The Las Vegas Raiders are 3-0 and winning games relying on quarterback Derek Carr’s magnificent right arm. Balance has long been the key to head coach Jon Gruden’s football nirvana. The elephant in the room is will Gruden pull the reins back on his team.
Carr is throwing 45 times a game. Be interesting to see if Gruden keeps it going or runs the ball like he always has. . https://t.co/YlrgWlJTMT
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) September 28, 2021
Carr’s Pedal Is To The Metal…
Three games into the season, and Carr has been simply sensational. He is exuding mastery while taking Gruden’s offense and bending it to his will. Carr’s quarterback ranking is 101.4, tying the highest mark of his career. He’s leading the league in passing yards with 1,203 yards and averaging a whopping 401.0 yards per game. Currently, he’s on pace to throw for 6,817 yards which would obliterate the single-season passing record (Peyton Manning’s 5,477 in 2013).
The 2021 season is more or less Carr’s audition for his next big contract. That is why it is in Gruden’s best interest to clear the highway and floor the gas pedal in his ‘Carr.’ Having set the market at quarterback once before, Carr may look to try and do it again.
Carr has thrown the ball 136 times, completing 88 passes and converting 52 first downs through the air, second only to Tom Brady. His 9.2 intended air yards per pass attempt is the deepest it’s ever been in his career by one whole yard. In terms of completed air yards per completion, Carr’s averaging 7.9 yards. That is nearly two whole yards more than any other year.
The Four Horsemen
“We have a lot of confidence in our receiving core. They may be young but they’re talented, they’re reliable, they’re tough and they’re versatile. And they are explosive, and if you center your attentions on [Darren] Waller, I think these young guys are proving that they can do some damage as well. They got to continue to get better and better. They’re not perfect yet, none of us are, but we’re seeing a lot of progress.” -Jon Gruden
Luckily, Carr’s surrounded by receivers having the best hands the Raiders have seen in a long time. Four Raiders receivers have over 200 yards receiving on the season in the first three weeks. Darren Waller is arguably in the conversation for Top 3 tight end in the league. Waller is in his third year with Carr and is his number one target regardless of coverage. After getting targeted 19 times against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, he has seen a reduction in targets.
Forcing teams to double team Waller has led to second-year receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards emerging as viable threats. Breaking open their chrysalis, they have become the perfect compliment to each other. Edwards is the imposing physical man-child to Ruggs’ twitchy athleticism and flash-like speed. Hunter Renfrow’s short-area quickness and change of direction ability give defenders fits. His late-down heroics and propensity for converting first downs make him a nightmare in the slot.
Young line? No problem
Carr has stood tall in the face of defensive pressure. At last tally, the 46 times he’s been blitzed, is second-most in the league. Meanwhile, he has navigated around a patchwork offensive line decimated by injury, tested in the trials of fire and under-siege week after week.
The offensive line hasn’t been what many projected. However, it isn’t quite as bad as it appears on the television screen. A line comprised of a rookie right tackle playing the opposite of his college career, a free agent acquisition at right guard, a first-year starter at center, and a second-year left guard. Meanwhile, Kolton Miller is allowing pressure on 25.9% of his dropbacks. As outrageous as that number may feel, it places them in the middle of the pack at the 15th most pressured percentage.
For a young line, they have held up well. Despite allowing pressure on 38 throws (19 hurries, 11 quarterback hits, and eight sacks), the line can produce some positivity on the stat sheet. The 2.4 seconds worth of pocket time is tied for 11th best in the league.
Pulse of the offense
There is no conceivably good reason as to why Gruden should take the ball out of his best player’s hands. Carr is playing out of his mind, almost as if the hair he’s growing has spontaneously combusted. Run blocking for this offensive line has been horrendously atrocious, a true exercise in futility.
The Raiders are collectively averaging a meager 91.3 yards on the ground per game, good enough for the seventh-lowest in the league, and 3.4 yards per carry is the fifth-lowest. Unable to convert short-yardage situations or getting a push down at the goal line is a travesty. With or without Josh Jacobs, the run game has been abysmal.
The offense is rolling when Carr’s in the gun and executing the spread offense. Going to the run game to try and run the clock has forced the Raiders into disaster nearly every time. This defense is good enough to play with a lead if Gruden doesn’t start unsuccessfully trying to squeeze the air out of the ball. If the Raiders are to continue making noise, it will be because Carr has ascended to the next level.
*Top Photo: Associated Press/Rick Scuteri