When the Las Vegas Raiders decided to move on from long-time starting quarterback Derek Carr and replace him with Jimmy Garoppolo, naturally, the comparisons between Carr and Garoppolo became hot topics of conversation.
Carr’s supporters are quick to point out the noticeable drop in arm talent between the two quarterbacks, while many in Garoppolo’s corner argue that he’s a better fit in head coach and offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels’ system. Aaron Schatz of FTN weighed in on the matter via his annual Preseason Football Almanac.
Schatz’s chapter on the Raiders begins with an eye-popping stat where the Silver and Black’s ‘Pythagorean wins’—defined as wins based solely on points scored and allowed—was 1.9 wins higher than their actual win total, the biggest gap in the NFL. It doesn’t take a statistician to figure out why as Las Vegas set NFL records for blowing leads in 2022.
But the Almanac provides more context and insight into the matter.
“Make no mistake, Carr never looked comfortable in McDaniels’ system,” Schatz wrote. “At times, he looked paralyzed with decision-making, overly mechanical in his motions. ...It was his worst year since 2018 no matter how you measure it, and more consistent play out of the quarterback position likely would have helped the Raiders hang on to some of those leads. In key situations, Carr was absolutely horrible, ranking 29th in DVOA in the red zone and 28th in the second halves. With passing performances like that, it’s no wonder leads slipped away.”
To back up for a second and provide some clarity, DVOA measures a team’s or player’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent, per Football Outsiders, the website Schatz founded. For a full and more detailed explanation of the metric, follow this link.
Circling back to the matter at hand, the Almanac suggests that a clash between Carr’s desire to make checks at the line of scrimmage and McDaniels’ rigid offense, along with a difference in their temperaments, played a role in the offense’s struggles.
No matter how you spin it, both parties are to blame as Schatz also suggested that the coach’s play-calling was a significant reason for allowing comebacks and the painful losses.
“Was it execution that had McDaniels ranked 28th in Aggressiveness Index, constantly playing passively, and allowing those big comebacks to happen? ...the Raiders dropped from a 10.3% offensive DVOA in first halves to -10.5% in second halves, the second-biggest drop in the league behind only Tennessee.”
It should come as no surprise that Bill Belichick, McDaniels’ mentor, was one of the four coaches who were less aggressive than McDaniels. However, what is surprising is that Las Vegas’ man in charge was the least aggressive offensive-minded head coach as Mike Tomlin, Dennis Allen and Robert Saleh rounded out the group.
Meanwhile, Carr was taking risks as 18.9 percent of his throws last season were into tight coverage, per Next Gen Stats, which was his highest mark since 2016 and ranked fifth among qualifying quarterbacks in 2022.
However, the clash between the passer’s and the play caller’s philosophies led the Raiders to have a negative DVOA in 10 out of 17 games and at or slightly more than zero percent in two more contests, according to the Almanac. Hence the switch to Garoppolo, who might be risk-averse, but is in pretty good company for DVOA.
“You know, you would expect us to be higher on a quarterback who has finished first and fifth in passing DVOA the last two years,” Schatz continued. “Garoppolo has never had a qualifying season with a DVOA below 10.8%, which puts him in elite company. There are only five passers who have had at least two qualifying seasons since 1981 (at least 200 passes) and never had a season worse than Garoppolo’s worst year.
“Three don’t have full careers in our database yet because they’re too old (Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, and Doug Williams), and the other two are Patrick Mahomes and Tony Romo. That’s pretty good company to keep!”
Schatz goes on to say no one thinks of Garoppolo like that because of the San Francisco 49ers’ supporting cast and his injury concerns, but Jimmy G did have a higher DVOA running Kyle Shanahan’s offense than Matt Ryan during Ryan’s 2016 MVP season.
“[Garoppolo is] really good at what he’s really good at, which is throwing the ball in the intermediate levels of the field, hitting his receivers in stride, and letting his playmakers make plays. That was where Carr specifically struggled in 2022. Carr ranked 29th with a DVOA of 23.5% on passes 10 to 19 yards down the field; Garoppolo was second at 99.9%. Garoppolo was more accurate and had better timing than Carr did, and that’s what McDaniels was really missing in his offense a year ago.”
“Going from Carr to Garoppolo is no improvement in a vacuum, and perhaps even a step backwards. The difference is certainly not worth alienating your existing starter and taking on dead money to make the swap. But for the 2023 Raiders, Garoppolo fits better than Carr did; he has shown he can run a McDaniels-style offense at a high level of efficiency. We should expect the Raiders’ offense to function better with Garoppolo at the helm.”
Advanced metrics aside, the Raiders did rank 12th in both points for and total yards a year ago, so we could be in store for even more scoring this season if Schatz’s study holds true and Garoppolo stays healthy.