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Raiders give Derek Carr free rein to change play at the line, confidence to execute it

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There’s something special happening in Oakland with the symbiotic relationship between Derek Carr and his coaches.

Probably the most crucial offensive play of the Raiders win last week over the Chargers was the 21-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree on fourth and 2. The play happened at the end of the third quarter, giving the Raiders their first lead since early in the second quarter.

It was a gutsy call to be certain and has been compared to decision by Jack Del Rio to go for the win on a 2-point conversion against the Saints in the season opener.

Del Rio has the final say on whether to go for it on those plays. He could have sent out the field goal unit and put a few points on the board. But the play call wasn’t to go for it all on a long pass to Crabtree. That gutsy call was made at the line by Derek Carr.

“We have an idea of the adjustments he can make at the line of scrimmage, so he did a good job,” said Bill Musgrave. “Our coaching staff has put together a terrific system that enables and is conducive for the quarterback to make quarter turn adjustments there at the line of scrimmage or change the play entirely. He’s done a terrific job with it.”

Carr stepped in, surveyed the defense, saw single coverage on Crabtree and a single high safety and he made the call. The corner positioned himself to the inside and Carr put the ball over Crabtree’s outside shoulder where only he could get it for a perfect touchdown pass.

It put the Raiders up by one, and after a two-point conversion on a pass to Amari Cooper the Raiders took a three-point lead 27-24 and held the lead the rest of the way.

“That’s the way I love to play,” Carr said of his call at the line. “I love having a lot put on my back. I like having… Any quarterback does. Coach Musgrave talks to me about his time with Matt Ryan, how he loved that and how we’re similar in that way. We just love that kind of stuff. I absolutely love it.”

A lot goes into making a call like that; not to mention successfully executing it. It’s confidence in his abilities, comfort in the system, the coaching staff having confidence in him, and him knowing he has free rein to do it. But what Carr comes up with even surprises the coaches often times.

“I just know that as soon as the ball goes up, I laugh because I know what they were thinking like, ‘We didn’t call that.’” Carr said with a laugh. “It’s just funny. It’s nothing outside the framework of what they want me to do or being aggressive and those kinds of things. I would never do that kind of stuff, be an insubordinate. I’m not like that. I try and stay in the framework and run the offense the way coach Musgrave and [quarterbacks] coach [Todd] Downing want it.”

It’s Carr’s third year in the league, his second in the same coaches and system. That allows them to insert a lot more plays with built-in options to audible if the coverage dictates it.

Aiding Carr’s confidence is the fact that calling plays at the line is nothing new. He was doing it as a rookie under the previous coaching staff.

“[Former offensive coordinator Greg Olson] ‘Oly’ let me do everything at the line, he did,” said Carr. “That was just his system. He’s big on the quarterbacks. You watch the Jaguars play, Blake [Bortles] is handling a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage. That’s just the way that ‘Oly’ had things.”

Then again, the Raiders went 3-13 that season, starting the season at 0-10. The staff overhaul last year meant another season with Carr and his coaches feeling each other out. With a full season and offseason together, everyone’s comfort level is greater.

Del Rio and his quarterback have turned into quite the gamblers. Thus far, those gambles have paid big dividends, contributing directly to the team’s 4-1 start this season.