Raider Nation has seen two sides of Derek Carr in his time as the team’s quarterback.
The first version was a confident and aggressive quarterback, which was seen throughout the first three years of his career. This included an MVP Caliber season in 2016, a season that was good enough to earn him a $125 million contract with $70 million guaranteed.
Then, he got injured.
This injury presented us with a different version of Carr. His 2017 season was far less impressive. He did play through back injuries, but he looked hesitant and afraid during a majority of the season. Carr looked completely unlike anything we had seen from him before. The play calling was awful and Todd Downing was an easy person to blame but Carr still failed to meet expectations.
After that coaching staff was jettisoned, Jon Gruden came to power and it seemed as if he could be the coach to revive the old Derek Carr. We saw him turn a journeyman quarterback into the Most Valuable Player in 2002 with Rich Gannon. Just imagine what he could do with Carr.
Monday’s game was an incredibly accurate comparison to Carr’s career. In the first half, he came out of the gate guns blazin’. He looked confident and aggressive again. We got to see the 2016 version again. For a moment it looked like Gruden really did bring back the real quarterback Raider Nation had been expecting.
Then, Aaron Donald tackled Carr around the legs, the same spot where Carr was injured in 2016. He got up and was seen exchanging what seemed to be heated words with Donald, something we don’t really see from Carr, ever.
That was the moment his game turned around. He stopped being aggressive and relied on check-downs to his running back, Jalen Richard to move the ball down the field. All of a sudden, after Donald reminded him he had that leg injury almost two years ago, he appeared to fear the pass rush all night. He didn’t step into his throws. Instead of scrambling to extend plays, he just threw the ball away whenever a defender got within three yards of him. The flashback was over, and we were sent back into reality; the Derek Carr we have now.
Clean pocket throwaway pic.twitter.com/OOEnPJKsvs
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 11, 2018
The interceptions were just ugly. The first one wasn’t too bad, when he tried to throw a jump ball to Jared Cook in the end-zone. It was a good decision, Cook was in the middle of one of the best games a Raiders’ tight end has ever recorded, and he was matched up with a smaller defender. The ball was just under-thrown a little, and the defender had perfect coverage, and made a great play.
The next two were much worse. His second came on a 1st and 10 at the Rams 40 yard line. At this point, the Raiders were down 23-13 with about 8 minutes left in regulation, so they needed to score on that drive. Carr felt an inside pass rush from Aaron Donald. He could have easily scrambled to the right, where he was looking at the moment, and extended the play. Instead he panicked, turned around, and just tossed the ball toward the sideline, right at Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. His reaction looks as if he and Jalen Richard weren’t on the same page. Whether they were or not, the bottom line is that Carr panicked and got rid of ball as soon as he felt pressure.
His last one was simple. He stared down Jared Cook as he came across the middle, and Marcus Peters made a great read. In the first quarter, we saw the Carr we all remembered. The Carr that put his team on his back, and carried his franchise to the postseason for the first time in 14 years. Then after getting hit in the leg, he reverted back to the player he was last season. Afraid to step up in the pocket, or extend plays.
Only Derek Carr knows which version we’ll see for the rest of this season. Optimists can point to his first half, and claim the old Derek is back. Pessimists will look at his second half and claim he’s regressed a lot since that 2016 season. Will we get our old Carr back? Or will we have to get used to this new, less impressive Carr? Only time will tell.