PHILADELPHIA —The Raiders regressed in 2017.
That was clear before Sunday. Certainly, it is now.
With the Kansas City Chiefs’ 29-13 victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention. No more scenarios. No more chances. Their season will conclude Dec. 31 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. Naturally, this lost campaign that followed a 12-4 year is subject to scrutiny. Scouting, coaches, players — it’s all on the table.
On Dec. 17, coach Jack Del Rio effectively invited regression talk toward his quarterback when complimenting Derek Carr after a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He said that Carr’s play “reminded me of what we saw a lot of last year,” leaving space to infer something this year from Carr has been missing.
“Derek played with a lot of zest,” Del Rio added. “Just took off and made some plays with his feet. Played courageous. I thought he played well.”
The suggestion of a Carr regression is not shared throughout the Raiders’ building.
Teammates recently voted Carr to receive their Ed Block Courage Award. This came after his 2016 ended with a broken leg on Christmas Eve. He also missed just one game in October to three fractures in his lower back. On Monday evening, he’ll lead a team looking to upset the Philadelphia Eagles on Christmas Day at Lincoln Financial Field.
Carr owns an 88.4 quarterback rating, down from 96.7 in 2016.
That figure is part of a statistical rabbit hole anyone could explore. But context is often missing once underground.
“The bottom line is that man hasn’t changed one bit,” tight end Lee Smith said. “Sure, our record isn’t as good as it was last year. The nature of the beast is both coordinators, the head coach and the quarterback take the most (criticism) when things aren’t going right. And the character Derek has shown this year, especially when things have been adverse — compared to last year, everybody in the world loved on us and him. ‘MVP this, MVP that. Blah, blah, blah.’ This year, we have a losing record, and he hasn’t changed one bit.
“I think his faith life is the biggest thing in that. He’s the strongest Christian man I’ve ever been around. He’s led me in many ways more off the field than he has on. … I could talk about him all day long. I’ll stand by the fact that I think he’s the future of the NFL and the best quarterback under 30 in this business. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers aren’t going to play forever. That man over there is going to be the face of this league.”
Todd Downing is in his first year as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator.
His familiarity predates his current position, having served as Carr’s quarterbacks coach in 2015 and 2016.
“I think he’s had some really good football this year,” Downing said on Friday. “In a tough year, there can be a lot of critiques, and I think that sometimes it can get lost in the mix that there are some good things in there, too. Certainly, Derek showed great toughness on Sunday and stood in there and made some throws. That was pleasing to see, but I think he’s done a nice job with a lot of things this year.
“We just need to be consistent all around, the whole offense, up and down from me all the way down to practice squad guys. We’ve got to look for ways to be more consistent and be reliable.”
After each game, Downing and quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz evaluate Carr’s performance.
The scoring is perhaps more accurate than any external statistical indicator, given it takes into account a play’s design, progression and other factors that can be difficult to appreciate from the outside.
“They grade me pretty tough, and my grades have been where we want them to be,” Carr said. “But we want them to be better, obviously. That’s every year. But I definitely have worked, if anything, harder this year because I learned so much from last year. Every year, I find things where I can go harder into and things like that. We just haven’t executed at a high level as a team to be honest.
“So do I feel like I’m a better player today than I was a year ago, last year? Absolutely. I definitely do.”