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Derek Carr is throwing deep passes more often, but they’ve got to start connecting

The AFC West might have three deep passing offenses now and the Raiders don’t want to play catch up

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since tracking their advanced stats in 2018, Pro-Football-Reference lists Derek Carr as having at least 7.0 intended air yards per attempt in 16 of 38 contests, or 42% of the time. Carr’s overall iay/a in that time is 6.8, so this is essentially the sample size in which Carr goes above the average.

Of those 16 games, four have already come over the Raiders’ first six contests of 2020. As you’d expect, Carr’s iay/a of 7.3 is higher than it had been in the previous two years and with Henry Ruggs III added to the offense recently, is sounds logical that Jon Gruden will continue to have Carr throw the ball downfield more often.

Unfortunately, Carr has not been as accurate when he throws farther downfield and that will be a cause of concern for Gruden if it doesn’t improve in the coming weeks. Of those 16 games I mentioned where he posts an iay/a of 7+, 10 of those games rank in the top 14 for Carr’s worst bad throws% since 2018:

The Raiders are 7-7 in those 14 games (including the huge win over Kansas City), 7-17 in the rest. When Carr throws the ball more than seven yards down field per attempt but keeps his bad throw% under 12, the Raiders are 4-2 since 2018; that has happened only once this season, which was in Week 3’s loss to the Patriots.

Now consider the season of Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, a potential problem for the Raiders if he teams up with Patrick Mahomes as two serious in-division conflicts of interest for Las Vegas when it comes to winning the AFC West. Herbert’s been phenomenal in recent weeks and his iay/a through five games is 8.4.

Herbert’s 11.3 iay/a against the Saints three weeks ago is almost 2 yard per throw higher than any recorded game by Carr. However, Herbert’s similarly going to have issues when throwing downfield and he had nine bad throws against New Orleans. Last week against the Jaguars in his first win, Herbert had 11 bad throws on 43 attempts.

And for an elite quarterback like Mahomes, who at 25 should theoretically have much more development and growth ahead than the 29-year-old Carr, he has 13 games in the last two and a half seasons with a higher iay/a than Carr.

Derek Carr has three games between 9 and 9.6 iay/a since 2018, while Mahomes has 11 contests above 10 yards in that same period of time. But even though Mahomes is liable to have games with 8-10 bad throws — and often — he’s gaining so many yards per completion that it doesn’t even matter.

Herbert’s “bad throw” games are similar to Mahomes’ “bad throw” games and so is his iay/a and yards after catch per completion figures.

(By the way, is this something LA could have gotten away with when Tyrod Taylor was starting? Surprisingly enough, Taylor averaged 11.2 iay/a in Week 1 and had only six bad throws.)

With Ruggs in the mix, we should expect to see more deep passing by Carr in the coming weeks, and if it’s not Carr, it will be somebody else. Ruggs is averaging 20 yards per depth of target, third-highest in the NFL after Jalen Guyton (one of Herbert’s pals) and John Hightower, a rookie with the Eagles. When he’s on the field, Las Vegas attempts to stretch it.

But if the balls aren’t hitting their intended targets, then it won’t matter. Those connections will be key to finding out who the first, second and third best teams in the division will be over the rest of the season.