IRVING, Texas – Three games into his career as a Dallas Cowboys veteran cornerback, Brandon Carr has exceeded even the lofty expectations that the team had for him.
In fact, considering the drastic improvement of the secondary this season, there is probably a case to be made for Carr as the Cowboys' MVP thus far. He has been a vital part of keeping the dangerous and versatile receivers of the Giants, Seahawks and Buccaneers in check and out of the end zone.
But that's the burden of being a lockdown cornerback in this league; there's a new challenge every week. And this Monday, Carr will have his hands full trying to contain the Bears' Brandon Marshall.
Marshall is a seven-year veteran with 35 career touchdowns to his credit. This is his first year playing in Chicago where he became the club's No. 1 receiver, but Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler previously were teammates on the Broncos for three years before Cutler was traded to the Bears.
At 6-4, 230 pounds, Marshall is especially dangerous because he has the size to be a possession receiver, but he's fast enough to be a deep threat. He has made a reputation for himself by going up over the top of defenders to make difficult catches.
Carr knows that he will be in for a challenge, but he is also very familiar with Marshall as they were AFC rivals when Carr was playing in Kansas City and Marshall was still in Denver.
"Another 60-minute battle," Carr said. "It's going to be a challenge. He's a big, physical receiver who's explosive."
While it may be natural to think that Carr's familiarity with Marshall is an advantage, there is, of course, a flip side to that argument: Marshall also has plenty of experience running routes against Carr.
"I know a lot about Brandon Carr," Marshall said. "I really respect his game. He does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, really strong. I've been watching a lot of film on our matchups and I want to approach the game a little differently."
In Carr's rookie season in the NFL, Marshall had a terrific year and was able to score three touchdowns in his two games against Carr's Chiefs. Carr remembers that Cutler and Marshall were a dangerous combination to face when they played together back in Denver.
"He and Jay Cutler have tremendous chemistry," Carr said. "They played together for many years and now they're back together."
Cowboy fans can take comfort in the fact that Carr was part of a defensive effort that held Buccaneers' receiver Vincent Jackson, another big and physical receiver, to one catch for 29 yards. Jackson racked up 128 yards the week before against the New York Giants, but with Carr splitting time at safety and cornerback, Jackson was almost a non-factor against Dallas.
Carr is known for being a very physical cornerback who likes to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt their routes. Like Jackson last week, Marshall has at least four inches and 20 pounds on Carr, but Carr still plans on playing his type of game, and he knows that getting the ball to Marshall will be a top priority for Chicago.
"Monday night I assume that they are going to try to get him the ball early and often so I'm going to be on my A-game early," said Carr. "I'll expect a 60-minute battle."
The question is will Carr be fighting that "60-minute battle" solely from the cornerback position? Last week he started at safety for the first time in his career and thrived while switching back and forth from cornerback during the game. With Barry Church now out for the season, Carr claims that he is ready to fulfill the role again if need be.
"Wherever duty calls, that's where I'll be," Carr said.
Even if Carr is not the player matched up one-on-one with Marshall, the Bears' receiver also pointed out that, while he may be just a rookie, the Cowboys have another starting cornerback who can more than hold his own in Morris Claiborne.
"I respect what he's (Claiborne) doing so far," Marshall said. "I'm sure there are some things that he'll clean up out there, but I think (the Cowboys) got a really good No. 1 pick down there."