As the Raiders continue to learn the new playbook under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, the leeway that quarterback Derek Carr has to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage becomes a valid question.
Carr and the Raiders, 0-2 entering Sunday’s game at Tennessee, are searching for the sweet spot that allows them to distribute the ball to Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller while also incorporating Josh Jacobs and the run game
The challenge is not to overdo it, the way the Raiders might have when Adams was targeted 17 times in the season opener against the Chargers. Or underdo it, as they might have when Adams was targeted only seven times Sunday against the Cardinals.
“I just want the ball to go where it’s supposed to,” McDaniels said. “I’ve always said this — the defense gets a vote. I wish I could tell you exactly where it’s going to go on every play, but they get a vote.
“Sometimes the coverage gets distributed, so it forces the ball to go here. And sometimes just the nature of the play, the read is left to right or right to left, and they don’t take away the first option, so you go ahead and throw the football there.”
Where does that leave Carr at the line of scrimmage?
“Derek plays quarterback and runs our offense when he’s on the field,” Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said.
But like all things, there is nuance involved.
The longer Carr played in former coach Jon Gruden’s offense, the more command he had of the playbook and the more his power grew to make changes at the line of scrimmage.
Carr is just months into McDaniels’ offense, so it stands to reason his handle on things is not at the level it was under Gruden.
Therefore, to expect McDaniels to give him complete rein at the line of scrimmage to make play-call changes, or for Carr to have absolute confidence to move off McDaniels’ call for something entirely different, isn’t realistic.
As it stands now, Carr is working within certain parameters, albeit none that is unusually stringent.
“When you install an offense, there’s certain rules that come into play with certain things that you can do whether it’s the run or pass game,” Lombardi said.
That said, it’s not accurate to suggest Carr doesn’t have the flexibility to make adjustments. In fact, he approaches the line scrimmage with multiple options and makes a final call based on what he sees from the defense.
The process of getting to that point unfolds during meetings and practices leading up to the game during which McDaniels and Lombardi — with input from Carr — formulate a play sheet intended to attack that week’s defense.
The objective is to have the answer to whatever Carr sees from the defense on any given play. Whatever call McDaniels relays to Carr from the sideline, Carr still has the final say on whether to stick with it or switch to the alternate play.
Again, that involves meticulous preparation to make sure, as Lombardi said, “we’re all on the same page and understand we’re going to try and do this if we see this and try and do that if we see that.”
Often, the play McDaniels dials up perfectly lines up with the defensive look. In those cases, Carr merely has to make the right read at the line of scrimmage and execute the throw.
That happened quite a bit against the Chargers.
“There were decisions I made that happened before the ball was snapped,” Carr said. “I already knew where the ball was going, and we threw it there.”
But there are just as many instances when Carr has to check to the alternate play, based on the defense. And just as important, he has the ultimate say in where the ball ends up.
“If they fool you on the coverage, then the ball will go somewhere else based on the coverages that Josh has schemed it up for,” Carr said.
Bottom line, in a game for which the defense has an incredible amount of say in the decisions quarterbacks make, it’s naive to think any team can predetermine who gets targeted and when.
“We’re not sitting here trying to count like, ‘We’re going to give him 20 and him 10,’” Carr said.
Who: Raiders at Titans
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Raiders -2½; total 45½