A week by week recap and analysis of the 2017 season of Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
In 2016, Derek Carr led the Oakland Raiders on an emphatic return to the postseason for the first time since 2002. In so doing, Carr enjoyed a career year. At the NFL Honors awards show, he won the Castrol Edge: Clutch Performer of the Year, and was a finalist for MVP. For his efforts, Reggie McKenzie rewarded the signal caller with a monstrous five-year, $125 million contract. It was the richest contract ever given to a quarterback until Matthew Stafford’s new deal took that spot soon after. Despite suffering a season ending ankle injury in Week 16, Carr was viewed by many as the next great young quarterback in the NFL.
Consequently, expectations for Carr and the Raiders heading into 2017 were exponentially high. The Raiders added Jared Cook, hoping to provide Carr with a legitimate weapon at tight end. The team’s most notable signing was Marshawn Lynch, which left fans salivating at the prospect of having a one of the most bruising runners in football to complement the offense’s stellar performance through the air. However, there was one last change to the offense. QB Coach Todd Downing, who enjoyed a close relationship with Carr, took over for Bill Musgrave and was handed the reigns of the 6th best offense in the league. The rest, they say, is history.
The offense struggled mightily, and Carr with it. The unit went from 6th in total offense to 18th under Downing. It finished 23rd in points, 16th in passing, and 25th in rushing. They suffered a steady decline in first half scoring, and consistently suffered numerous drives of three and out, and with the exception of a complete outlier on Thursday night against the Chiefs, repeatedly embarrassed themselves in big games in front of national audiences.
The Overall Numbers
Before we break down the precise details of Carr’s slippage, let’s assess his overall numbers. Like the offense as a whole, Carr’s stats were a far cry from the year before. In 2016, Carr threw for 28 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and 3,937. This past season, he went for 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions (equalling his highest total from 2015) and just 3,496 yards. His yards per game slipped from 265.5 to 233.1, and he was sacked four more times this season than last. There were certainly instances when Carr looked to be holding onto the ball for far too long.
If one thing became clear this season, it’s that Carr needs a coach, not a friend. For as close as he and Downing were reported as being, (even “finishing each other’s sentences“), Downing has proven he’s incapable of running an effective NFL offense. As Greg Papa argued this past week, the main job for Jon Gruden will be fixing a “broken Derek Carr.” By all indications from his career thus far, the Raiders will only be as good as Carr can take them. Putting him in the best position to do so requires surrounding him with a strong, supportive coaching staff. A staff that knows how to play to his strengths. One of the first things the new staff will have to do is scrutinize Derek’s play over this last season in particular. Cleaning up the mistakes from 2017 will be a big focus.
Let’s dive into that now.
Week 1 at Titans
Derek had an outstanding opener against the Titans and Dick Lebeau’s defense in Week 1. Admittedly, he looked like 2016 Derek, leading what appeared to be a finely tuned offense to a stat line of 262 yards in the air, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and completing 68% of his passes (22/32).
Whilst Carr certainly would have had a higher completion percentage if not for some untimely drops by Amari Cooper in the end zone, he still finished with an impressive 114.3 passer rating.
Week 2 vs. Jets
The end of Week 2 had every Raiders fan and pundit believing that the team hadn’t changed a bit since its postseason breakout the year before. Heck, Downing even looked like he was a good hire after this one. Carr built upon the previous week’s performance in impressive fashion, throwing 3 touchdowns — all beautiful strikes to Michael Crabtree. Carr had 0 interceptions, 230 yards, boasting a completion percentage of 82.1% (23/28) with a passer rating of 136.6.
This would be Carr’s highest rated game this season. With one or two exceptions, it was mostly downhill from here.
Week 3 at Redskins
Better known as the week where it all fell apart, the Raiders were embarrassed by the Redskins on Sunday night — in front of a national audience, no less. Internet message board experts were convinced that this game was evidence of a grand conspiracy at the heart of the Raiders locker room. That the league’s only all African-American offensive line decided to collectively punish their own quarterback for not kneeling with them during the National Anthem.
I, like any sane person, won’t give credence to this conspiracies. The truth is that the Raiders were simply outplayed, outmuscled, and outreached by the Redskins.
In the first minute of the game, Carr looked deep down the field to Cooper, throwing a miserable interception into double coverage. Montae Nicholson leapt up to snatch the foolish pass, streaking away down the sideline to add insult to injury.
— Bovada Official (@BovadaLV) September 25, 2017
The following possession, Carr was swallowed up, seemingly by the whole defensive line as the pocket collapsed around him. Midway through the second quarter, the Raiders faced a crucial 3rd & 1 on the 50-yard line — Carr threw low and behind Seth Roberts, who was running a streak some 20 yards down the field, only to be picked by Kendall Fuller. Carr and the offense continued to sputter, failing to convert repetitive 3rd downs with Carr taking several sacks in the process.
The Raiders finally got on the board when Carr found Cook in the red zone to put up their first points of the night. At the start of the fourth quarter, Carr and the offense failed to take advantage of a crucial turnover by the Redskins. Carr struggled to find a man for a score from a mere 10 yards out, and the Raiders settled for a field goal.
Carr’s final stat line was miserable: 19/31 for 1 TD, 2 INTS, 118 yards, and a woeful rating of 52.9.
Week 4 at Broncos
Carr looked to bounce back against the Broncos in Week 4, but ended up being bounced out of the game by Denver’s stingy defense. He struggled to move the offense in the first quarter, but found Johnny Holton for a long strike in the second. Apart from that, Carr and the Raiders did very little offensively, failing to march down the field and add any more points to the board.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Carr was sacked by defensive end Derek Wolfe, fracturing his back and was sidelined for the rest of the game as well as the following week.
Carr’s rating was 100, but it was deceptively so. He was 10/18, throwing for only 143 yards, completing just over 50% over his passes.
Week 6 vs. Chargers
After missing just one game with his injury, Carr’s struggles continued into Week 6 against another divisional rival. While the back injury certainly contributed, the existing offensive woes were by no means helpful either. On the first possession, he threw right over Crabtree’s head on a curl route and straight into the arms of LA defensive back Trevor Williams. Carr would find Crabtree for a score later in the quarter, making amends and putting the Raiders in front.
The Raiders would enjoy a 10-7 lead going into halftime, but it wouldn’t last after the break. The Chargers began to click, and Carr threw a crucial red zone interception, shooting a check down too far in front of Marshawn Lynch (who also could have done better on the play), and the Chargers reacted well to the tip drill. He didn’t have an awful game in comparison to Washington, but he was far from his best. He finished 21/30, for 171 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTS and a passer rating of 67.5.
Week 7 vs. Chiefs
Week 7 was the biggest anomaly for the Raiders as whole, putting on a show on Thursday night against the eventual AFC West Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Eight minutes in, Carr found Cooper for a beautiful strike down the left hand sideline via a sneaky flea-flicker.
— Only 1 Nation (@Only1Nation_) October 20, 2017
Carr continued to make clutch throws throughout the night. Admittedly, while there were one or two times where he was lucky not to be intercepted, Carr showed significant poise and touch. Still in the first quarter, he floated a pinpoint ball to Cooper, who, running a slant, took it 45 yards to the house.
In the second quarter, Carr threw a pinpoint ball to Crabtree on 3rd & 11. It was a crucial conversion considering the Raiders were 1 for 21 on 3rd & long at this point in the season. Carr helped moved the offensive successfully down the field a few times from that point on. He and Cook were unlucky not to hook up for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, with a rather glaring pass interference no call from an official.
On the Raiders game winning drive, Carr was exceptionally clutch. He found Cooper on an absolute bullet on 2nd & 20 to get the Raiders over halfway down field. He also successfully hooked up with Cook on 4th & 11 to keep the drive alive with 30 seconds remaining. Carr appeared to then find Cook for the game winning touchdown, only for the tight end to be ruled short. What followed was a cavalcade of penalties and near touchdowns. An apparent Crabtree strike was disallowed for offensive pass interference, Cook dropped a pass, and Patterson couldn’t stay in bounds for another.
The game “came down” (ignoring the other game winning chances and penalties), to a final untimed down. On THIS play, Carr rolled right and fired a strike to the near pylon for Crabtree, with the receiver hauling it in for the score. It was easily Carr’s most bombastic performance of the season, finishing with 3 touchdowns, over 400 yards and a rating of 101.2.
Week 8 at Bills
Carr and the Raiders looked to build of the sudden change in momentum, but were ultimately unsuccessful against an energetic Bills unit. He led the unit on an impressive opening drive that resulted in an Olawale score, but the offense failed to click again from there. DeAndre Washington coughed up the ball right before halftime, and Bills linebacker Matt Milano returned it for a score as Buffalo took a 14 to 7 lead going into the break.
Midway through the third quarter, the Raiders were 2/6 on 3rd down when Carr made it 2/7. He floated a wobbly ball that was tipped by a Bills linebacker then intercepted by a diving Micah Hyde. Carr was visibly furious after the play, clapping his hands and screaming — at himself or at Crabtree, it was unclear. With less than two minutes remaining, and trailing by 20 points, a no doubt already frustrated Carr threw a another interception. This time in the red zone, and nowhere near a Raider, with safety Trae Elston only too happy to receive the gift.
Carr finished 31/49, for 313 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTS, and a passer rating of 71.2.
Week 9 at Dolphins
The Raiders trounced Miami in Week 9, notching only their third win of the season to sit at the point .33 mark. Carr had a good, but not great game. He finished with a stat line of 21/30, for 300 yards with a TD and pick apiece, with a completion rating of 70% and passer rating of 99.3.
Carr found Cook for a beautiful 30-yard strike on their first possession to head into Miami territory, only to connect with him again on a 3rd & 9 two plays later. Cook was a big part of the success Carr did enjoy against the Dolphins, as the tight end netted 8 catches for 126 yards.
Carr’s lone touchdown came on a 50-yard strike to Johnny Holton before the close of the half, a receiver that Downing primarily used as a vertical threat. A tendency that teams would easily pick up on as the year progressed.
— Ronnie Laybold (@CoyotesGlendale) November 6, 2017
Carr was helped in the second half with some strong runs by Marshawn Lynch, who netted 2 touchdowns of his own. With 12 minutes remaining in the fourth, he was strip-sacked by Kiko Alonso on 3rd & 14, with the Dolphins recovering. With under two minutes left, Carr appeared to go for the dagger, throwing a long ball to a well blanketed Amari Cooper that was tipped by the cornerback and intercepted by the safety. An extremely inadvisable throw when trying to close out the game. For Carr against Miami, there was mostly good, but there was some ugly too.
Week 11 vs. Patriots
To be fair to Carr, this was an ugly showing by the entire team. The Raiders were pummelled 33-8 in front of an (originally) raucous Mexico City crowd by the defending Super Bowl champions.
Carr threw for 227 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, completing 57% of his passes for a mediocre rating of 68.2. All credit to Carr, however, the interception was not his fault. He stepped up in the pocket just before he was hit, delivering an absolute long ball dime to a streaking Johnny Holton. The ball bounced right off Holton’s pads into the waiting arms of the New England safety. Carr by no means put on a show, nor did the Raiders in any single facet of this game, but the interception was not his fault.
His lone touchdown was a nicely well timed throw to Cooper from 9 yards out on 3rd down, but it was too little too late.
Week 12 vs. Broncos
To Carr’s credit, he bounced back very well against the Broncos in Week 11. Not to mention, that was without Crabtree for nearly the entire game, along with Gabe Jackson, who were both ejected for fighting only three minutes into the contest. It wasn’t exactly a smooth start, however, as Carr was sacked twice in the first quarter, one for a fumble that was recovered by the Broncos.
Despite that, Carr threw some accurate passes in the first half. He connected on a timely dart to Marshawn Lynch on 2nd & 8 to keep a scoring drive alive. A drive that finished, no less, with a beautiful fade to Cooper in the end zone.
Amari Cooper off the line of scrimmage 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/X1dUlImEFT
— Only 1 Nation (@Only1Nation_) November 26, 2017
In the second half, Carr continued to throw some nice passes against the Broncos. Most notable of which, was a long and accurate ball to Johnny Holton on a post route for a gain of 50, and possession inside the Broncos 10. The beautiful pass led to Carr’s second TD strike with a 6-yard connection to Jalen Richard.
Carr was perhaps a little lucky on his final pass of the game. Off his back foot, and evading a strong rush, he floated a dangerous looking ball to Cordarelle Patteron. Patterson hauled it in, and streaked through the Broncos defense into the Denver territory to seal the win. The pass, though, was one that elicited an audible gasp from Rich Gannon in the booth.
Carr’s final stat line was 18/24, for 253 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTS and his second highest passer rating of the season with 136.3.
Week 13 vs. Giants
A decent game for Carr, but it was against the lowly New York Giants. He notched 287 yard with a touchdown and no picks. Whilst he did enjoy a QB rating of 95, he only completed 61% of his passes against one of the league’s worst units this year.
Week 14 at Chiefs
This is reportedly the game that was the nail in the coffin for the Raiders this year. Radio Host and voice of the Raiders, Greg Papa, revealed that the coaching staff “turned” on Derek Carr after the Week 13 loss. Papa noted that the coaches tore him apart in front of the whole team. Not just the quarterbacks, or the offense, but the whole team.
After the Kansas City game they called him out in front of a whole team meeting,” Papa said. “It wasn’t just the offense or the quarterbacks (or) a segment of the team. It was the whole team. And they ripped him in front of everybody, and Derek’s a prideful guy.
It was the first of four straight losses to end the Raiders season. Carr finished with 24/41 passing, 211 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions and a rating of 60.1.
The Raiders offense had yet do anything of note, when Carr turned the ball over with six minutes remaining in the half. Hit as he threw, the ball lolli-popped high and right where it was picked off by Terrance Mitchell. Coughing up an ugly pick just as they started to get a drive going made the 13-0 deficit all the more imposing.
In the fourth quarter, Carr connected with Cook for a touchdown with seven minutes remaining, taking a low hit on the play. He also hit Crabtree on a nice slant for the two-point conversion after. With less than a minute left, down by 11 and nothing to play for, Carr’s second interception came after it bounced off the hands of Johnny Holton on the Kansas City 10. It was a subpar day by all, but Carr was by no means wholly responsible for it.
Week 15 vs. Cowboys
A heartbreaker for sure. Carr had a somewhat decent stat line in this game. Credit where credit is due, he put up a good performance in primetime considering where he might have been mentally after the (unjustified) dressing down by the coaching staff in front of everyone the week prior.
Carr finished 21/38, for 2 touchdowns, 171 yards and a rating of 85. He had a fairly athletic night, throwing well on the run, and making a few key scrambles himself. One of his touchdowns came on a great roll out to his right to Crabtree, the same play as the game winner against Kansas City.
However, it was from one of these scrambles that Carr’s most infamous play on the night originated. With 30 seconds left on the clock, Oakland was down by 3 with the ball inside the Dallas 10-yard line. Carr stood up in the pocket, and scrambled right. Pump faking as he went, Carr dived for the right pylon and the game winning score, only to lose his grip on the ball and fumble out of the end zone for a touchback. Game over.
WOW! Carr loses the ball trying to dive for the TD. Results in a touchback. pic.twitter.com/uvnDHpagrZ
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) December 18, 2017
While it was easy to criticize Carr, it wasn’t for lack of effort or guts that he lost the game. He wanted it all, and credit to him. He just couldn’t maintain his grip when it mattered most.
Week 16 at Eagles
Carr’s single worst performance of the year came on Christmas day, with Philadelphia Eagles far from being in a gift giving mood. He finished with a stat line of 15/29, 1 TD, 2 INTS, for 140 yards and an abysmal rating of 48.1.
His lone touchdown could be attributed more to Cooper, who burnt a rookie DB on a fake slant, taking it to the house on a 63-yard score. That was the one bright spot for Carr, who for the rest of the night struggled to find his targets. He threw an ugly pick to Patrick Robinson with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Carr was looking for Roberts on the slant, but floated the ball straight into Robinson’s waiting arms. In fairness, Lynch also coughed up the ball a minute or two later after the defense forced a turnover.
What Lynch didn’t do, however, was throw game losing pick on the final drive with the scores tied. With 40 seconds remaining, Carr threw a short pass to his left outside of Cooper. That was intercepted by a well-positioned Ronald Darby, with the Eagles adding a field goal to make it a 13-10 lead. Rubbing further salt in the wound, Carr fumbled a desperate lateral from Richard with no time left that was returned by the defense for a score. It was a woeful night all round.
Week 17 vs. Chargers
If his performance against the Eagles was anything to go by, Carr’s Week 17 outing was certainly an improvement. He finished for 19/28 passing, a TD and INT apiece, with 243 yards and a 91.3 passer rating. Carr did a great job hitting Cooper early on the Raiders longest play of the year, a 87-yard fly route that was the result of Carr doing a great read.
— Queen of Deflection (@LawNOrder05) December 31, 2017
Make no mistake — with that exception, the offense was dreadful. Los Angeles played the Raiders to the tune of a 30-10 thumping that was the final game in the Del Rio era.
The Final Take
Carr’s last outing for this past season offers some good examples of what Gruden and his staff will need to focus on and fix for the promising young signal caller going forward.
Ted Nguyen had a brilliant take on this for The Athletic. Ted explained how on some plays, it was evident that Carr was confused as to where the ball needed to go, misreading defenders. For example, on one design, Carr’s primary receiver was Cook, who Carr is meant to hit only if the inside linebacker drops way back from Cook. Carr hits Cook anyway, when he really should be going through his progressions.
Carr’s poor deep interception before halftime is another example where the quarterback has read defenses inconsistently. Once again, Downing sent Johnny Holton for a deep shot, but with 15 weeks of game footage, the Chargers are well aware that this is Holton’s route the vast majority of the time. Carr throws deep into double coverage and is picked off. The Raiders ruin their chance to go ahead before the break, and fail to score once again.
To be fair, Ted points out that this a coaching failure first and foremost. These mistakes are the result of an inability to properly communicate basic concepts to both Carr and his receivers, leaving Carr especially, to make decisions on the fly. No doubt, a key reason why he more than doubled his interception total from last season.
If Carr’s 2016 campaign was an ‘A’ (he was an MVP candidate, after all) this season has to be around a C+. Fixing Carr is Gruden’s number one priority. While many think he’s the man to do it, only time will tell.