If Derek Carr goes down, the Silver & Black ship sinks with him. There’s nothing controversial or provocative about that statement. It’s as obvious as it’s the stone could truth.
The Las Vegas Raiders success is tied around the waist... err, arm of their franchise quarterback. How well the Silver & Black execute new head coach and play caller Josh McDaniels’ offense is predicated on the the availability of Derek Carr and his ability to operate — without much undue duress (I’ve written plenty about this before, but more on this later).
There was no waffling when the new regime came into Raiders HQ in Henderson — new head coach Josh McDaniels waxed poetic about Carr being the right quarterback for his system and the ability to coach him is one of the reasons he and good friend (and new general manager) Dave Ziegler defected from the New England Patriots and are the new Silver & Black power structure.
McDaniels will rely heavily on Carr’s cerebral nature along with his ability to sling the pigskin all over the field. Hence the long-term security Ziegler and McDaniels bestowed upon Carr (a pretty penny of a $121.5 million three-year extension).
To help maximize the return on investment the Raiders put into Carr, Ziegler got to wheeling and dealing in both free agency and the NFL Draft. The biggest catch, of course, is wide receiver Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers. There will be no lapse in synergy between the unquestioned No. 1 wideout and the franchise quarterback because both have spent offseason time working out with each other and had considerable amount of snaps and practice time as Fresno State Bulldogs.
Precision, timing, preparation and the creative nuances that McDaniels orchestrated under the massive wing of Bill Belichick will now be a Las Vegas thing.
That prep began when the team convened at HQ starting April 11 — new coaching staff afforded the Raiders that opportunity.
“It’s a new process for everybody,” coach Josh McDaniels said during his media session in late April. “We’re all coming from a little bit of a different situation and getting to know each other and really just learning our language. How do we communicate with one another, our process on the field, how we work, the tempo that we want to work at, the fundamentals and the techniques that we’re really emphasizing.
“We’re really not in a competition mode yet. That won’t come until we get into OTAs a little bit, and then it’ll obviously pick up in training camp. But (we’re) really just focusing on our process. … I’m pleased with the turnout and the tremendous effort and attitude by the guys that are here.”
Competition is sound and will be instrumental for the 2022 season.
“Every spot on our team is going to have competition. Whether we drafted somebody or didn’t draft somebody, there’s competition at every spot on the team. I don’t care what the spot is,” McDaniels said. “That’s what we’ve tried to do at each spot that we could (through) free agency (and the) draft. … That won’t ever stop.”
That’s a great philosophy, but when it comes to the competition at quarterback, it’s for QB2 and beyond. Carr is the best option and that’s not going to change.
Forget all the mumbo jumbo about the quarterback rankings in the league or AFC West. It matters little. Why? Because Carr is the Raiders best option to win. There’s no other signal caller on the roster that brings what he can bring — period.
Hence, if he is forced to the sideline for any reason this season, things will be bleak — Silver & Bleak.
McDaniels, Ziegler and the rest of the Raiders staff liked Jarrett Stidham and Nick Mullens enough to trade for the former and sign the latter in free agency. Stidham comes from the New England Patriots quarterback farm system while Mullens spent last season with the Cleveland Browns.
But neither of those names is a resounding confidence booster if either had to assume the mantle of starting quarterback. Neither will bring the 8,141 career snaps Carr has under center as a Raider, nor the 65 percent career completion rate along with 193 touchdowns to 85 interceptions.
As scrappy as Mullens has been — he’s the type that can bring the fight and get up after being knocked down — he’s not the franchise-type. He’s more of a Matt McGloin or Bruce Gradkowski-type quarterback, if anything. Stidham is still a relative unknown as health issues have derailed opportunities he could’ve had in New England.
This is a two-part item, but they go hand-in-hand, really.
First is Carr Insurance. The trendy tagline that’s often bestowed upon the offensive line charged with keeping the quarterback upright, clean and in a protected pocket — or best it can muster. The Raiders offensive line remains a question mark but Ziegler and crew got cracking on that by doubling up at the position group in the draft.
Carmen Bricillo plays an integral role here as the new offensive line boss, a role that Tom Cable held during his second stint with the Raiders. Cable mixed in different tactics but is a known zone blocking scheme purist. Bricillo is more of a gap scheme type coach, but we’ll see in training camps and preseason games how his brutes will fare.
Carr was sacked 40 times this past season — the second most in a season over the course of his nine-year career. The 2018 season is Carr’s high-water mark of 51 total sacks. The last amount of times he’s seen the turf was the magical 2016 season that saw DC4 only dropped 16 times.
When given time to operate, disseminate what the defense is doing, and his targets getting separation and open, Carr can sling it with the best of them. When things go awry and the pocket gets noisy or doesn’t hold up, like any other signal caller, Carr goes slack.
And that brings us to the second item: the red zone. That sucker was a dead zone for the Raiders offense the past two seasons under then-head coach and chief offensive architect Jon Gruden. That was a tremendous boon for place kicker Daniel Carlson, but it left points on the field when the offense couldn’t get into the end zone for six.
But this is where the addition of Adams should pay dividends — if not will. His route-running and ability to separate in the money zone made him a big-time target for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. That must happen in Las Vegas with Carr now Adams’ quarterback. Slot dynamo Hunter Renfrow is a menace at separation too, and tight end Darren Waller (if healthy) is a nightmare matchup as well.
Now defenses have to account for Adams instead of getting tunnel vision on Renfrow and Waller. Not only that, but there’s a recommitment to the run game brewing in Henderson.
Ground & Pound
With Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake already in tow, Ziegler and Co. took Zamir “Zeus” White in the draft. The Georgia product is equal parts power and speed with his ability to run through contact and leave defenders behind. It’s an interesting addition that can be tabbed “redundant” with Jacobs on the roster. However, the entire Raiders staff lives, breaths and eats the mantra of competition and pushing everyone to earn a job or snaps. And redundant is a common theme in the building.
“I’d say running back is just a tough position in the league,” Ziegler noted in late April. “Those guys take a pounding, and it’s a physical position. … We’ve talked about it from the beginning: We want to build depth and competition.”
Jacobs and Drake need to stay on point or Zeus can strike like a lightning bolt much to his namesake. He’s got an intriguing blend of size, speed, power and vision. That’s all the makeup of a tailback that should bleed into Jacobs’ and/or Drake’s carries.
Of course, this all harkens back to how well the Raiders offensive line can gel and work as a unit. Then again, Las Vegas did get to a 10-7 record and a playoff berth behind last year’s O-line. Perhaps even the most minute improvements results in something better in 2022.
It all works hand-in-hand really. McDaniels’ play calling coupled with Carr and crew’s ability to either execute the called play or check into a better one and execute that. Yet, if it’s not Carr under center, you can pretty much execute the Raiders playoff aspirations — on the spot.