There Are Plenty of Reasons to Be Excited About Derek Carr

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterOctober 15, 2014

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr threw four touchdown passes on Sunday in the 31-28 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but what is the tape telling us about the rookie?

Let’s take a look at Carr and discuss why the second-round pick was able to target the top of the Chargers secondary and make plays outside of the pocket while bringing some excitement to the Raiders franchise.

Confidence to Challenge the Secondary

With rookie quarterbacks, I’m always curious to see how they manage the football game.

Do they play it safe, take the checkdown and try to work ahead of the sticks? Or will they challenge the defense, attack throwing windows and take calculated shots to test the top of the secondary?

This past Sunday, Carr played with confidence and showed some swagger when he targeted the Chargers secondary with the deep ball, the back-shoulder fade and the comeback.

Carr wasn’t shy about attacking the Chargers defensive backs, and when he found the matchup he wanted, he put the ball up to create opportunities for his receivers.

Here’s an example on the back-shoulder fade to wide receiver Andre Holmes with Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field for Oakland.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

This is a “Seattle” concept from the Raiders (three verticals, shallow cross combo) out of a 3x1 Doubles Slot formation, with Holmes matched up versus rookie cornerback Jason Verrett.

Holmes takes an outside release and stems this route vertically up the field versus a single-high safety look from the Chargers with Eric Weddle cutting the backside shallow crossing route.

Carr puts some air under this ball and throws it to the back shoulder of Holmes—away from the defender’s leverage. That gives Holmes the opportunity to climb the ladder, adjust to the football and use his frame (6’4”, 210 lbs) to produce an explosive gain.

Early in the first quarter, the Raiders caught the Chargers and Weddle on a “jump” technique (or “cut”) with Holmes matched up one-on-one outside versus Brandon Flowers.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Flowers is playing from an outside leverage position, with the Chargers sending five-man pressure. However, with Weddle driving downhill on the shallow crossing route, Holmes can stem this route back inside to expose the lack of help over the top.

That allows Carr to read the safety coming downhill and target Holmes on a route working away from the initial leverage position of Flowers.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Carr puts some touch on the throw and drops this ball over the inside shoulder of Holmes (once the receiver gains separation down the field) to produce a 77-yard score.

Carr didn’t complete every deep-ball opportunity versus the Chargers, but I love the fact that he wasn’t afraid to take a shot.

Go back to the double-move to Holmes, the trail route to Darren McFadden (when the Raiders motioned the back out of the core of the formation) or even the “sluggo” to Brice Butler that ended the game on a Verrett interception.

Verrett played the ball at the highest point to close this one out, but I still like the idea of the young quarterback trying to win the game because he trusts his receivers and his own ability to make a play.

Velocity/Ball Placement

When I was at the Senior Bowl this past January down in Mobile, Alabama, Carr’s ability to deliver the ball with velocity stood out on the practice field.

Whether that was the deep out, the 7 cut (corner route) or the 3-step passing game (slant), it was easy to see that Carr could put some heat on the ball.

That showed up on the tape with the third down slant route to Butler, the touchdown pass to James Jones off the “hop” release (option route) and two boot schemes when Carr extended the play outside of the pocket.

The first boot pass I want to look at focuses on Carr’s ability to set his feet and throw the deep comeback to Jones.

This is a good route by the former Packer, with Jones stemming hard up the field to eat up the cornerback’s cushion.

However, my focus is on the footwork and ball velocity from Carr.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Carr has time here to come to balance, set his feet and identify Jones on the comeback. The rookie throws this ball at the top of the route (break point for Jones) and puts it on the upfield shoulder (with velocity).

In the fourth quarter, Carr gave the Raiders the lead on the swap boot out of a split-back alignment with Regular/21 personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) on the field.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

As you can see here, Carr buys time by extending this play outside of the numbers. That allows Holmes to stem the underneath crossing route vertically behind the free safety (Weddle) to the corner of the end zone.

This is a heck of a throw from Carr (given the game situation) as he once again delivers the ball with velocity to the upfield shoulder of the receiver from a position outside of the pocket.

These are just two examples, but it’s obvious that Carr can sling the ball. There is no question about that after watching the tape.

Taking the Underneath Options

For all of the deep-ball talk I mentioned above, there were still situations when Carr made the proper decision (based on coverage scheme and matchup) to find his checkdown option or target an underneath receiver within the route combination.

This is an example with the same “Seattle” route we looked at before out of Regular/21 personnel, with the Raiders removing fullback Marcel Reece from the core of the formation as the backside “X” receiver (“Dakota” alignment).

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

With the Chargers playing Cover 3, the Raiders push the second-level defenders down the field to the closed side of the formation (vertical releases). That creates a vacated zone underneath for Reece to run the shallow crosser (or shallow drive route).

Carr reads the coverage, identifies his underneath option and targets Reece, with the fullback in a position to secure the catch and move the sticks.

Here’s another example on Butler’s touchdown reception with Carr reading to the open side of the formation and coming back to the closed side to find his third option in the progression.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The Raiders are running a slant-fade combo to the open side. However, Carr comes off the two-level read, resets his feet and finds Butler underneath on the option route.

Get the ball out, and let the receiver make a play in the open field.

This is a part of the development process for Carr, but with more game reps, I believe we will see an even quicker progression from the rookie quarterback as the season rolls on.

Read high to low and then check it down based on the pre-snap alignment and coverage rotation of the secondary.

The Next Step for Carr

Carr wasn’t perfect in his execution, and he did miss on some opportunities versus the Chargers, but that’s expected from a rookie when you watch the tape.

However, Carr’s ability to challenge the secondary, make plays in the boot game and produce against a quality football team should bring some excitement to the Raiders locker room.

From my perspective, rookies that play under control, compete and show positive signs of development draw the respect of veterans in the league.

And there are plenty of positives with Carr from the Week 6 tape.

Oct 12, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to snap the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. The San Diego Chargers defeated the Oakland Raiders 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Ed
USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead to this Sunday, Carr has a tough matchup versus the Arizona Cardinals defense.

The rookie is going to see multiple pressure looks plus two cornerbacks—Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie—who have man-coverage ability and ball skills.

Carr will have to identify pressure, target his hot reads and get the ball out.

But when the quarterback has time to set his feet and look down the field, I hope he continues to play with the same confidence I saw on the tape in Week 6.

Take some shots and test the defense. Every rep is an opportunity to improve and learn at this stage of Carr’s young career.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.


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