Carr and Short-Term Future to Be Clear After Final Quarter of 2019

If you're waiting for the perfect supporting cast to evaluate Carr, prepare to wait forever.

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For whatever reason, Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr is a lightning rod and polarizing figure for much of Raider Nation. No matter how you feel about Carr, this season’s last four games should have a profound impact on his short-term future.


As the 2019 season winds down, Oakland Raiders fans want answers, though, some of them have made up their minds. Oddly enough, the question goes beyond the team’s playoff chances. They want to know: will Derek Carr be the guy under center in Las Vegas?

In order to answer that hot-topic question, we have to see the season play out. That’s the boring answer that won’t help you get likes, retweets and shares on social media, but the Raiders are 6-6 with so many possible endings to their 2019 campaign.

If Carr goes on a tear in his last year four games, leading the Raiders to the playoffs for the second time in 17 years, he’s not going anywhere. On the other hand, if the sixth-year veteran continues to struggle in the final quarter of the term, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock must have an honest conversation about their options at the position in the offseason.

Turning the Tide

The New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs outscored the Raiders 74-12 over the last two games. This isn’t all on Carr’s shoulders, but he’s thrown one touchdown pass and three interceptions—two pick-sixes—in those losses.

Carr has shown the ability to move the ball with this pass-catching unit. In a fair evaluation, the Raiders signal-caller deserves praise for his quality performances, but he should also be held accountable when going through rough patches with relatively the same group.

Carr’s pass-catchers dropped routine receptions against Gang Green, but the Raiders signal-caller deserves a lot of criticism for last week’s clunker in a high-pressure contest with the Chiefs.

On the first interception of that game, Carr targeted tight end Darren Waller, but Tyrann Mathieu picked him off. ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez framed the safety’s thoughts on the play and Oakland’s offense via Twitter:

In other words, the Raiders failed to reinvent themselves on offense, which falls on Gruden’s shoulders. Nonetheless, Mathieu didn’t seem concerned with Carr challenging him deep downfield since tight end and running back check-downs are “kind of his game.”

While some may absolve Derek Carr because of a lackluster wide receiver group, we must acknowledge he logged a quarterback rating higher than 100 in seven games and still holds a season-high in QBR (59.2).

Carr has shown the ability to move the ball with this pass-catching unit. In a fair evaluation, the Raiders signal-caller deserves praise for his quality performances, but he should also be held accountable when going through rough patches with relatively the same group.

Yes, the Raiders miss Hunter Renfrow’s ability to free himself and move the sticks, but he wouldn’t have changed Carr’s miscue on the second interception:

Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill read this play from the snap. Carr locks on to wideout Tyrell Williams, which allowed the defender to break on the ball for a pick-six.

More importantly, Derek Carr must eliminate basic errors like glaring at his intended targets.

During Monday’s media press conference, Gruden spoke on the second turnover, saying “Derek, perhaps, could’ve got off Tyrell and gone someplace else…” In the same breath, the Raiders head coach said, “he’s [Carr] done a lot of good things.”

Going into Sunday’s game, Gruden and Carr have to do their part in an attempt to dissect the Titans’ injury-riddled pass defense that’s 27th in yards allowed per game. The two have to figure out a way to “dress up” their attack, so it’s not so predictable. More importantly, Carr must eliminate basic errors like glaring at his intended targets.

The offensive struggles aren’t all on Carr, but he does share some responsibility to put the unit back on track—that’s what franchise quarterbacks do.

No Excuses, Just Context

Through six seasons, Carr has shown to be an average quarterback in totality:

That’s not a slight against Carr. Teams have won Super Bowls with capable or average signal-callers. You don’t need a Russell Wilson, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

If you’re waiting for the perfect supporting cast to evaluate Carr, prepare to wait forever.

Those signal-callers can hide weaknesses on offense. For example, a poor pass-blocking front line, a non-existent ground attack or a poor wide receiver corps.

As many point out, Carr isn’t playing alongside the best group of pass-catchers, but he does have a tight end, who ranks third in receptions (66) and second in yards (807) among players at the position, a top-10 ground attack and the fifth-best pass-blocking offensive line, per Football Outsiders. If you’re waiting for the perfect supporting cast to evaluate Carr, prepare to wait forever.

Above-average quarterbacks elevate talent around them and overcome inadequacies.

On the other side of the argument, Carr critics make the mistake in attaching team win-loss records to the quarterback. Here’s where context comes into play.

In Week 8, Carr threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Yet, the Raiders lost to the Houston Texans 27-24. On the flip side, he struggled against the Los Angeles Chargers for most of Week 10. He completed 67.74 percent of his passes but only threw for 218 yards and a score.

On paper, you’d take Carr’s performance against the Texans over his output versus the Chargers, but not the end-game result.

We cannot simply look at Carr’s win-loss record, which is currently 38-52, at the end of the season and make judgments. You have to dig deeper into the context of the game for a balanced assessment. How much or how little did he contribute to those wins and losses?

Now apply that concept to the next four games. What will be the key points in the end-game results? Will Carr have a stellar stretch with a defense giving up 400-plus yards? Or does he put that defensive unit in precarious situations with turnovers and missed opportunities?

All Eyes on Vegas, 2020 Draft

As mentioned, some have seen enough of Carr, and that’s a fair thought. He’s played 90 games over six seasons. What’s left to see at this stage?

Well, we’ve only watched Carr play in Gruden’s system for 28 games. So, an optimistic viewpoint would consider progression within the play-caller’s scheme and the potential for a skilled offensive mind to pull something new out of his signal-caller.

If the Raiders replace Carr, they have to be confident the next quarterback can take them to another level.

Carr has undoubtedly improved between 2018 and 2019, specifically with using his legs to extend plays, but Gruden and Mayock have to answer an important question, is there someone in the draft who can do better?

If the Raiders replace Carr, they have to be confident the next quarterback can take them to another level. Because going from 6-6 in the playoff hunt back to a top-five team in the draft next year would be a setback for a squad that’s overachieved based on preseason expectations.

Oakland doesn’t need change for the sake it—we’ve watched that turn out to be a disaster with constant personnel turnover for nearly two decades.

On the other hand, if Gruden and Mayock feel Carr has peaked or he free falls in the last four games, they should at least bring in legitimate competition. Sometimes, nothing lights a fire in a competitor more than someone else breathing down their neck for one spot.

Remember, the Raiders will have two 2020 first-round picks, which may allow them to take a quarterback of their preference, especially if they, or the Chicago Bears, miss out on the playoffs.

Carr hasn’t put together a solid outing since Week 9 against the Detroit Lions, throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns with a game-winning drive. Over the last four weeks, he’s tossed just three touchdowns and four interceptions.

If Carr struggles through the end of the season, it’s fair to say he had a solid first half of the year and a disappointing second half. That’s a sign of regression, which is exactly why these last four contests are so important to his short-term future.

At some point, the 2016 magic wears off, and we’re left with the burning question, what has Carr done lately?