Analysis

Coach ‘Em Up: An Open Letter to Raiders QB Derek Carr

Dear Derek Carr,

I am compelled to write you this note to encourage you as you finish your game preparation for your game against the division-leading Denver Broncos on Sunday in Las Vegas. 

As you know, in every NFL season, teams experience the inevitability of adversity, and your Raiders are no exception. But few teams start 0-3, (only the Raiders in 2022), and with the addition of a new coach, new offense and the acquisition of one of the league’s best wide receivers in Davante Adams, expectations have been incredibly high. While 0-3 is a disappointment to you, your team and the Raider Nation in any season, it is particularly unsatisfactory this year.

Throwing to Your Left

This past week, I watched each of your passes during the first three games of this season (Chargers, Cardinals, Titans). First of all, in your ninth year in the league, your physical skills have not diminished in any way. Even though you’re playing in a new offense with a new play-caller, you continue to play fast, make quick decisions and get the ball “up and out” as well as any quarterback in the game.

During the last three weeks, the tape continues to validate your physical and mental toughness. You stand strong in the pocket with eyes upfield, you stay unfazed by pressure and deliver accurate short and long passes. 

To be totally transparent, let’s look at some things that have limited your offense’s production thus far: 

One thing I noticed is you are not executing as well throwing to your left. You’ve completed 76.9% of passes to the right, while only completing 51% of throws to the left, a 25.9% difference.

These are three examples to validate this observation:

Here you are last week against the Titans, with excellent protection, overthrowing a wide open Darren Waller on a corner route that could have led to a touchdown (above).

Here you are throwing behind Waller on a shallow cross in the red zone (above), allowing the defender to cut in front of Waller and knock the pass down, taking a touchdown off the board.

Finally, against the Chargers with pressure to the left, you uncharacteristically tried to force a throw in to Hunter Renfrow (#13), leading to a game-defining interception. This happened on second and two early in the fourth quarter, down just 24-13. Making this throw on second and two is arguably inexcusable for a quarterback of your caliber. You have two more downs to get the first down!

Protection in the Pocket

During the last three weeks, there have been protection issues inhibiting your success in the pocket, but I believe it is getting better. Here are a few things that must improve below:

(Image A)

(Image B)

Josh Jacobs cannot “cut” his blocking assignment on the line of scrimmage (LOS). There are two reasons for this: No. 1, it’s a safety issue for the players on or near the LOS. 

In Image A (above) Jacobs cuts the linebacker, which could have resulted in a serious leg injury to left tackle Kolton Miller. Reason No. 2, in Image B, the lesson is when you cut your blocking assignment on the LOS, he can get back up and make, in this case, a blindside hit on the QB.

Against the Chargers (above), did you have an adequate protection plan for the Chargers’ game wreckers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack? Denver’s talented defensive ends in Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory will create similar issues for you this week. It will be important to make sure your protection plan can neutralize their pass rush.

Against the Cardinals, you had Jermaine Eluemunor (typically a right guard) trying to block J.J. Watt by himself (above). You were sacked five times against the Chargers, but only once each in the last two games. So, protection is improving.

Derek as you know, the offense cannot be a one-man band. You need the help of your teammates. And when they get hit in the hands, they must catch the ball, especially in the red zone. 

Playmakers Need to Step Up

During the last few weeks, there have been some key drops, particularly in the red zone. In last week’s game, you had two dropped passes for touchdowns. 

Here you have a perfect strike to Waller at the 1-yard line (drop).

Here is a pinpoint pass to veteran Keelan Cole, allowing him to use his catch radius, which again is dropped.

Still Getting the Job Done

Despite the issues with drops, offensive line play and your assimilation into a new offense, you’ve continued to show high-end quarterback play.

Against the Chargers, amidst a wad of bodies (above), you find a way to throw a perfectly accurate dart to Waller on a square-out. 

Again versus the Chargers, (above) with a defender around your legs, you deliver a perfect strike to Waller off the inside earhole of the Chargers’ defensive back. 

Carr in the pocket

Location of pass to Waller

Here you are in the pocket against the Cardinals (above) with two defenders in your face, throwing a perfectly located strike to Waller on a square-in, knowing you’ll take a hit. 

Carr in the pocket

Location of pass to Hollins

Against the Titans (above), you throw a perfectly accurate laser to Mack Hollins, hitting him one foot in front of the numbers, allowing him to gain some yards after the catch.

Finally, you show your pinpoint accuracy on the run, delivering a perfect pass to Waller on the boundary (above).

Scrambling For Success

Derek, during the course of the first three games, you have scrambled outside the pocket only three times. You have great feet and athleticism, and I encourage you to make some plays with your legs moving forward. Converting a third down or two with your legs will help demoralize a defense and create opportunities throughout the game for big plays. 

Derek, your legs are a weapon, especially when you extend the play. Keep thinking pass first as you have, but if it’s not there, get the yards you can and then get down. LIVE FOR THE NEXT PLAY!

In the first game of the season, you turned the ball over three times. If we were in a meeting, knowing the leader you are, I believe after looking at the tape, you would not have flinched to accept accountability for each interception. You know as well as I do that if the quarterback is -3 in turnover margin during the game, the chances of winning are minimal. 

Mitigating Turnovers

On the positive side, during the last two games, you have attempted 83 passes and only thrown one interception, which was a dropped ball by Waller at the 1-yard line. 

Derek, this is your ninth season in the NFL, and you are now playing under your fourth coach. You are truly a decorated veteran of the NFL and have proven to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

During the last five years, you have completed nearly 70% of your passes with almost a 100 or more QBR. Since 2015, you’ve had the NFL’s most game-winning drives (29) and fourth-quarter comebacks (23).

Your play on the field during your career is well documented, but the way you handled an extremely turbulent year last season is highly respected throughout the NFL community. Your leadership off the field through words and actions created a wave that led to a playoff appearance.

You have been doing this long enough to know past performance is no indication of future success. What happened last year led to high expectations this year. I am confident in telling you the season is long from over. 

Plenty of Time to Turn Season Around

I have coached on two teams that lost four in a row during the season. In both situations, each team went deep into the playoffs, and one appeared in the Super Bowl.

So, let me remind you that the AFC West is wide open. During the last three weeks, the entire division is struggling. Each team has its own issues, and the Raiders have as much talent as any team in the division. Let’s not kid ourselves, an 0-3 start is tough, but this year more than ever the division and league are so fluid that anything can happen.

This Sunday’s opponent, the Denver Broncos, are 2-1 and have struggled offensively. They, like yourselves, are trying to establish a new identity. The Denver defense is a formidable opponent, but so were the Chargers, Cardinals and Titans, yet your Raiders were in every game. Seriously, you could easily be 3-0 now, at worst 2-1. As always, just a few plays become game-defining moments.

Derek, I am sure throughout the week you have led the way in your preparation for the Broncos. I also hope you spent time working the throws to the left, and with coaches making sure your protection plan is tight. You have great skill players around you, and this week they must catch it if they get their hands on it.

Your skill set has not diminished. Your delivery is as quick as anyone in the league, and the offense is so close. Don’t let the 0-3 record get in your head. It’s one game separate from the other three. Go win each down, allow your receivers to step up and make the catches when the ball is there and take care of the ball the way you have the last two weeks! You’ve got them at home, and you gotta have it! 

With respect and humility,

Marc Trestman

WATCH MORE: Rich Gannon on Derek Carr and 0-3 Raiders

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