Is Derek Carr The Same Quarterback He Was Before The Broken Ankle?

Is the Carr broken?

Ever since his season-ending injury on Christmas Eve two years ago, Derek Carr hasn’t quite looked the same. Well, actually that isn’t entirely true. Carr was dominant out of the gate in 2017 with offensive coordinator Todd Downing, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games. But since then, Carr has thrown 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his last 14 games.

It will be a year on Monday since Carr and the Raiders put up 45 points on the Jets and the team’s record since Beast Mode’s Coliseum dance is 4-11.

Some have speculated (aggressively even) that Carr isn’t as comfortable in the pocket since his ankle injury, but looking back to his film in 2016, Carr actually looks much the same. He had the same happy feet before his ankle injury and he has always had a tendency to throw off his back foot.

Let’s take a look.

In week nine of 2016, Carr faced a tough Denver secondary and one of his impressive throws in the game (below) was a back-foot lob to Amari Cooper that would have been a touchdown if not for a pass interference call in the end zone.

Not suggesting it’s a good habit, but Brett Favre got away with throwing off his back foot for years. These throws are nothing new for Derek.

In week four of the same year, Carr shredded the Baltimore defense with four touchdown passes, but had only 199 passing yards on 35 attempts. Carr picked apart the Ravens secondary with quick throws and even offered one of his patented premature throw-aways on third down (below). He had maybe a 50/50 chance of beating a Baltimore linebacker (not shown) to the first down marker, but also had a receiver on the sideline who could have improvised his route had Carr not thrown the pass away so quickly.

Would it be nice if Carr threw the ball away a little less often? Yes, but it’s nothing new.

He’s long been conditioned to avoid sacks and interceptions. Now the gifted lob toss to a Rams linebacker last week – that was something new. Carr said he changed his mind during the throw and the result was a completion to a wide open defender.

An issue Carr faced against the Rams all night was interior pressure. He simply wasn’t able to step into the pocket and it kept him uncomfortable. Take this touchdown throw to Michael Crabtree in 2016 and look at the push (or lack thereof) the defensive interior is getting.

Another observation is Carr’s mental clock seems to accelerate when defensive ends get behind him. On his deeper drops or times when he can see the pass rush (like below), Carr was lethal in 2016.

Now let’s look at two throws from Carr in the Raiders win over the Panthers in 2016. The first is a 3rd and 11 where he converts a laser throw to a tight end. Again, Carr is deeper in the pocket than both defensive ends and the pocket is about as clean as it ever was against the Rams.

And this touchdown strike in the fourth quarter of the same game. The Raiders interior line was spectacular again. Look where both defensive ends are as he makes the throw.

This kind of blocking showed up almost every week in 2016. Against the Bills, Carr faced every blitz imaginable. The throw on the play below came against a six-man rush. But once again, he had the ends in front of him and the interior line gave up only three yards of push. Carr stepped up here and threw a 28-yard strike to Mychal Rivera.

Being in his second season with Bill Musgrave in 2016, Carr and his receivers had a better understanding of where everyone was going to be. That was the case in almost every game. There was far less miscommunication it seemed between Carr and his receivers that year.

Fast forward one more time to Monday night and many of Carr’s throws came from pockets that looked nothing like what he saw in 2016. First, the 45-yard reception by Jared Cook.

No room for Carr to breathe.

Next is one of the three plays where Amari Cooper got open downfield. Yes, one of the ones Gruden talked about this week.

Here you’ll find Carr at the bottom of a trash heap of protection and the ball is only a few feet out of his hand. He was lucky to get the ball anywhere, much less 30 yards downfield to Cooper on his second read.

One of Carr’s best throws (probably his best) against the Rams was this perfectly placed pass over a defender to Cook for 28 yards. Carr had room to step into the throw and again the entire pass rush is in front of him.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the one sack Carr took on Monday night. What’s wrong with this picture is the wide receivers are barely two yards down the field and four Rams pass rushers are already four yards into the backfield.

Carr stepped up and tried to scramble, but Michael Brockers (90) brought him down from behind.

In almost every way, Carr looked the same on Monday night that he did in 2016. His command of the offense, his presence in the pocket, and even his demeanor on the field looked familiar. What didn’t look the same was the consistent pressure the Rams brought and the poor decisions Carr made – most coming in the fourth quarter.

Was Carr spooked by pressure that occasionally wasn’t there? Maybe, but not any more than what we saw in 2016.

Does that mean the Raiders are toast if they can’t protect the quarterback? Well, maybe. Carr isn’t going to win games like Russell Wilson by running around like a wild turkey. He also isn’t the only quarterback who can’t win that way.

What Jon Gruden needs to do is find ways to give Carr more room to breathe in the pocket. Whether it comes by adding numbers in protection or finding ways to move the pocket, Gruden will get his MVP-caliber quarterback when his MVP-caliber quarterback has more clean pockets to throw from. It might also be nice to see Carr take deeper drops a little more often.

There’s no question Carr likes to dunk and dunk. Peyton Manning loved it, too. The key for Carr is going to be finding opportunities to take more shots downfield by getting another second or two in the pocket. Maybe Gruden will be more creative this week in creating those opportunities.

Carr was asked after the Rams game if he was playing skittish because of recent injuries and he flatly denied it. After comparing film, I think he was telling the truth. As he gets more comfortable in Gruden’s offense and the offensive line plays better, there’s no reason to think Carr can’t return to his 2016 form.

Let’s see if that can start on Sunday in Denver.

twitter: @raidersbeat


13 thoughts on “Is Derek Carr The Same Quarterback He Was Before The Broken Ankle?

  1. I don’t think he has been the same QB since his break in 2016, if not for that we might have gone to the super bowl. Now he looks gun shy, he threw the ball away 5 times when being pressured. Like he don’t want to get hit. Two very important INT’s, first one could have been a TD for us (could have been a game changer). Then disaster struck when Peters took one in for a pick six. I’m not giving up on him, but we need him to show some balls and get the ball out to Cooper. We need to beat the donkeys. GO RAIDERS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Well detailed article and nicely written. Too bad Gruden won’t read it. Maybe someone could show it to the OL coach?

  3. One thing I’m curious to see would be the percentage of plays behind center and in the shotgot , a lot of those pictures that show him deep in the pocket either the defenders in sight , was that a shotgun formation ? just curious I can’t remember how often I saw him in the shotgun on Monday night , I remember reading before that always being in the shotgun made the running game a bit more difficult, correct me if I’m wrong on any of this

  4. Great article! All of the other articles/comments have been that Carr has completely regressed and is scared/ruined because of his prior injuries.

  5. Excellent analysis. Even Brady has trouble with pass rush up the middle. More mobile QB’s can survive, but not pocket QB’s. With a little more time, he’ll be deadly.

  6. Great article with excellent points. I noticed a subtle difference in Derek Carr’s demeanor going back toward the beginning of last season. It seems that he may be over thinking things and situations prior to and after the snap. Carr used to be much more instinctive, free-flowing, and not adverse to risk-taking.

  7. Excellent article. Gives a lot of great examples and perspective in layman’s terms. Very good read here

  8. What they laid out on the field week 1 especially in the 2nd half starts with the head coach. It was his bright idea to handicap the team by moving the left tackle to right and starting a raw rookie at left. Plus the first team offense played very little in the preseason to develop chemistry. As it turns out guys still got injured week one: Hall, Ellis, Jackson, and Hudson.

    For as much tape as this guy claims to have watched he would have noticed that. He would have also noticed coaches moving that pocket for the quarterback in 2015 & 2016.

    He chose to hire Tom Cable. These guys gotta block better. There’s a lot of money invested in the interior.

  9. I think play action will help him tremendously. I wonder if Gruden just didn’t want to show all his cards in week 1 knowing they probably wouldn’t win the season opening w a new coaching staff and so many new faces.

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