Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr seeing the worm turning very quickly on him


Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is facing a lot of heat for recent sub-par play, but history suggests that better days may well be ahead.

From the moment the Oakland Raiders took Derek Carr out of Fresno State in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he’s had his detractors. Believe it or not, there’s a pretty small, but vocal, segment of the Raider Nation who aren’t convinced that Carr is the right guy to lead the franchise – and never have been.

And now, given his struggles throughout the 2017 season – struggles that have started to bleed into the 2018 campaign – the seat beneath Carr is likely starting to grow very warm as the worm turns, and those detractors start to grow even louder, and more fervent in their opposition.

This segment of the Nation who’ve opposed Carr from the start and are the most vocal now – let’s call them, “Carr Truthers,” – think the organization would have been better off going another way. Indeed, the “Truthers” believe the Raiders should have gone with Matt McGloin and/or Terrelle Pryor under center for the Silver and Black, and used that second-round pick elsewhere.

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Yeah, seriously.

And unfortunately, given Carr’s play of late, he’s only given the “Truthers” more fuel to stoke their fires. The 2017 season was an absolute dumpster fire from the word go, and it spiraled into mass choas, dissent, and dysfunction.

We all know how that went.

A year after making the playoffs with a 12-4 record (and coming within a whisker of winning their first AFC West title since the Mesozoic Era), expectations were sky high for the team. Coming into 2017, there was even what we thought at the time, was legitimate Super Bowl buzz.

But then the Raiders went out and laid a fat, smelly, 6-10 egg, that got Jack Del Rio run out on a rail, and wholesale changes made to the team.

Carr suffered a transverse process fracture in his back early one in the year – a year after a broken leg knocked him out late in the year – and to be honest, he hasn’t looked the same since. Which only serves to reinforce the belief of the “Truthers.”

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Having signed what was, at the time, a record-breaking five-year, $125 million dollar contract extension to be Oakland’s signal caller of the present and future, a ton of heavy expectations were put on Carr’s shoulders.

And rightly so. When you’re being paid like the franchise quarterback you’re supposed to be, you have got to produce results – especially, in an industry that’s more results-driven than any other.

And if we’re being honest, to date, the return on investment has been very – limited.

The “Truthers” like to pin most – if not all – of the blame for Oakland’s shortcomings on Carr, and Carr alone. And he certainly does bear much responsibility for the teams collapse. He did not play up to par, and to be fair, he certainly didn’t play like a franchise quarterback

The blame though, despite what some seem to believe, was far from Carr’s to bear alone.

The problems in Oakland last season ran deeper than Carr – though, to be fair, he didn’t help the situation much. There was dysfunction in the locker room, an offensive and defensive coordinator who couldn’t game plan well enough to beat a Pop Warner team, and a head coach who didn’t take an active role in trying to fix the problems.

Suffice it to say, top to bottom, the Raiders were an absolute dumpster fire last season.

But, with a new coaching regime, comes new life, right? Gruden, long known as an offensive innovator and quarterback guru, was going to take Carr to the next level. Help him rank among the league’s elite passers. Right?

Of course, the “Truthers” refuse to believe it can happen. They believe we’ve seen Carr’s ceiling already – and the egg Carr laid in the season opener against the Rams certainly did nothing to help his cause.

Despite going 20/24 for 199 yards, leading the Raiders to a strong advantage in most every measurable metric, and helping stake Oakland to a halftime lead against a team many think will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end, Carr would up on the losing end of that game – in many different ways.

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Carr and the offense imploded, suffocated beneath the stifling, star-studded Rams defense in the second half. And Oakland’s defense couldn’t stop the moment, or turn the tide of LA running off 23 straight, completely unanswered points – though, seven of those points are a result of a pick-six thrown by Carr.

The dismal game – or rather, the dismal second half – renewed the fire of the “Truthers,” some of whom are actually calling for the Raiders to start the recently acquired, and wholly underwhelming A.J. McCarron over Carr.

Yeah, the same McCarron who couldn’t beat out rookie Josh Allen, or walking dumpster fire Nathan Peterman for a job in Buffalo. Yeah, that would go really well.

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Ever since last season, there have been whispers from some corners that Carr has a case of the yips. That he’s scared to stand in the pocket, and even more scared to take a hit. They’re not questioning his toughness, just his courage. They point to his quick release, and willingness to check down as proof that they’re right.

While there may be a little bit of PTSD from Carr being injured twice in the last two years, the more likely culprit for his struggles aren’t phantom defenders – after all, he’s been playing football his whole life and has absorbed plenty of shits over the years. If he was scared of taking a shot, we likely would have seen it a lot earlier than this.

No, it seems more likely that the issue is indeed between Carr’s ears – just not in the sense the “Truthers” mean.

What some of these folks fail to give credence to, is the fact that this is Carr’s fourth offensive coordinator, and fourth offensive system in his five years in the league. He’s gone from Greg Olson, to Bill Musgrave, to Todd Downing, and now to Gruden.

And under Gruden, Carr has a lot more responsibility than he’s ever had before – responsibility in a very complex offensive system. We all know Gruden is a perfectionist who expects his quarterbacks to know and understand the system even better than he does. He gives them tremendous freedom at the line, and allows them to change the plays.

But, they have to know every read, every route, and every last detail better than anybody on the team.

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OAKLAND, CA – SEPTEMBER 10: Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders grabs his ankle after a play against the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 10, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

That sort of knowledge and proficiency is going to take a minute to learn and sort out. He had an easier time of it in the first half, obviously, but then the Rams made their adjustments, and turned the heat up – and Gruden didn’t adjust well, or quick, enough to it.

Carr and the Raiders went straight down the drain, after that, leading to the lopsided 33-13 drubbing.

Of course, Carr threw three avoidable, and incredibly damaging picks. In that second half, he made some very poor decisions, and tried to force things that weren’t there. At least, he did in the eight minutes he was actually on the field over that second half.

There is a lot going on, and life came at Carr fast in that second half. And what he proved is not necessarily that he’s jumping at shadows, or is afraid to absorb a hit. What he seemed to prove though, is that he’s not yet skilled and proficient in Gruden’s offense.

What he proved is that it’s going to take a minute to get himself and the offense into high gear – or, even out of first gear, truth be told.

But, before you flip out, and start chanting for McCarron, just take a quick look back at a little history. History that should be at least, a little reassuring, and history that should show you that, even though Carr’s first game in Gruden’s system was a little rough and uneven, things will be okay.

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Las Vegas Raiders

Rewind back to the year 1999. Gruden is beginning his rookie season as a head coach, and his quarterback is Rich Gannon – a career journeyman backup, who had never started a full 16-game slate in any one season.

After going through all of the offseason work, training camp, and everything else in between, Gruden, Gannon, and the Raiders opened that 1999 season against the Green Bay Packers – and lost, 28-24.

In that game, Gannon didn’t look particularly good running Gruden’s system for the first time in a live game. He finished the day, 16/31 for 227 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, and took four sacks, for a QB rating of 62.2.

And oh yeah, it’s not like Gannon was squaring off with a defense that featured the likes of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Aaron Donald, and Ndamukong Suh. No, that year, Green Bay was led on the corners by Mike McKenzie and Tyrone Williams., and a pass rush that generated just 30 sacks for the entire year.

Not exactly a stellar start to Gannon’s career with the Raiders – but, we can all probably agree now, in hindsight, that things turned out okay. Oakland hasn’t had a season even remotely as close to successful as the Gruden/Gannon years were – except for 2016.

But, the point is, it took a minute for Gannon to settle into the groove of running Gruden’s offense. Took him a minute to get comfortable with all of the nuances and complexities, and to feel comfortable enough with the sheer volume of responsibility on his plate.

But eventually, he got it. He got there. To the tune of four Pro Bowls, two All-Pro selections, one league MVP award, and one Super Bowl appearance.

Though the “Truthers” will say different, there doesn’t seem to be any question among most, that Carr has the upside to be even better than Gannon. It’s figuring out how to unlock that potential that will be Gruden’s biggest challenge.

All of that being said, yes, Carr absolutely needs to step up and play like the franchise quarterback he’s being paid to be. If he is seeing phantom pass rushers, he needs to go see an exorcist immediately. If it’s an issue with the amount of information on his plate, he’s going to need to find a way to process it faster.

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As Carr goes, so this team goes. If he plays like he did in the first half against the Rams, there isn’t a team in the league the Raiders can’t hang with. If he plays like he did in the second half, there isn’t a team in the league they’re going to beat.

Carr has tremendous upside. He can be one of the league’s elite. But, if he can’t find a way to channel that potential, and unleash the franchise quarterback many believe he can be, don’t think Gruden will hesitate to pull the plug.

The worm is turning, and there is an increasing number of voices displeased with his efforts so far – mostly from the “Truthers” at this point. But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Carr needs to figure it out, and he needs to figure it out quickly.