out route 40 yards left sideline, barely overthrown.
• (Q4, 1:14) Covered Evans press/man from RSCB with bump and run. Winston scrambled, looked at Evans more than once then took SF-2.
• (Q4, 0:39) Evans beat Carr on inside break, but Irving QH caused incomplete.
Carr played all but 1 snap in these 4 games. He was used primarily at RCB, but with Claiborne injured in week 15, he followed Mike Evans for most of the game. The Cowboys played more man than zone, but when they did play cover 3, Carr was most frequently the corner dropping deep. He lined up in position to press on almost half the plays. When faced with stacked receivers or bunch formations, Carr lined up off coverage with another defender underneath.
Carr had 11 tackles in these 4 games, but none of them came against running backs (10 WR, 1 TE). In sharp contrast to his pass defense, he noticeably avoids unnecessary contact with bigger players. Many corners will try to strip the ball as the second to arrive, but Brandon did not engage for an assist, nor attempt to create a fumble in these games. That may be the way the Dallas corners are coached, but one can’t help but link the selective physicality to his durability. I noted a number of plays above where Carr was successfully blocked by a WR, including several for an extended period.
Carr is a pure press corner who likes to play at the line of scrimmage and threaten to use his hands. When faced with smaller receivers (Pierre Garcon, Desean Jackson, Antonio Brown) he uses his hands frequently. He’s more selective against larger, physical receivers (Mike Evans). He stays with his receiver well from press coverage, which is something few corners can do consistently.
Like most larger outside corners, he uses the boundary well and is a tenacious battler, despite ball skills that are average at best (he has just 1 interception and 24 PDs in the last 3 seasons, 15 career INTs). Antonio Brown had the only contested catch in these 4 games. The biggest weakness I observed was his ability to stay with breaks after his straight-line, bump-and-run efforts.
Carr was penalized 3 times for defensive pass interference in 2016 (no other flags), which represents a significant improvement. He was flagged 12 times in 2014 and 6 times in 2015. By comparison, Morris Claiborne was flagged 8 times in 8 games in 2016. In watching the film, it appears Carr has a good sense of how the game is called. Central to his effectiveness is the jostling/nudging of receivers as they run the sideline and he maintains significant contact beyond 5 yards. In that context, it’s impressive that he did not draw a single defensive hold or illegal contact flag.
In these 4 games, he was beaten for 2 big plays. The Steelers’ Cobi Hamilton beat him down the left sideline for a 39-yard gain with inside position. Adam Humphries also had him beat by a step then collected Carr’s tip of Jameis Winston’s underthrow for a 42-yard TD.
He rushed the QB twice in these 4 games without a pressure event. However, the additions of Carr and Jefferson are likely to improve the Ravens pass rush. When blitzed, the QB will look for 1 of several options (slant, hot read, TE, RB check down). The Ravens now have personnel to reduce the effectiveness of those options. Smith and Carr should be disruptive to timing on the outside while Young has the good change of direction and ball skills to neutralize the slot. Jefferson adds the missing TE coverage. I expect the 2017 Ravens will have more of their pressure converted to positive results.
The 2015 Ravens suffered from a historic lack of ball skills and did not generate a single “tip-drill” interception (one by other than the first defender to touch the ball) among only 6 in total. In 2016, the Ravens recovered to lead the entire NFL in interception rate (3.11%). Despite that improvement, it is concerning that the acquisitions of Jefferson and Carr concentrate ball skills in fewer players (Weddle, Mosley, Young, Smith). Were Webb to return to play on the back end on passing downs, the situation would be improved and the Ravens may well concentrate on drafting for such defensive playmaking.
It’s difficult to get excited about a 31-year-old corner, but Carr’s contract structure reportedly allows the Ravens to get out cheaply should his play decline (I am eager to see Brian McFarland’s cap analysis). In terms of his play on the field, his style should be a welcome complement and he addresses one of the positions where the Ravens were extremely shorthanded. I still look for the Ravens to get a piece of this CB-deep draft, but Carr’s presence allows the Ravens to consider either a developmental pick or a top corner whose draft position falls due to injury.