Derek Carr is proving Raiders right for sticking with him through unfair criticism

Derek Carr probably shouldn’t have been subjected to so much doubt from fans and coaches in the first place. His 2019 season was better than his 2018 season, and his 2018 season was better than his 2017 season. He was a solid quarterback for an organization with scant knowledge of solid quarterbacks.

But when the Raiders played their final game in Oakland last year, there was a sense Carr might not make it to Las Vegas as the team’s starter. The team signed Marcus Mariota, bringing competition to the table, and projected minimal public confidence in him.

We wrote in December 2019 that Carr had been scapegoated for deeper organizational problems and that he could surprise observers in a less toxic culture. But even the most strident believers in the Fresno State product probably didn’t anticipate his level of play through the first eight games of 2020.

Carr enters Sunday’s rivalry showdown with the Broncos as a legitimate top-10 passer in the NFL and one of the primary reasons the Raiders could reach the playoffs. A home win over Denver would move them to 6-3 — just the third time they would have a record of that caliber at this point in a campaign since 2000.

Carr ranks fifth in the NFL in passer rating (110.0), fifth in completion percentage (69.8 percent), 10th in passing touchdown percentage (6.2 percent) and third in interception percentage (0.8 percent). He has not thrown a pass to a wide receiver older than 27. Two of his leading targets, Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs III, are still in the earliest stages of their careers. Running back Josh Jacobs is in his second NFL season.

The lack of experience around him has not deterred his play in the clutch — a period of games some have accused him of shriveling within. He holds a 116.6 passer rating on third down. He holds a 111.1 passer rating on the road. He holds a 105.9 passer rating in the second half of contests.

Head coach Jon Gruden sent veiled shots at Carr before this year, questioning his ability to throw deep. But he’s become a staunch advocate of Carr in 2020 as the signal-caller has expanded his range to record a career-high adjusted net yards gained per pass attempt (8.7).

“This guy’s a great quarterback,” Gruden said earlier in the season. “We’re surrounding him with better players. And once our defense, I think, starts playing to their potential, he can even be better.”

Carr does have one problem that continues to plague him: fumbling when the pocket collapses. No one in the NFL has more than his eight cough-ups (five of which have been lost). But because he has thrown only two interceptions all season, the issue is more forgivable now than it has been in the past.

The Raiders have a better than 50 percent chance of making the playoffs this year in what would mark their second trip there since 2002. Carr led the team in its only other appearance in that span — a 12-4 record in 2016 clinched a wild-card berth — but an injury kept him off the field for a first-round loss to the Texans.

He could now become the first person in his family to actually play in a postseason contest after he and his brother David have spent a combined 16 years failing to do so. His uncle Lon Boyett also missed out in his lone NFL campaign in 1978.

Getting this young Raiders offense to the playoffs would be further proof of Derek Carr’s excellence, and perhaps convincing-enough evidence for his remaining detractors that he has become a valuable asset for the Raiders.

Source: Read Full Article