Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has developed the reputation of a check-down artist since he entered the league. Even when he was connecting with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, his tendency not to push the ball downfield was whispers.
When Jon Gruden came into the picture, the reputation grew even further. Gruden’s offense gives plenty of options to the quarterback to get completions. One of them is short completions to running backs out of the field. Carr took advantage of this, adding to his completion percentage but making him the butt of even more jokes.
Come for the rankings, stay for the Derek Carr slander! pic.twitter.com/ozsee9aqKp— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) August 29, 2019
It is easy to assume that every throw is a check-down since usually passes to running backs fall into this mold. When diving into the playbook, concepts designed for running backs are a part of this offense.
Gruden has always designed completions for his running backs during his time in the NFL. It started in Philadelphia with Ricky Watters, where he complied 140 targets in two seasons under Gruden.
His first stint in Oakland was no different. When he acquired Charlie Garner in 2001 (who was under Gruden in Philadelphia), the running back finished with 91 targets on the season. No matter the quarterback under center, Gruden is searching for ways to get running backs open in space.
Carr spoke on HB choice during his press conference on Wednesday when asked about the versatility of his weapons.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Very diverse. Can’t forget about Jalen [Richard], he’s caught about 50 choice routes for us. Josh [Jacobs] out of the backfield, you get the ball in that guy’s hands anytime,” Carr said. “There are so many check downs that I throw to him that turn into 16-yard gains. Now you get Kenyan [Drake], he was a receiver. He can run those routes. And Alec Ingold, he’s making plays down the field and things like that.”
Since Gruden has returned, Jalen Richard has played the role of the main target on choice routes. While he has serviced well in that area, he does not have the dynamic ability of Kenyan Drake. Drake feels like this offense is the perfect fit for him because of these types of opportunities.
“Something I noticed in this offense that obviously it’s not boom or bust. Running back gets plenty of touches out the backfield the tight end as well. It allows the offense to continue to stay on schedule.”
What is HB Choice?
HB choice is part of Gruden’s Choice/lookie package that he deploys on Sundays. The RB has the choice to slant, hitch, or go out based on the defender's leverage. Gruden loves to run these concepts.
Play above is against Carolina Week 1 of last season. The Raiders are facing 2nd and 14 from the Raiders 48-yard line. The offense lines up in a 3x1 formation from 11 personnel. The concept is choice stick meaning the sticks concept to the weak side. The strong side will have the comeback route from Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs on the choice route. Usually, Carr passes to the strong side against 2-high safeties and goes to his left against a single high.
Post snap Carr's eyes go directly to the choice route based on the pre-snap coverage. The space the 3x1 and the sticks on the weakside create makes Jacobs' job easy. He reads the linebacker's leverage correctly break inside to big play.
Here is another version in the red zone with Jalen Richard running the choice route. The play is choice shallow, with Jason Witten running the drag and Foster Moreau running the strong side corner. Richard does an excellent job of reading the linebacker, turning this into a hitch making himself available for Carr.
The former Alabama running back shined as a receiver in Miami and fits these routes perfectly. He didn’t run these exact routes during his time in the south. however, he has the route running ability and the mental processing to execute this concept successfully.
Drake will receive a heavy dose of these routes this year in this offense. Jacobs’ comments about him not having a receiving goal paints the picture of what this offense will look like in 2021. Expect a big season from Drake in the pass-catching department.