Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returns an interception for a touchdown against the Cowboys during the Cardinals' Christmas night victory.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has heard the criticism this season.
And he doesn't disagree.
"People put certain levels on certain players, whether it's because of Pro Bowls or that certain plays have been made in the past and they expect that," the Cardinals' cornerback said. "When you get beat, they are going to say, 'OK, he's not at the top of his game.' I understand that. I take the bad with the good, the good with the bad, however it comes.
"It motivates you. Somebody tells you 'He doesn't have it no more,' or 'He's not playing like himself,' you've got to dig down into yourself and say, 'You know what, someone is right.' Not all of them may be right, but some of them are."
After making his first Pro Bowl last season, Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't had the follow-up year he wanted. He's had his moments – returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns, including one against Dallas on Christmas, and blocking a field goal on "Monday Night Football" against the 49ers – but it hasn't been as good as 2009.
The ironic part is that defensive coordinator Bill Davis actually sees this as Rodgers-Cromartie's most consistent season of his three. DRC's work in the film room has greatly improved, and Davis said Rodgers-Cromartie's mistakes have been minimized.
On that point, Rodgers-Cromartie doesn't disagree, saying that he has learned a lot and has been consistent in practice. Before, Davis said, DRC would end up "running around in the middle of confusion" in games.
"He's been more in tune with the defense, the coverage, and not just his little world," Davis said.
Rodgers-Cromartie may be in place to make plays, but he hasn't made enough of them. That is Rodgers-Cromartie's point.
Passes – especially crucial third-down throws – have come his direction more than he thought they would. And he's given up completions on too many. Davis points out that the Cards' lack of pass rush has not helped the entire secondary, using by example the long touchdown Rodgers-Cromartie surrendered against the 49ers because of "zero" pressure.
Rodgers-Cromartie's play has improved of late, doing a good job on Denver's Brandon Lloyd, for example. Davis also said Rodgers-Cromartie had his most physical game of the year against the Cowboys.
The notion of DRC's physical play can be an oxymoron. He has just 29 tackles this season and will not be confused with an Antoine Winfield or even teammate Michael Adams. It's an issue DRC must continue to work on Davis said, but something that also must be accepted on a certain level.
"We also want some of the bigger guys to run faster too," Davis said. "It's a give-and-take.
"Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. He needs to be physical and tackle better. He covers well, he runs outstanding. He can smother a guy with the best of them. Hands on the ball, there's a good chance it will be a touchdown. … Everyone wants the perfect player, the well-rounded guy. Well, the Hall of Famers are the total package."
Rodgers-Cromartie acknowledges he must work on his tackling, "because on this level, schemes are designed for corners to tackle, when the ball gets out on the edge. But as far as it being my (type of) game? Not at all."
If DRC pulls down more interceptions and shuts down receivers, however, his tackling won't mean as much.
Fellow starting cornerback Greg Toler said the message for all the defensive backs is not to get too high or too low, given the nature of their boom-or-bust job. Rodgers-Cromartie, he said, seems to understand that.
"His personality, he's going to be himself, so he won't have too many problems going into the hole (of despair)," Toler said. "Sometimes he gets frustrated knowing he could have made a play or changed the game, but that's with everybody."
Rodgers-Cromartie did suffer a knee injury in last year's final playoff game, but after surgery in the offseason, he said he hasn't thought about the knee once this year and said it has nothing to do with his level of play.
It's a level of play he insists will be better in 2011.
"This," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "isn't permanent."
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