IRVING, TEXAS -- Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli calls Bruce Carter "The Closer" these days.
That’s because he has been making so many big plays at the end of games. Carter, a free agent at the end of the season, has picked a good time to play the best football of his career.
It’s no coincidence his improved performance has coincided with the Dallas Cowboys' defense playing its best football of the season as the team prepares to face Green Bay’s high-powered offense, which has scored more than 50 points twice at Lambeau Field this season.
"I think the game has slowed down for me," Carter said. "I’m just trying to make sure I play with effort and I know what I’m doing. I'm giving my all for the guys like (Tony) Romo and (Jason) Witten, who have been around for so long."
Carter has shown glimpses of play-making potential throughout his career, but he has often left the coaching staff frustrated with his lack of production, effort, or both.
In November, Marinelli reduced Carter’s playing time, and it has made him a better player.
Carter hasn’t started at strongside linebacker since the Cowboys’ lost to Arizona, 28-17, on Nov. 2. Kyle Wilber starts at that position in the base defense, but teams use so many formations with three, four and five receivers that Carter is usually on the field for about 20 plays per game.
Carter backs up both outside linebacker positions and plays in the nickel defense, depending on the down and distance.
"The role we’re working at him is really good," Marinelli said. "He’s really good in space, because he has speed. He’s good in coverage, especially man. He’s made so many big plays for us all year."
He played 59 snaps in the Cowboys’ win against Detroit, but that was primarily because middle linebacker Rolando McClain left in the second quarter with concussion symptoms.
Carter finished with five tackles and three pass deflections. He nearly made a game-changing interception inside the Dallas 5 with 13 seconds left in the first half.
"I probably should’ve had that," Carter said, "but he threw it so hard, I just couldn’t get it."
Carter has become more comfortable with the depth of the zone drops in Marinelli’s defense, and he’s making plays when there is an opportunity to do so. He led the team with five interceptions.
"He’s done a really good job in the role he’s in," Garrett said recently. "Like a lot of guys on our team, you want them to be more consistent, and we’re constantly trying to put them in an environment and teach them and coach them to be more consistent."
How does the staff do that?
"We have a good understanding of where he plays his best, and when we ask him to do certain things this is what he responds best," Garrett said. "You inspire them, you coach them hard, you show them evidence on tape and you do what you can to help them play at the level they’re capable of playing day in and day out."