Three weeks ago, Derek Carr had his breakout game with four touchdown passes against a San Diego Chargers team that at the time was ranked as one of the best defenses in the NFL. That total matched his entire season total in the four previous weeks and led many to see big things from the rookie quarterback.
Following the game, newly promoted interim head coach, Tony Sparano, said he wanted Derek Carr to be fearless. This of course, led me to ask him the inevitable question: Are you fearless? To which he responded, yes he is.
"I'm a pretty fearless person," said Carr. "I don't really fear anything . . . especially [in] a football game."
From the fans' perspective, it sounds great to hear their young rookie signal caller and hopeful franchise QB say he has no fear. But what that spelled was trouble.
Where that whole line of thinking came from was in that game against the Chargers and two weeks before against the Patriots. In those games Carr had had great success against Darrelle Revis and Brandon Flowers respectively. He had the second most completions against Revis in the past seven years, and beat Flowers a couple of times on long completions, including a 77-yard touchdown pass on the first series of the game.
Since then, Carr has been playing with fire, going after Pro Bowl and All Pro cornerbacks regardless of the situation. And coming into this week, he had been lucky not to get burnt. Even still, the results were not speaking highly of his approach. Outside of a couple penalties from Patrick Peterson, Carr had no success against him.
Last week he went after Joe Haden in Cleveland. What started out well, fizzled at the end. He went 4 for 4 in on passes against Haden, with one being a 2-yard catch Haden stopped well short of the first down. The second half went very different. Carr completed a five-yard pass in the third quarter, and then couldn't complete another pass the rest of the day on five more attempts. Two of those were clean passes defended which Carr should have looked elsewhere.
Where Carr gets in trouble is making up his mind where he wants to go with the ball prior to the snap. It is something I pointed out heading into the game in Seattle Sunday as the next area Carr must improve as it will get him in trouble.
Low and behold, Sunday against the Seahawks, he got into trouble.
Carr had two interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown, the other leading to a field goal. The second one was a well-played ball by Richard Sherman who stepped in front of the pass as if he knew exactly what was coming. Mainly because he did.
This week Sherman said Carr went after him in their preseason meeting because "He doesn't know any better." One of the two completions Carr had on Sherman was a back shoulder, comebacker to Denarius Moore. That's how Carr has prefered to go after many of these top corners, essentially trying to use their tight coverage and ability to stay with the receiver down field against them.
Sherman likes to talk, but he also backs it up with his play. In this case, he backed it up in the film room as well. Some watched that play and saw Andre Holmes running the wrong route. The problem is, it wouldn't have mattered. Sherman wasn't biting on the long route anyway, which Holmes was trying to sell.
Carr's reasoning for his disregard for the skillset of these corners is an unwavering confidence in his receivers to "make a play." The problem with that logic is two-fold. It eliminates the responsibility of Carr to make a play and it disrespects the corner's ability to make a play.
"That's something Derek will have to learn from," said Charles Woodson after the game. "He's got to pick and choose when he goes at a player like Richard (Sherman). Maybe he should have went somewhere else or thrown a different type of ball. Those are things he will continue to get better at as he grows as a young quarterback in this league."
Woodson and the Raiders defense has stepped up these past couple weeks but they have got nothing for their efforts due to turnovers. The Raiders have turned the ball over six times the past two weeks. This team may yet to have found the recipe for success, but they sure have found the recipe for failure.
Drives are difficult to sustain. They usually require several completions along the way to get into scoring position. But it takes just one mistake like that for a promising drive to end, and sometimes turn into a score going the other way.
Fearlessness sounds great and it may offer a bit of fun for fans who are witnessing a lost season of historic proportions. But a healthy fear is a good thing. And with the way the defense is stepping up the past few weeks, taking care of the ball may just keep this team from going 0-16 on the season. That is an embarrassment none of these players want. And certainly not how Derek Carr wants to begin his career.