When the Raiders take the field Sunday in Denver to play the Broncos, Oakland fans will be eager to see which Derek Carr will be in the lineup.
Will it be the quarterback who was precise and effective in the first half of Monday’s loss to the Rams? Or will it be the guy from the second half who threw three interceptions?
After a rough season in 2017, Carr was under the spotlight anyway, with NFL observers eager to see if he could regain the form he showed in 2016 while becoming a league MVP candidate. Game 1 results were mixed. Carr finished 29-of-40 for 303 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Plus, Carr threw only three passes to wide receiver Amari Cooper, with Cooper getting just one, short reception.
Now, Carr goes into Denver, where the Broncos pass rush is ferocious. It will be a tough atmosphere for the quarterback, who needs to have a strong game if the Raiders are to get their first victory of 2018.
“They have all kinds of pressure,” head coach Jon Gruden told reporters this week. “They have all the blitzes that you could draw up. They have (outside) pressure you have to deal with. They’ll put three or four of those defensive ends out there together. They have Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, (Bradley) Chubb’s a top-five pick. So they can apply pressure inside or outside with their four-man rush. They can also get home with an array of blitzes.”
Against the Rams last week, Carr looked confident early, but as Paul Gutierrez of ESPN noted, “looked unsure” as the game wore on, after taking some hits. Carr was 20-of-24 to start, for 199 yards and zero picks, before he lost his accuracy. Wrote Gutierrez: “He did not step up in the pocket. He threw the ball away at the first sign of trouble. He seemed to be checking down with alarming regularity. He did not, or would not, throw downfield.”
As Gutierrez wrote, it was a much different Carr than the one in his first three seasons who confidently sat in the pocket and then whistled throws between defenders and challenged defenses deep.
But, that was before a series of injuries (finger, leg and back) suffered in games. The question has arisen, has Carr become a different player since taking those hits?
Carr says no. Even after taking hits Monday night, he said he’s never thinking about trying to unload the ball because of the potential for injury.
“You don’t think about it in the game because, honestly, you’re flooded with decisions, coverages, fronts and pressures,” Carr told reporters this week. “What are they rolling at? Who is the matchup? All those things. I can promise you during games I don’t think about it until I’m on the ground making sure, ‘OK, I’m good,’ and now I can pop back up.”
The Raiders are listed by oddsmakers as 4½-point underdogs. Kickoff Sunday is set for 1:25 p.m.