The Oakland Raiders went into the 2017 season with a lot of hype, a quarterback coming off a MVP-caliber season, and Super Bowl hype. As we all know now, things didn’t go according to plan. After a red hot 2-0 start, the team fell apart. Carr couldn’t stay healthy, the offense was a shell of it’s former self, and the defense was a disaster for most of the season. While there were plenty of reasons why the team failed, Derek Carr was the one who received a monster contract extension in the off-season, so he shouldered a ton of the blame. How much of that is deserved? Let’s discuss.
Carefully Critiquing Carr: How Good Is Oakland’s Franchise Quarterback?
First thing’s first, there’s something that needs to be addressed. To some, it’s obvious, to others, they’re having a hard time accepting it. Derek Carr did not play well in 2017. Statistically, he had his worst season since his rookie campaign. He only threw for 3,496 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he also threw 13 interceptions. In 2016, he was in the MVP conversation, in 2017? Hardly the same story.
He only threw for 300 yards twice in 2017 after having done so ten times over the previous two seasons, and only had five multiple touchdown games after having 18 between 2015 and 2016. What happened?
Before we start making excuses for him, it should be known that Carr is not completely free of guilt. He has his fair share of his excuses, and we’ll get to them, but he’s also to blame for his performance last year. Some of Carr’s critics are just out to have a contrarian opinion, but others do have a few valid points.
Last year, Carr had moments where he looked extremely uncomfortable in the pocket and didn’t throw confidently. Far too often, he checked down on doomed plays instead of trying to push the ball down the field. Carr also didn’t use his adequate athleticism to extend plays with his legs, with the exception of that disaster of a play against the Dallas Cowboys.
Whether this was a result of his coaching or perhaps he was mentally still recovery from a variety of injuries, we don’t know. But with the exception of the first two games of the year and the Thursday Night Football battle with the Kansas City Chiefs in week seven, he hardly looked like himself. Only a year removed from being Captain Comeback, Carr looked absolutely lost at points last season.
Just watching the game against the Phildelphia Eagles from Christmas night, Carr misses so many huge plays. The Eagles kept inching their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and yet Carr rarely took shots down the field. This wouldn’t be the worst thing, but early in the game, he did see it and was able to find Amari Cooper for a 63 yard touchdown.
It’s one thing to blame the coaching (and don’t worry, we will), but it’s another to miss golden opportunities when they’re served up to you on a silver platter, and unfortunately, that happened more than once in 2017.
I do feel like the Raider Nation is a little too hard on Jack Del Rio sometimes. It’s true that he completely lost the team last year, and that he wasn’t exactly Bill Belichick when it came to X’s and O’s, but he did good things for the Raiders. In 2015 and 2016, he taught the team how to compete and how to win. Nobody was complaining about Captain Jack when we went for two to beat the Saints in week one.
However, if you’re going to be a defensively minded coach, you A. have to have a good defense, and B. have to be able to entrust the offense with someone who can manage the unit successfully. Bill Musgrave managed this well, though he did have the occasional goofy play, but his replacement did not.
Down(ing) and Out
Todd Downing was a first-time offensive coordinator. He’d never been an offensive coordinator on any level. Not in high school, not in college, not even on the NCAA Football games (anyone else desperately miss those?), and yet, Jack Del Rio made the decision to move on from Musgrave in favor of the quarterback coach.
As any Raiders fan will tell you, Downing was an unmitigated disaster. The playbook was paper-thin, he never seemed to have a game-plan together for his opponents, and he took a top ten offense and completely ruined it. His play-calls were completely asinine, leaning on draws, short outs, and screens when it didn’t fit the talent he had at all.
It doesn’t take a genius to know you run Marshawn Lynch downhill, and it doesn’t make any sense not to stretch the field when you have a speedy route-running master like Amari Cooper. When you’ve got an athletic, strong-armed quarterback like Carr, why run the most conservative version of the west coast in history?
Even if Carr didn’t break his fibula in 2016, he definitely had injury struggles in 2017. I won’t hear this stupid narrative that Carr is soft, because he’s broken a finger, his back, and his leg in his career so far and he’s missed two regular season games in four years. Seriously, last year he had a transverse process fracture in his back, was projected to miss anywhere from 2-6 games and he only missed one. Toughness isn’t some magical defense against injury, it’s how to respond to the injuries when they happen.
However, it feels like forever since Carr was at 100%. Not just physically cleared, but mentally comfortable in the pocket and dangerous. We saw flashes in that game against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the last time the Chosen One was at his best was probably the Colts game where he got hurt. Before he got hurt, he had gone 21-31 for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
He hasn’t been physically healthy, which obviously changes his mechanics and how he plays the game, but there’s a mental recovery period too. People forget that Peyton Manning struggled when he came back after missing the entire 2011 season and that Tom Brady wasn’t 100% right away when he came back after missing most of the 2008 season. It takes time to get comfortable in the pocket after that, and it doesn’t help when you get hurt again and your offensive scheme doesn’t make any sense.
Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, Everybody!
I don’t think that enough people understand that the Raider receivers have dropped just about everything but a mixtape over the last few years. Last year, the Raiders were second in the NFL in drops (38) per PFF, and led the NFL in yards per drop (or yards left on the field). Amari Cooper (50% catch rate) and Michael Crabtree (57% catch rate) were the worst, though Seth Roberts (66% catch rate) and Jared Cook (63% catch rate) didn’t help.
Dropped passes by team in 2017 pic.twitter.com/9jG0MOjJbl
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 9, 2018
How are you supposed to build an offense when your well-paid star receivers aren’t catching passes? Oakland had offensive line issues last year anyway, especially at right tackle, and when the offense finally allows Carr to get the ball off, it doesn’t help that they don’t catch it.
Derek Carr isn’t Tom Brady. He’s not an obvious first ballot hall of famer, but he’s had a great start to his career. He’s definitely not perfect, as we saw plenty of in 2017. There were many games where he definitely wasn’t doing his best and left a lot of good football on the field.
Having said that, he also played in a half-baked offense, in a locker room in turmoil, suffering from a myriad of injuries, with receivers that couldn’t catch a cold. It seems like we’re reaching for straws and trying to come up with excuses for the guy, but all of these things happened to him last year.
Derek Carr was a phenomenal quarterback in 2015 and 2016. He has done nothing but try his best to lead this team, on and off the field. 2017 was a disaster for Carr and the rest of the squad. Regardless of how you feel about Jon Gruden, there’s no question that his pathological attention to detail will only mean good things for Carr, and a return to form for the Raider offense.