ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr’s career was on a clear upward trajectory his first three seasons before a broken leg in the second-to-last game in 2016 ended his season, and any hopes the Oakland Raiders had of competing in the playoffs that year.
The leg took a few months to heal, but Carr hasn’t been the same quarterback since, even with the coaching change that brought Jon Gruden to Oakland.
While the Raiders (1-5) head into their bye week with a litany of problems from a lack of a pass rush to a broken-down offensive line to a spotty secondary, Carr’s struggles this season are near the top of the list.
Gruden returned to coaching in part for the chance to coach Carr and was being counted on to get the best out of the quarterback the Raiders rewarded with a $125 million contract less than 16 months ago. That marriage hasn’t translated to results as of yet as Carr leads the NFL with 10 turnovers and has been unable to generate enough big plays for the Raiders.
“The results, they need to improve,” Gruden said. “I know that. He’s the strength of this football team. We’re going to get him to play better. He’s on my watch. I said it when I got here: If he doesn’t play better, I’ve failed. This guy is a good player that can be great. We’ve got to protect him better so we can really see what he can do. We’ve got to protect him better, obviously. If we do that, I think he’ll showcase what he can do.”
Carr has shown flashes this year. He completed 29 of 32 passes in a loss at Denver last month, threw for 437 yards and four TDs in an overtime win over Cleveland, and has made several throws that harken back to his better days in 2015 and ’16.
But there have been far too many problems to overshadow those successes as Carr tries to figure out how to run Gruden’s offense. He threw three interceptions in a season-opening loss against the Rams and then was possibly too cautious against the Broncos. He then threw key first-down interceptions in the end zone that contributed to losses at Miami and the Chargers as he showed a willingness to be more aggressive.
Carr hit rock-bottom last week in a loss in London to the Seahawks when he was unable to do anything behind a line that had rookies at both tackle spots, including an injured Kolton Miller on the left side, and a third-stringer for most of the day at left guard.
Carr was sacked six times and threw just one pass more than 10 yards downfield. He finished the day 23 for 32 for 142 yards, with 140 of those yards coming after the catch as he threw mostly at or behind the line of scrimmage, adding to the frustration.
“This being my fifth year, you want it now,” Carr said. “You want everything now. I know our fans want it now. Our players, our team, our coaches want it now and trust me, we are trying to do it now. But we’ve got to take this bye week, look at what we can do to play better right off of this bye week. What can we do to win that game and that’s where our mindset has to be.”
Carr’s career is almost back to where it started when he entered the NFL as a second-round pick. He lost his first 10 games as a rookie before starting to make big strides in the second year. The Raiders won seven games in 2015 as Carr developed into a potent passer with help from coordinator Bill Musgrave. Carr then broke through with 12 wins in 2016 thanks to seven fourth-quarter comebacks.
But his broken leg on Christmas Eve against the Colts cost Oakland a chance at a division title and led to a lopsided first-round playoff loss. Carr regressed last year after the Raiders fired Musgrave and replaced him with Todd Downing, and there has been only slight improvement this season under Gruden.
In 21 games since breaking his leg, Carr has won seven times with 29 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. That compares to 15 wins in the previous 21 games, when he had 38 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Carr’s biggest success came in his second season under Musgrave, the only time he’s remained in the same system in consecutive years.
“He’s on his fourth coordinator now in his time in the league and I think it’s a comfort level in the system,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who ran Oakland’s offense in Carr’s rookie season in 2014. “I’ll say that. And it’s a matter of sometimes pressing. But, for us right now, certainly trying to get him to calm down and play in a more relaxed type of mode so that he doesn’t feel like he has to press to make plays. When you look at some of the turnovers he’s had this year, he’s been pressing, trying to make a play. Again, we like that part of about him and he’s a competitive guy, he wants to make every play. Just making better decisions moving forward.”