I like to think I am rarely wrong when it comes to preseason predictions and film assessments. However, that would be an egotistical side that I don’t actually possess. When I am wrong, I will be open about it and own it. My biggest whiff coming into this season was being very low on the signing of T.J. Carrie for cornerback depth.
Now I will say that I didn’t hate Carrie as a player by any means but once Marvell Tell III opted out and the Colts decided to roll with Carrie as the main depth corner, I was fairly concerned. When watching every snap of his from the season prior, I saw a player who could be solid inside as a depth slot corner but I didn’t see a player who would make much of a positive impact on the outside. There were just too many plays like this for my liking on that film:
T.J Carrie looks to be the Colts' primary backup at outside corner this year. This.. is not ideal in my opinion. I don't mind him in the slot as he is a good tackler and better in the middle but I'm terrified of him stepping into a starting spot outside if Rock or Rhodes go down pic.twitter.com/OOi1uDyHAx— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 7, 2020
Much to my surprise, he was actually a great depth cornerback for the team and filled in admirably when called upon on the season. While he did fade a bit down the stretch, he finished the year with two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and only allowed 57% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 80.2 when targeting him on the year.
So today we are going to talk about the overall season for Carrie and why the Colts would be wise to bring him back for another run with this team.
Closing Speed and Motor Mirror Press Man
The two areas where he really impressed me were his closing speed and how well he played in the Colts’ press coverage scheme. Starting with the press coverage, the Colts employ a press technique called motor mirror where the outside corner steps back about six inches in press then mirrors the movement of the receiver. The reasoning for this is it allows the corner more space to adjust to what the receiver is doing while also crowding them at the line of scrimmage. This is a good example of it by Carrie against Adam Thielen in week two.
Carrie performed well in this coverage all year long and dictated the pace of opposing receivers. Standing at 6’0” and over 200 pounds, he possesses a nice blend of size and length to control receivers at the line of scrimmage. This press technique benefitted him because he wasn’t asked to directly mirror these quicker and more athletic players. By being asked to motor and then mirror, or open his hips outside even, he was able to be more physical and adjust receiver routes that way. On top of that, he did a great job of getting his hands in the passing lane and breaking up passes even from less advantageous positioning.
T.J Carrie also did a great job at fighting through hands on his pass breakups. Even when he was boxed out, he was able to attack the receiver's hands and make a play. Confident player who also has pretty long arms for his height pic.twitter.com/6gUcnVktqA— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 31, 2021
He was aggressive all year at the catch point which was something really nice to see from a Colts’ corner. He did get burned by this a few times but for the most part, the Colts benefitted from this aggressiveness. He has longer arms, just a shade under 32 inches, which allow him to get into passing lanes without being in front of the receiver. He was excellent at playing through the hands of the receiver too which led to even more positive plays for the defense.
Getting to the closing speed, this was far and away the best trait he brought to the secondary. In the Colts’ zone heavy defensive scheme, corners are asked to drive downhill and attack out of their zone drops. Carrie was probably the best and most fluid of these corners in his T-steps (the three steps a corner makes out of their drops that form a T). Look at how smooth he is at stopping in his drop and driving down for the pass breakup.
This closing speed led to many big plays and great moments on the year for the veteran corner and it made his fit in this defense look great. When doing my offseason film analysis of his game, I likely graded him too harshly for the pitfalls of that Cleveland Browns defensive scheme in 2019. He was asked to do a lot of passive cover three drops rather than play at his strength around the line of scrimmage and mid zones and attacking the ball when it is thrown.
Overall it was simply an excellent year for the veteran corner and he did fit this scheme well as a depth player. He plays the sticks real well and his closing speed allows for him to thrive in this cover two heavy scheme. Just for those aspects alone, I would look to signing him back for solid depth on the outside.
T.J Carrie's closing speed this year in off man/zone coverage was outstanding. pic.twitter.com/4s4UwWsNGk— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 31, 2021
He still shouldn’t be the starter though
So I mentioned at the top of this piece that he did fade a bit down the stretch and the main reason for that is he started playing more when Rock Ya-Sin was struggling late in the year. While Carrie wasn’t necessarily playing poorly, there were some issues that started to pop up each week. The main one being that he’s not the type of athlete who can compete down after down with top receivers. He gets stacked on this clip here by Chase Claypool and beat easily for a 34 yard gain. Just not the type of corner who can compete vertically with that type of player.
One issue with Carrie though is he did get stacked a bit too easily down the field. Chase Claypool stair steps him on this post and gets plenty of separation down the field pic.twitter.com/jcVnnx9Hg2— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 31, 2021
Even if he is not being out-muscled by a bigger receiver, he’s getting beat deep by a faster one. Stephon Diggs was the best receiver in the NFL this year and Carrie puts up no fight at all on this vertical shot in the playoffs. I’m not saying that I expect Carrie to lock down Diggs but this was just too easy. These points here aren’t some roundabout way to say I was right about Carrie before the year, because I wasn’t, but these are just his limitations and why he is more of a depth guy rather than a full-time starter.
Final Thoughts and Projection
T.J Carrie was brought in by Chris Ballard on a measly one year deal for one million dollars last offseason. The way that he played on the year would justify this contract as a big-time bargain for the Colts. He wasn’t a star by any means but he was a solid depth option who filled in well when called upon.
As for bringing him back, I do think this is something the Colts should strongly consider. In the end, it is going to come down to money. If Indy can get him for, let’s say, a two year 6.5 million dollar deal then I think that’s a good signing. Once you get a bit above that is when it’s probably too much.
Indy would be smart to bring him back but he is by no means a “must re-sign.” The Colts have a promising young corner in Marvell Tell III returning and Isaiah Rodgers showed some potential in limited playing time. Carrie isn’t a must re-sign but I would like to see the Colts try to bring him back at least for 2021.