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Sunday, September 29, 2013
Chargers pick on Carter, Claiborne

By Tim MacMahon

SAN DIEGO -- It’s time to tap the brakes on a couple of highly-optimistic comparisons.

It’s pretty clear that labeling Bruce Carter as potentially the next Derrick Brooks was premature, at best. And, at this point, Morris Claiborne has no business even being mentioned in the same breath as Deion Sanders.

A couple of young players the Dallas Cowboys are counting on to blossom into defensive superstars simply stunk in Sunday’s 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Carter and Claiborne were picked on repeatedly while the Chargers shredded Monte Kiffin’s defense for 506 total yards.

Dallas' Bruce Carter
Danny Woodhead gets behind Bruce Carter for one of his two touchdowns.
“We’ve got to correct that, because they’re the kind of players who can make plays,” owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. “They have the ability to make the plays.”

Carter made a lot of plays in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme last season, and the schematic switch to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 was expected to benefit the third-year linebacker as much as anybody. Carter's speed and athleticism were thought to be perfect fits for the weakside linebacker spot, where Brooks starred during Kiffin’s Tampa Bay days.

But Carter has struggled in coverage, something San Diego schemed to exploit. Carter twice got beaten by Chargers running back Danny Woodhead for touchdown receptions. On the second one, Carter got torched about as badly as possible on a 13-yard wheel route.

“There are no excuses,” said Carter, who was replaced by Ernie Sims in the nickel package after Woodhead’s second score. “It’s my fault. I take all that, and I’ve just got to play better.”

We’re still waiting on Claiborne to flash the playmaking form that prompted Cowboys scouts to give him a draft grade higher than any cornerback since Sanders. The sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft has one career interception and has become the preferred target for opposing quarterbacks.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who finished with 401 yards on 35-of-42 passing, seemed to feel like he could attack Claiborne at will. Rookie receiver Keenan Allen (five catches for 80 yards) had the most success against Claiborne, who described his day as “very frustrating.”

“They hit a couple of plays all over the field,” Claiborne said, “but obviously they found more over there on the right side.”

Claiborne has already lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick. That was originally to protect Claiborne’s dislocated shoulder, but Scandrick has clearly outperformed him.

It might be a stretch to think that Carter could be demoted, but he watched almost all of Sunday’s fourth quarter from the sideline.

“I mean, that’s just up to the coaches,” Carter said when asked if his benching was justified. “It’s my job as a player just to go out there and play and just go out there and do the best I can. That’s out of my control.”

Kiffin insists it wasn’t a benching, but that seems like silly semantics.

Pressed on the issue, Kiffin made a strange reference to needing to rotate players due to the San Diego heat. It was a sizzling 77 degrees during the game, and Sean Lee certainly didn’t come off the field.

“It’s not like, ‘Wow, this guy got benched,’ or something like that,” Kiffin said. “I’m just telling you, it wasn’t that. I can’t be more honest than that.”

The painful truth for the Dallas defense is that a couple of players they’re depending on to develop into stars got picked on Sunday.