Taking a closer look at Andre Carter's sack of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo that proved to be a key defensive play in lifting the New England Patriots to a 20-16 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at Gillette Stadium (screenshots from Fox broadcast):
On their first -- and only -- possession of the third quarter, the Cowboys put together a sustained 12-play drive that featured two third-down conversions. Facing 2nd-and-goal at the New England 7, Carter speed rushed off the left edge and dragged Romo down for an 11-yard loss that helped force Dallas to settle for a field goal (tying the game at 13 instead of allowing the Cowboys to surge ahead). Dallas came out in a shotgun package with two running backs split to each side of Romo, two wide receivers, and tight end Jason Witten.
The Patriots rush only three players and both Dallas running backs head out on passing routes. The key thing to note here: Look at the triple team that Albert Haynesworth draws. For all the attention paid to his lack of statistical production, this really hammers home his value on the field. The Cowboys could have used one of those linemen to come help out as Carter rushes in, but Haynesworth manages to push all three Dallas players backwards while fighting his way toward Romo. Linebackers Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes pick up the running backs, while linebacker Rob Ninkovich chips away at Witten, making sure he doesn't get into his route easily, particularly as Romo's security blanket on the play.
Cornerback Devin McCourty jams Dez Bryant on the line to right side, while Patrick Chung picks up Miles Austin coming from the left -- neither player gains enough separation to be a target. Witten, slowed by Ninkovich, tries to settle between the linebacker and cornerback Leigh Bodden, but is also well defended. Carter blows past rookie right tackle Tyron Smith and does a tremendous job powering through as Smith scrambles to steer him wide. With Haynesworth battling through three players and not being pushed back, Romo has no chance to scramble to his left away from Carter's pressure.
Asked during Monday's conference calls about the play of both Carter and Haynesworth, coach Bill Belichick offered quality praise of his veteran defensive linemen. He also stressed that sacks should not be the only barometer for how a lineman plays, and Haynesworth's efforts in this play shows why.
On Carter: " I think he’s performed well all year. I really do. I think he’s had a really solid year for us. I think he's performed well pretty much since the first training camp practice. He's a very consistent, high-effort player, strong, experienced, knows what he’s doing, very professional. He's been really consistent. I think it’s really inaccurate to think that all of a sudden it’s been something great because he had two sacks yesterday because that’s the stat that it really seems all defensive linemen get measured by. I think it’s very inaccurate. I think he's played consistently week in and week out. He had a couple big plays yesterday, but he’s had good plays for us every week."
On Haynesworth: "I think missed time is a little bit of a hurdle for anybody. We talked about Spikes earlier, but I think Albert has been -- the more he’s practiced, the more regularly he’s practiced and played, the better he’s been. I thought he had several good plays yesterday. It was encouraging."