The Raiders have invested more than $40 million in their offensive line this season, not to mention having used first- and third-round draft picks within the past five seasons. Their primary jobs are to open holes for running back Marshawn Lynch and keep quarterback Derek Carr safe for long enough to find open receivers.
For the most part, the Raiders offensive line succeeds quite well in both areas. At some point, it’s incumbent upon head coach Jon Gruden and Carr to go all-in with their trust in the offensive line and let the big guys up front be the focal point of the offense.
During Oakland’s season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams, ESPN displayed a graphic about how quickly Carr was getting rid of the ball. As if that was a good thing.
Um, it’s only a positive thing if Carr is releasing the ball that soon on average as a result of their being constant pressure from the defense and receivers are open in that amount of time. Last season, he was fourth in the league with an average release time of 2.49 seconds. He was tied for sixth in 2016, with the same time. In Week 1 games this season, Carr was fourth at 2.46 seconds.
Take Carr’s second interception Monday, for example. He had a clean pocket and wasn’t in danger of being hit or sacked when he lofted a pass toward the left sideline despite the fact the only person anywhere near the ball was a Rams defender.
The play was to move around, wait for a receiver to get open, then cut loose. Time and again Monday, Carr got rid of the ball as soon as he spotted an open receiver or at the first hint of pressure. The first thing is fine, though waiting a bit longer might yield an open receiver in position to make an even bigger play.
The reality is, Carr has developed a maddening penchant for getting rid of the ball, and that manifested itself long before Monday night.
Consider this from former head coach Jack Del Rio last season:
“Derek is one of the best in the league in making quick decisions to get the ball out of his hands,” Del Rio said after the Buffalo game last season. ‘Yesterday there were some occasions where we look at the film and he looks at it and says, ‘I had more time. I wasn’t under duress. I had more time to scan the field and take some of the shots that we had designed to take.’ Get the ball down the field the way we can, the way he’s capable of. Those are things that are there.”
Late in the first half of that Bills game, Carr dumped the ball to running back Jalen Richard — sound familiar? — even though the called play was for a deep pass into the end zone, a hail mary.
“That was a called throw into the end zone, so would like to give that more time, let those guys get down there and take a shot at it,” Del Rio said. “That’s the whole idea. That’s what we practice. That’s what we prepared to do in that situation. It’s not a high-percentage play, but you get your one in 10. We’ll take it. That was an opportunity there at the end of the half after we had the misfortune with the fumble go back the other way and all that to try and take a shot there. So, yes, that was called and needed to be executed much better.”
Here’s how Carr rationalized that play:
“The way I play is that I’m looking vertical,” Carr said. “I’m looking for the big one. I’ve been trying to take it, and if it’s not there I have to get it out quick and let our guys run with it and go get what we can.”
Finally, more from Del Rio on the subject:
“He’s a really gifted player. We benefit from him being a quick decision-maker. It’s the awareness of the fact that we’re doing a good job protecting him, and we do have a little bit more time. Take that time. Get some of those shots down the field that we’d like to hit.”
On Tuesday, Gruden wasn’t quite sure why No. 1 wide receiver Amari Cooper was targeted only three and caught one pass for 9 yards against the Rams.
“Cooper was open deep, he was open a couple times,” Gruden said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t go there,”
Where did Carr go? Well, take a look at the chart below, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats, and you’ll see that Carr mostly went where he could get the ball out quickly, which meant within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
He completed one pass beyond 15 yards and only three beyond 7 yards. Yet, his stats looked impressive — 29 of 40 for 303 yards and a quick release.