IRVING, Texas – Bruce Carter could have slowed down as a linebacker as he adjusted to an intensified role as a primary defensive caller and communicator after the loss of Sean Lee. Instead, he appears to be reacting more quickly.
Carter, who led the defense with nine solo tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass deflection against the Falcons, said the added responsibilities forced him to watch more film in Lee's stead and allowed him to understand opposing offenses more completely.
"I don't think it's that difficult," Carter said. "It's just like a student. If you study, study, study for the test, you get to the test, and it's easy for you."
He studied enough film with linebackers coach Matt Eberflus last week that he could predict what the Falcons would do before a play began. He said it got to the point Sunday night where if he heard the offense make a certain check, he knew a run was coming, and he'd make the corresponding signals to the defensive line.
When the diligent film study turns into production on the field, Carter said he gains more confidence as a linebacker.
His new role on defense forces him to understand the entire system, knowing where each player's supposed to line up, as well as their assignment on the play. As he begins to understand the defense more fully, the game starts to slow down, allowing him to have more fun as he plays to his potential.
"I'm real close," Carter said. "There's still obviously a lot of things I need to work on with my pass drops, communicating with the secondary, whatever it may be. But it's really starting to slow down for me."
The defense could have folded had Carter not been ready to accept the responsibilities once held by Lee. Head coach Jason Garrett described Lee as the quarterback of the defense and the one player in control of communication, calls and defensive adjustments.
"Bruce has had to take on more of that responsibility," Garrett said. "What was most impressive about his performance the last couple weeks without Sean being here is the fact that he hasn't really slowed down his play. He made a number of plays last night in the ballgame, both as a run defender and a pass defender, made a lot of tackles in the game to go along with those responsibilities. Sometimes when you have added responsibilities mentally you slow down and you play a little bit more tentatively. He hasn't done that."
Carter's crushing hit on running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the first quarter stopped the Falcons on a third-and-2 and forced a field goal, which kicker Matt Bryant missed. Carter's hit on Jason Snelling on a third-and-long in the third quarter stymied the running back after just two yards, again forcing a field goal attempt that Bryant missed.
Those hits on the field were also a hit with his teammates in the film room, where Carter continues to spend more and more time.
Carter watched film today and he'll do it again tomorrow on the Cowboys' off day. He'll ask for keys and tips from his assistants, in case they see something he missed. He'll also ask for the help of Lee, who sat down and went through film with him Monday morning.
"I just wanted to know what he thought about how I played and this and that," Carter said. "He thought I played well. Obviously, there's some things I can do a little bit better, but overall, he said he was very excited watching the game at his house last night. So, I mean, anytime he says something like that, it's pretty good."
Carter provided a variety of plays Lee could compliment him on, from chasing down wide receiver Julio Jones to his consistent tackling, which seemed to be lacking among the majority of Cowboys defenders Sunday night, particularly on the Falcons' final drive.
The Cowboys held the Falcons to a season-low 19 points in the loss, but Carter said the defense needs to be more clutch at the end of games. Though the first half of the season didn't go as planned, Carter knows a lot of football's left to be played and plenty of time remains to correct mistakes and fight through the adversity of a 3-5 start.
"The thing about a great defense is you've got to get stops when it counts," Carter said. "That's something we need to take, our overall defense, in this next game. We make great plays throughout the whole game, but when it comes down to when it counts, we always come up short. I think that's something we need to strive to do."