The 2018 season saw Derek Carr surpass 4000 yards for the first time. We also saw an offense that couldn’t sustain drives and wasn’t threatening anyone with their ability to score. Part of that is on Derek Carr’s shoulders, part of it is not.
The vast majority of Carr’s yardage was on dump offs and quick passes for short yardage. He rarely tested the deep part of the field and he rarely got out of the pocket and made a play with his legs. Both areas he is making an effort to change this season.
On day one of camp, he threw the deep ball several times. Mostly because he now has a weapon in Tyrell Williams who he can throw to. Williams and Antonio Brown give Carr the best staring receiver duo he’s had now heading into his sixth NFL season as the Raiders’ starting quarterback. He has a level of trust for his receivers he didn’t have with previous starting duos. Perhaps more so than with any single starting receiver.
“These guys will make some of the worst throws look really good,” Carr said of his two new receiving targets. “If you under throw the ball a little bit, AB and Tyrell, they’re good at adjusting and making it perfect because they understand where the defender is, the coverage, that kind of stuff. Absolutely it helps. In my mind, I can take more chances. Trust me, we learn a lot of stuff about everybody out here on the practice field every year. You learn what you can get away with. You learn what you can’t with certain guys. So is Coach. Coach is in my ear, ‘Hey, get 16 that ball. Get him that ball. Throw that thing up to him. Give him that chance. We’re going to put it on his shoulders to go make those plays.’ That’s what he wants. Any receiver will tell you they want that, but they have to prove that out there. He’s proven it for Coach Gruden to say, hey, you have free will to a certain extent depending on who he’s talking to. We get Tyrell, we get AB out there, man let’s get them the ball.”
Jon Gruden likes the short, quick passing game. That’s his MO. It’s that whole West Coast Offense thing. But that doesn’t work if you don’t keep the defense honest. If they know that’s all you’re going to do, they can play for that. So, you have to make them aware that the deep ball is available at any time.
Another must in Gruden’s offense is the ability for the quarterback to make plays with his legs if the defense smothers the play as called. Carr has shown in the past that he can run when he needs to. Last season he looked completely lost in that part of his game.
The best QB Gruden ever coached was Rich Gannon. A QB who knew how to make a play when the play broke down. If Carr is to be Gruden’s franchise quarterback, that part of his game is absolutely crucial to develop.
“Yes, I need to do it better,” Carr said of scrambling. “It’s something that we all know too, especially in the second year of a system it’s easier to get through your progressions faster. Like in my head I can eliminate things versus certain coverages and I can then get out and extend it, whereas last year I’m trying to do it so perfect. And then we had too many sacks and things like that – they weren’t all on the offensive line, that’s my fault. I take credit for all of it. So, scrambling is actually something we have worked on a lot. It’s something where coach will tell the DB, ‘Hey jump this’ so that I can’t throw it and it makes me scramble. We had one today on 7-on-7 where I had to get out and scramble and things like that is something that I’ve really tried to work hard on to be honest with you, all offseason. Because I feel like I am athletic enough to do some damage that way. I haven’t done that well enough and I plan on doing that.”
Sacks were a big problem last season. Carr was sacked 51 times. And as he said a lot of them were on him. He just didn’t have any pocket presence. He has always had a quick clock in his head, but last year he just seemed panicky all the time. And when he got happy feet, nothing productive came of it. He wasn’t able to scramble for yardage and he wasn’t able to find a new spot and reset his feet to try and find a receiver downfield.
Protection issues shouldn’t affect the offense as much as they did last season. The best NFL quarterbacks can thrive even with protection breakdowns. Better receivers will help with that, but ultimately it’s on Carr. Creating a legitimate deep threat and becoming a threat to run will add two crucial elements to his game and the Raiders offense.