IRVING, Texas – Jason Hatcher understands the buzz this week surrounding Calvin Johnson. He just doesn't get why more of it isn't about the player guarding "Megatron."
Brandon Carr's coming off his two most complete games of the season against the Redskins and Eagles, combining for six passes defended, two tackles for loss and an interception in those games. He'll have his hands full this week, but Hatcher's sticking up for his corner while everyone else talks about the challenge Johnson poses this week.
"It should be the other way around, in my book, how difficult Megatron's job is going to be," Hatcher said. "That's what I think, because Brandon's playing lights out. It's going to be a battle, and I'm looking forward to it. I really appreciate what those guys do, but I'm pretty sure Megatron's on tape right now thinking about Brandon Carr because he's playing unbelievable. There's not a corner playing like him right now."
Carr had just two passes defended through the first three games and three through the first five games, but he's been all around the ball in recent matchups and helped hold deep threat DeSean Jackson to just three catches and 21 yards last week.
Johnson provides a much different challenge, having been timed in the low 4.3 40-yard dash range while standing at 6-5. But Carr still believes the key is the same: Don't get beat deep.
"A guy with that size and speed, it's easy for him to get past you, and the ball's going up," Carr said. "You may anticipate what's coming and you can jump the route or get a head start on him trying to run downfield and things like that. It's just everything that I've learned thus far in my career, and the things I'm learning still are going to come into play this game.
"This is, by far, the best receiver I've faced in my career in Dallas."
Carr has gone against some good ones. He saw A.J. Green, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith last year, among others. He sees Jackson and the Eagles' weapons, along with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Pierre Garcon and other NFC East foes every year, and he's gone against DeMaryius Thomas this season.
But it's hard to compare many receivers to the star in Detroit, who's finished with more than 1,600 receiving yards each of the last two years and whose massive size makes him a mismatch all over the field. Johnson was just 36 yards short of a 2,000-yard receiving campaign in 2012, and the year prior he had 16 touchdowns.
Carr saw him in 2011 while he was a Kansas City cornerback. Johnson had just three catches for 29 yards, but he also finished with two touchdowns.
"It's a big challenge, a big task ahead of me, but that's what you play the game for," Carr said. "You play for these big games against these elite receivers, against the big names. You get a chance to go out there and show your ability."
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin hasn't divulged how exactly he'll use Carr this week, but the Cowboys have had him follow star receivers before. With the groove Carr's in right now, it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least some of the same.
"That's got a lot to do with Brandon," Kiffin said. "You don't necessarily make those decisions, and we may, we may not. But he's having a heck of a year and doing a great job."
Everyone expected Johnson to be a star in the NFL after getting drafted as the second pick in 2007. If it's possible to exceed expectations as a top-three draft pick, he's certainly done that.
His expectations far exceeded those of Carr, a fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State in 2008, but Carr's garnering attention from more players every week.
"He's a good corner, obviously," Johnson said. "He's the best corner they've got over there. He's hands on. They changed up their defensive philosophy a little bit with their new defensive coordinator, but just from watching the film right now: pretty good hips, pretty good at breaking on the ball. So you've got to be sharp getting out of your breaks."
Carr may have earned a five-year deal worth upward of $50 million to come to Dallas, but he still has a bit of that small-school mentality that head coach Jason Garrett likes to refer to with some of his players who came from lesser-known universities. [embedded_ad]
"I had to make a way once I got my foot in the door. It was up to me," Carr said. "I'm always going to keep that in me, but at the same time, I'm working to get to that next level."
That next level is an elite category, a place the player Carr is lining up against has already reached. A strong performance against Johnson would mark Carr's third straight stellar performance and would vault him closer to that level.
"You want to be the best of the best," Carr said. "You want to be the best at your craft and what you do, so it's always an ongoing process of me trying to get better, me trying to work something different. Whatever weakness I may have, I'm trying to exploit it on myself and get better in practice, so in the game, I can be that complete corner, complete package one day."