Cowboys' Carr ready, waiting to pounce on Big Ben's throw
DALLAS — Cornerback Brandon Carr, who spent three years in Kansas City while Steelers' offensive coordinator Todd Haley was head coach, proved once again that tendencies and habits often impact games in the NFL.
And when the Steelers gained possession for the first time in overtime Sunday, Carr put himself inside Haley's head.
Carr figured Haley wouldn't get greedy by deploying wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown with deep routes — a game-ending strike to empty out Cowboys Stadium. Instead, he figured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would try to exploit the sometimes-timid Dallas cornerbacks with short routes to march methodically down field.
Carr guessed right.
He didn't jump Roethlisberger's second-down sideline throw to Wallace. He didn't have to after Roethlisberger threw behind Wallace, enabling Carr to intercept the pass and return it 36 yards to the Steelers' 1. This set up Dan Bailey's 21-yard field goal that allowed the Cowboys to escape with a 27-24 victory.
“It felt good to get the ball back for our offense,” Carr said, “and to help our kicker get some fantasy points.”
The Cowboys' defense had a tendency to give up big plays in pressure situations, and Carr had been picked on all season. So, he figured Roethlisberger would look his way.
“I felt like they were coming at me a lot the whole game,” said Carr, who had a game-high three passes defended. “We figured that play would be coming at some point.
“In the zone, I had a chance to read the quarterback and make a break on the ball. The ball was underthrown, so I just dove for it, and it was off to the races.”
The Cowboys were in zone coverage and willing to concede the out route, but nothing that would allow Wallace to use his sprinter-like speed to finish the game with a single strike.
“I just stayed in my zone and I trusted myself this time,” Carr said. “He made a throw behind (Wallace), so I went and got the ball. I've been dealing with coach Haley for three years, so I finally got a chance to play against him. It worked out that some of his tendencies held true.
“It helped a lot just to know how a person thinks on the field. I had a chance to figure out how he thinks and how he's going to attack me — know how he coached me up in Kansas City. Basically, it helped me play to my weaknesses and make them my strengths.”
Carr played to his strengths in shutting down Wallace in the first half. Wallace didn't shake loose until late in the third quarter when he pulled in a 60-yard pass from Roethlisberger, but Carr was locked in man coverage with Brown.
While Haley's tendencies may have haunted him, it helped that the Cowboys may have taken some of the pop out of Roethlisberger's throws by sacking him four times in the second half after he escaped unscathed in the first half.
“We ran a twist that helped us get after him a little bit,” defensive tackle Sean Lissmore said.
Lissmore said it helped that the Cowboys were dueling with a couple of rookies — guard David DeCastro and tackle Kelvin Beachum — on the right side of the offensive line.
“It's possible we were able to exploit them a little in the second half,” Lissmore said. “We had been pretty vanilla defensively until we switched up our pass rush in the second half.”
Ultimately, it came down to Carr getting inside Haley's head.
“I wouldn't say they (Steelers) tipped their hand on the play because Carr made a great play on the ball,” safety Eric Frampton said. “In the offensive mode they were in, they were going to take what they could get — quick slants, hit the tight end across the middle and digs — but it was just a great play.
“We had an idea they would try to control the clock and field position. We knew they wanted to move the ball methodically down field like they did most of the game, so that throw wasn't predictable, but it was part of what they were trying to do.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.