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Derek Carr’s regression under pressure limits Raiders offense

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Watching the Raiders has shown Derek Carr regressing from 2016 in a major way, and the data of how he’s performed under pressure backs it up. (Courtesy Keith Allsion/Flickr)

Falling far short of high expectations in his fourth-year under center, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has received his fair share of criticism this season, no more so than for his play under pressure.

Recovering from a broken fibula and a transverse process fracture in his back, Carr has reason to avoid all types of collisions when dropping back to pass, but his tentative tendencies have negatively affected his output by a significant margin.

According to Pro Football Focus, Carr has completed just 46-of-90 passes (51.11 percent) for 589 yards — one touchdown and seven interceptions on 108 pressured dropbacks — to earn a career-low 43.2 passer rating, which ranks 36th among quarterbacks with at least 142 dropbacks. His passer rating when pressured is 58 points lower than his 101.2 rating when kept clean — the largest disparity among quarterbacks with 150-plus dropbacks through Week 14. The average differential for all quarterbacks this season is 30.7.

Conversely, the Carr of old — the same guy who dove over New Orleans Saints defenders in Week 1 of 2016 — performed much better under pressure in years past.

In the last two seasons, Carr ranked inside the top-20 in passer rating on pressured dropbacks, earning a 70.0-plus rating in each year. In fact, his 26.8-point decline in passer rating under pressure from last season to this season is the largest of any quarterback with at least 180 dropbacks in 2016 and 2017.

Oddly enough, Carr’s struggles under pressure aren’t a product of a spike in poor offensive line play from Oakland’s front.

Among quarterbacks with at least 140 dropbacks this season, Carr has fielded pressure on just 24.5 percent of his dropbacks, which ranks second to only Saints quarterback Drew Brees (23.0). His offensive line also ranks second in total pressures allowed (101) and is on pace to allow four fewer pressures than last season.

Diving deeper into his incomplete passes on pressured dropbacks, Carr has missed his intended target on 40.91 percent of his completions this season, a 5.62 percent jump from last season.

In addition to his significant increase in interceptions thrown, Carr has thrown a higher percentage of incompletions into harm’s way. Of his 44 incompletions under pressure this season, 27.72 percent have hit the turf either due to close coverage or a pass break-up — an 8.01 percent increase from last season. A correlation between his spike in defender-forced incompletions and lack of throwaways could also be assumed, as he has experienced a 7.52 percent dip in total percentage of passes thrown away while under pressure.

As expected, Carr’s fall-off under pressure has been reflected in his grades. After earning positive grades on 22.5 percent of his pressured dropbacks in 2016, he has accrued positive grades on just 12.5 percent of such dropbacks this season. His negative-grade percentage has also flipped from 16.9 to 23.58 percent.

Of course, it’s unfair to place the Raiders’ woeful passing performances this season all on Carr’s shoulders, as it takes a team effort to fail this uniformly (for example, he’s had inefficient pass-catchers, and poor coaching). But if Carr is to assert himself among the elite signal-callers in the league, a return to his former calm and collected self is paramount.

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