A lot can change in football in two weeks, apparently.
In the wake of the Raiders’ loss at Green Bay on Oct. 20, it was fair to wonder if Derek Carr was more part of the problem than the solution for Oakland after his two turnovers factored heavily into a defeat that could have been much different.
Well, in the past two games, Carr has very much changed the trajectory of his season, and that of the Raiders. He has played outstanding football. None better than in Sunday’s 31-24 victory over the Lions.
It’s as if Carr, perhaps with the counsel of coach Jon Gruden, has finally realized this club no longer requires him to be a gunslinging playmaker to win games.
The Raiders may have a lot of young players at specialty positions — and some of them are very talented and smart — but Carr still is basically driving a souped-up sports car at this point with this offense.
Few quarterbacks in the NFL have enjoyed such good pass protection. The Raiders’ sacks-allowed percentage of 3.44 is second only to Pittsburgh (2.97), and the Raiders have allowed pressure on just 22.4 percent of Carr’s dropbacks. Russell Wilson has been sacked on 6.98 percent of his attempts, and Tom Brady has been pressured on 30.5 percent of his.
The line is also responsible for the Raiders being in the top 10 in rushing in every single metric, including yards per game (136.4, sixth) and per carry (4.79, eighth) — although Josh Jacobs has been individually outstanding.
Then there’s the game-planning and play-calling of Gruden. He’s hitting all the right notes and keeping defensive coordinators — not to mention their defenders — guessing.
In short, it’s good to be Derek Carr. He’s rarely rushed, has the benefit of defenses needing to stop the run first, has multiple targets who can win against defenders, and Gruden is calling all the right plays at the right time.
But Carr also deserves a lot of credit because he’s doing what franchise quarterbacks should: He’s making the crucial plays when they’re needed the most. That was on display against the Lions, when Carr stood out on these five plays:
8:32 first quarter, third-and-6 at Detroit 22
Not only did Carr make a terrific play just to catch Andre James’ low snap off the turf, but he placed his pass perfectly on Hunter Renfrow and away from a hard-charging defender in just 1.75 seconds. Carr might not have even had time to put his fingers on the laces.
Three plays later, the Raiders scored to take a 7-0 lead. On the next series, Carr also tracked down an errant James snap and had the wherewithal to throw it away without getting a grounding penalty to save the team three points.
5:03 second quarter, third-and-3 at Oakland 27
This might have been Carr’s finest play and it was mostly because of his mind. He likely knew Lions coach Matt Patricia has a strong tendency to blitz on third down in his own territory from his days as Patriots defensive coordinator. So when Carr saw the Lions had nine players near the tackle box and a cornerback went with receiver Zay Jones in motion — a dead giveaway for man coverage and, likely, a blitz — Carr changed the play at the line.
He switched to a perfect beater against Detroit’s zero (all-out) blitz that basically set up two possible legal picks for Darren Waller. The talented tight end broke free, Carr put it on him, and Waller’s 21-yard gain moved the chains.
3:19 second quarter, third-and-13 at Oakland 46
Four plays after the Waller play, Carr made one using his right arm. With great protection, he waited for Tyrell Williams to come across the field, then rifled a perfect pass among four defenders that only Williams could catch. Carr gave a huge fist pump after that play. He knew how good it was. It was a terrific throw and catch.
5:16 fourth quarter, first-and-10 at Oakland 25
This was a drive that was going to win or lose the game. On the first play, the Raiders changed formation and put Carr back into the shotgun in a move that was pre-planned and a Gruden game-plan special.
But Carr also recognized the Lions’ man coverage and made hand and verbal signals to running back Jalen Richard. He likely was telling Richard to change to a vertical wheel route since he would likely have a mismatch against a slower linebacker. It worked perfectly as Carr lofted a terrific — if highly dangerous — pass over Richard’s shoulder for a 31-yard gain.
2:10 fourth quarter, third-and-9 at Detroit 9
If the Raiders make the postseason, you might be able to come back to this play. If it fails and Oakland kicks a field goal, they likely lose. Carr initially doesn’t have anyone open as the Lions have six defenders in the end zone against the Raiders’ four targets.
Carr feels backside pressure from Lions end Trey Flowers and keeps the play alive by rolling left. He buys enough time for Renfrow to work back to the front pylon. Carr fires a pass that only Renfrow can catch — a very difficult play for a right-handed passer. The touchdown gave the Raiders a lead they would ultimately hold.
Carr may have had some issues shaking his playmaking roots earlier this season, but he and Gruden are clearly getting in a groove.
It’s fun to watch.
Derek Carr: Is finally realizing his full potential in an offense that suits his strengths perfectly.
Richie Incognito: Still prone unneccesary penalties, but he was perfect in pass protection and kicked butt pulling in the running game.
Clelin Ferrell: Had the look of a top pick as he posted four quarterback pressures and was a force in the running game.
Tahir Whitehead: The book is out on the Raiders’ linebackers — throw on them early and often. Alllowed six receptions for 109 yards.
Andre James: Three poor shotgun snaps were only part of his issues as he struggled blocking as well.
Johnathan Hankins: Gave up too much territory in the run game and didn’t bring any pass rush.