It’s been awhile since Derek Carr has faced a Rex Ryan defense.
Carr’s first regular season game was against Ryan’s Jets in 2014, though, and it’s incredible how much Carr has grown since then. Growth which the Raiders have continued to say is the result of sticking to a process.
“There is so much, because I’ve done so much film study, I’ve done a lot of mental work in putting myself in situations and really trying to talk myself through things. And then, out there on the practice field, the coaches put me through situations all the time like I tell you guys all the times, Coach Del Rio makes it as hard as he can on me out there. So then, when those situations do come up, it’s really easy or at least try to be as much as you can make it.”
Carr completed 20-of-32 passes for 151 yards in his first regular season game, a solid completion percentage but a paltry yardage total, and he also threw two touchdowns to zero interceptions.
Certainly a solid start, especially after factoring in Ryan’s track record of affecting the quarterback.
His numbers have improved every season: 58.1% completion rate in 2014, 61.1% in 2015, and 66.4% in this current season. It’s an important figure that can be misleading since not all completions are created equal.
But Carr’s average yards per passing attempt have improved similarly, from 5.5 yards per attempt in 2014, to 7 yards in 2015, to 7.4 yards so far in 2016.
Del Rio said:
“Derek is a student of the game and really studies his opponent, I think certainly a third year doing that, second year with us. Then, another year in the system where the familiarity of what we want to do and the timing with the receivers he’s going to do it with. I think all of that adds up to good production and great results.”
His yards per game all increasing annually, as has his quarterback rating and about every statistical metric that has been created to gauge a quarterback’s performance. The only area where Carr has declined statistically is in red zone passing, and that’s perhaps a simple outlier that will balance out — it’s often an area that fluctuates over a quarterback’s career.
Nonetheless, Buffalo has proven themselves among the best passing defenses with only 13 touchdowns surrendered through the air this season.
“He’s the exact same player,” Ryan joked after being asked about Carr’s improvement, then adding:
“He’s doing an unbelievable job and, obviously, I think the Raiders are, I believe, fifth in the league in offense and fourth in passing and 10th in rushing, so there are a lot of weapons around him.”
Ryan makes an important distinction about Carr’s improvement: Oakland’s top two receivers in 2014 season were James Jones and Rod Streater, two very capable possession catchers but not the type of threat that will keep an opposing defensive coordinator up at night.
And 2016 represents a second year in the same offensive system — a first for nearly every player on the Raiders’ offense — and another big time addition on the offensive line. Ryan said:
“They picked up number 70. I can’t pronounce his name, but that dude is an unbelievable guard. He might be, him and Incognito, as the best guards in football. It’s a great of offensive linemen. It starts there, but Carr is a guy that gets rid of the ball, so he doesn’t take a sack. He may throw an incompletion, but he’s not taking a sack and I think that’s the big thing.”
Number 70 is Kelechi Osemele, another premier offensive lineman, the Raiders have the best offensive line in the AFC, and it’s not a particularly close call.
And for Carr, having one set of notes against one of Ryan’s teams — they’re all pretty similar — could be extremely important. Carr said:
“You always get ready for everything. But, I definitely have a better grasp and that just comes with experience. You know the talent that they have on the outside, the talent they have inside. But, you have a better way of feeling how to attack it and things like that.”
Carr was asked several times about his right pinky finger on Wednesday, one that he dislocated on Sunday during a win over the Carolina Panthers, and he consistently answered “it’s fine, thanks for asking.” … The Raiders are reportedly going to hear from the league office before Friday evening on whether they’ll be getting linebacker Aldon Smith back from a year-long suspension. Del Rio said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, the team hadn’t heard anything. … The Raiders are 9-2, and ensured their first winning season since 2002.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.