People frequently talk about the importance of depth on a football team. Yes, a successful team needs a lot of top end, star level talent, but having contributors on the bottom of the roster is also important. You want to have players who can step into starting roles in case of injuries.
You also need guys who can contribute. Depth players actually see action in the NFL when everybody is healthy. They tend to be part of limited personnel packages and special teams units.
Sometimes they help decide games as a result. A recent Super Bowl was decided in part by a depth wide receiver running a lousy route and a depth cornerback making a great break on a throw.
I had this in mind as I reviewed the grisly film from the Jets’ loss Sunday to Carolina. One depth player stood out for the plays he didn’t make.
Backup linebacker Bruce Carter was the culprit on Cam Newton’s first half touchdown run.
He was lined up at the end of the line on the snap.
He was unblocked by design. Cam Newton’s job was to beat Carter, but the Panthers were hoping he would bite on a fake handoff, which he did.
You can see the false steps Carter takes. Look how he has to stop and change direction to pursue Newton. This is time he doesn’t have.
When a defender isn’t blocked, he always needs to be suspicious. The reason he isn’t blocked is frequently the offense has designed the play to try and get him to chase the wrong player. As Cris Collinsworth says from time to time a defender who has too easy of a time getting into the backfield should say, “Wait a minute. I’m not this good.”
At this point, Carter was in trouble. It’s tough enough to bring down Cam Newton in the open field. Carter essentially gave Newton a head start. It did not end well.
It’s easy to say something like, “Cam is a tough matchup.” That is what the television announcers said. It is true, but Carter did something on this play independent of Cam Newton’s ability as a runner. If Cam Newton is that good of a runner, you as a defender certainly don’t want to give him a head start by overpursuing a play in the opposite direction.
Later in the game, the Jets allowed a killer punt return for a touchdown. There were many people to blame here, including Carter.
He gets down the field pretty well.
Then he has to deal with a block that is little more than a minor obstruction. The return man is also held up by a tackle attempt.
He gets off the block pretty easily, but again he takes a couple of false steps moving in.
Carter ends up in no position to take on the returner.
The result of this play was ugly, and there were certainly more culprits than Carter. You can see where he missed his opportunity, though. It really wasn’t much of a block he had to deal with, and it probably shouldn’t have impacted him.
I struggled with writing this because I don’t want to make it look like I’m picking on a backup linebacker. Carter certainly wasn’t the only person to blame on the punt. It was a system-wide breakdown. He was part of the system.
The point here isn’t that Carter stinks. It is the reminder from Sunday that sometimes you need one of the bottom guys on the roster to make a play that wins you the game. The Jets didn’t get that play, and it contributed to a defeat.