Derek Carr continues to prove that he is the Oakland Raiders’ best chance at redemption. This may seem quite obvious now, but entering the trade deadline it wasn’t so clear. While there have been fans and pundits “stanning” for #4 all season, a significant portion of the Raider fanbase was swinging the other way. Many blamed his contract, others blamed his play, but most were just uncertain how Jon Gruden might approach his future. By now, however, it couldn’t be more clear that Gruden’s fastest path to building a winner is maximizing Carr’s potential.
Calling the opening weeks of his 2018 season rough would be a bit of an understatement. In the season opener at the coliseum, Carr uncharacteristicly tossed three interception after a promising first half.
Through the first seven games, his stat line was abysmal (7 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 1-5 record), and featured possibly his worst front half of football since his rookie season. It was during this stretch that the organization, accepting a tough season for what it is, moved away from his best weapon, Amari Cooper. Cooper immediately took off for the Dallas Cowboys, which made heads turn and question his former quarterback. However, to Carr’s credit, that trade was also the beginning of his own turnaround.
While Cooper’s play in Oakland was by no means the reason for Carr’s shoddy start, his departure was certainly a catalyst. Carr hasn’t thrown a pick since his last game with Cooper, and his play has only been getting stronger. His passer rating has jumped almost 20 points (89.4 w/ Cooper, 105.4 without him) and Carr hasn’t thrown a pick since he left. Now it’s fair to mention that this stretch also includes one of the most demoralizing losses in team history, a week nine 31-point loss to their cross-town rival. A game in which Carr was sacked seven times and did not break 200 yards passing.
That loss was truly a gut check for the ages as the Raider offense only managed 9 points over two weeks. While Carr threw no picks, he did fumble three times and averaged fewer than 250 yards per game. So what changed? Both Jon Gruden and Derek Carr himself admitted that Carr needed more freedom from Gruden. In turn, Carr has audibled more frequently at the line, and taken the shots down the field that he feels the most comfortable with. Additionally the offensive line has gotten marginally healthier and, more importantly, Carr has gotten much much better against the incoming pass rushers with his passer rating almost doubling over the past month when pressured.
Whether or not the improvement over the course of this season sticks will likely determine Carr’s long-term status with the team. Even if the Raiders don’t win another game this season, if Carr can avoid any fatal mistakes, he can cement his status as the future once again. At this point it’s clear that, as in the past, Carr should be the quarterback at least until 2020 and probably beyond. It has taken time for him to adjust to yet another system but the dividends are being paid out. Gruden may not be known as a patient head coach but with this position above all others, it is the most important virtue. After the trades of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, fans have been understandably confused about the direction of this team. Yet much of that confusion can be dispersed if they know that Gruden and Carr will be together for the foreseeable future.