I’ve spent a small chunk of time in the offseason watching Derek Carr of the Oakland/soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. Statistically, he had a great year: completed 63.8% of his passes, 28 TDs, 6 INTs and QB Rating of 96.7. If he hadn’t broken his leg in Week 16, he would have ended up with more than 4,000 yards passing.
But I didn’t get to actually sit down and watch much of him, so I wanted to fix that before the 2017 season started. I wasn’t quite as impressed as I thought I would have been, but that’s a story for a different day. This is not a breakdown of Carr’s 2016 season: rather, I wanted to look at one specific play that happened at the end of the Raiders Week 2 match-up against the Atlanta Falcons.
Let me set the stage. The Raiders start this drive on their own 25 yard line, down by a score of 35-21 with 4:35 left in the game. They have all 3 timeouts remaining, but seem set on saving them on defense. Going into that drive knowing you won’t be using any timeouts is good: it can inform decisions on what to do during the course of the drive.
So what did Carr do with that knowledge? Lots of checkdowns to the middle of the field, which is exactly what the Falcons wanted. The Raiders eventually scored a touchdown on the drive, but it took them over 2 minutes. By the time they got the ball back, they had 2 seconds on the clock. That’s less than ideal.
I wanted to look at one specific play on that drive.
This was the third play of the drive and it took place on 1st and 10. Carr has a quick 5 step drop and promptly throws the ball to Latavius Murray  in the middle of the field. Murray picks up 11 on the play and the Raiders get back up to the line pretty quickly, but this play runs 32 precious seconds off the clock.
If you will, look to the left side of the formation with me. There you will find a quick out/corner combination run by Seth Roberts  on the quick out and Amari Cooper  on the corner. The Falcons are playing a soft zone over the top, which is understandable given the situation. They don’t want to get beat deep, so they’re keeping everything in front of them. With a talent like Cooper on the outside, the defense is giving him quite a bit of cushion.
Let’s freeze for a second and look at the defenders.
Roberts is running a quick out from the slot. As soon as the defender across from him sees that turn, he begins breaking towards him and to the sideline. Roberts has speed, so the defender wants to make sure he doesn’t have a lot of space to work with if he catches the ball. The deep defender to that side is retreating deep, as Cooper is selling a go route. The safety in the middle is holding firm and the linebacker is watching the middle.
Carr needs to see this. Given the depth of the linebacker, he knows he has Murray in the middle for a late checkdown if he needs him. But the left side is creating the exact match-up they want. They have designed for a hole to be created on the sideline and that’s exactly what is happening here. Cooper breaks towards the sideline at the 50, which is almost the exact same time the deep man on his side turns his hips to run downfield.
The read in this situation would be:
Safety and linebacker in the middle
Short defender to left
Deep defender to left
All of those things lined up. Carr needs to read that and let it fly.
Let’s look at the state of this play as Murray is hauling in this pass.
Check Cooper at the top. The shallow defender is still with Roberts and the deep defender is completely turned around. If Carr had delivered this ball on time, he could have dropped in a pass to Cooper, picked up 10+ yards and taken up minimal time (by my count, roughly 3.5 seconds). Instead, he never looked towards Cooper and checked down to Murray at the top of his drop.
I’m not here to make any grand points about Derek Carr. I was watching this play and I couldn’t help but think of how important timing routes like this are. Making this read and hitting this pass could have saved 28 seconds, and that’s no small thing when you’re down by 14 points and the clock is quickly winding down.
Album listened to: Lee Bozeman – The Majesty of the Flesh