ALAMEDA (AP) — Derek Carr took a big step from his first game under coach Jon Gruden to game No. 2.
Instead of throwing the ball too often to the opposing team, Carr completed passes at a record-setting pace in last week’s loss at Denver that gave the Oakland Raiders hope that the offense under Gruden is progressing in a way that should pay dividends soon.
Carr completed 29 of 32 passes against the Broncos after throwing three interceptions in a season-opening loss to the Rams. He became the first player in NFL history to complete at least 90 percent of passes on 30 or more attempts, even though the Raiders (0-2) lost 20-19.
While many of those throws may have been short and come out quickly, Gruden is happy with the production.
“Throwing the ball on time and accurate is a big part of winning football,” he said Wednesday. “We hope to get some big chunk plays. We’re making an attempt to do that. I think you’ll see some more of that hopefully as the year unfolds.”
Through two games under Gruden, Carr’s average pass is traveling only 5.3 yards down field, according to NextGen stats from the NFL. That’s the second-lowest mark in the league and comes in part because he is getting rid of the ball faster than every starter other than Ryan Tannehill and Drew Brees.
Carr said he’s not avoiding deep passes by design and pointed to the eight play-action attempts called against Denver that could have led to big plays.
“You do have shot plays, but sometimes you have to check them down and get 6 yards,” he said. “Third-and-4 is a lot better than third-and-10 with a missed shot. The coverages change, the pressures change, the schemes change, the personnel changes.”
While the propensity to get rid of the ball quickly may make it harder to get big plays it does come with the benefit of avoiding the bad ones.
Carr has been sacked just twice all season despite facing fierce pass rushes against the Rams and Denver and having a rookie at left tackle in Kolton Miller and right tackle Donald Penn playing a new position after spending his entire career on the left side.
Gruden said his new tackles have fared well but Carr gets some of the credit too for his ability to change plays and protections at the line of scrimmage.
“The great quarterbacks protect themselves as much as some of the protection protects them,” Gruden said. “They don’t hold the ball a significant amount of time. They have a feel for pressure. They avoid the catastrophic plays. He has a good feel for pressure and when to let it go and when to hold onto it.”
The Raiders have started strong the first two weeks, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive against the Rams and a field goal last week in Denver. But Oakland has been held to four field goals and one touchdown in its other 19 drives.
That’s why Carr sees plenty of room for improvement despite throwing just three incompletions last week.
As pleased as Gruden was with the progress from game 1 to 2 that was helped by a breakout game from Amari Cooper, who caught all 10 of his targets for 116 yards, there is still plenty to work on.
“As soon as I come into the building he says, ‘Good job, but let’s talk about the three you messed up,’” Carr said. “Let’s talk about those. That’s how it will always be. He always pushes me.”
Carr is enjoying the process of learning the offense with Gruden after spending his first four years with defensive-minded head coaches.
Carr said he’s getting better each week anticipating Gruden’s play calls before they happen, which puts him in better position to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage when needed.
“I’m thinking the same way he is,” Carr said. “That has a lot to do with the way he trains the quarterback, he wants us to think the same way he does. If he calls a play, I know why he wants it and if they give us a different look I know what play he wants me to go to.”