PITTSBURGH -– Derek Carr was often knocked for his performance against the blitz. That was a frequent refrain during the pre-draft process, before the Raiders selected the Fresno State alum No. 36 overall in last year’s draft.
He had happy feet under pressure, and was gun shy with defenders bearing down. That sounded good in theory, not in practice. Especially this season
Carr has thrived under duress, with a 131.8 passer rating when blitzes and positive performance under pressure.
Carr has welcomed pressure this season, capitalizing on voids created by defenses attempting to overwhelm him.
“Most offenses welcome the blitz because it gives you this opportunity for a big play,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “The defenses that make you go the long road and have a 12-, 14- and 15-play drive and convert four out of four third downs, that’s a tough way to make a living. If we can be good against the blitz and make them pay for it, then we’ll get down to the end zone a little quicker.”
Carr and center Rodney Hudson have been good at identify pressure and using options provided by Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to succeed within a play.
The offense isn’t perfect –- a miscommunication led to a game-deciding pick six after Denver blitzed on the interior –- but it has been strong taking advantage of aggressive defenses. The Raiders must handle an aggressive defense on Sunday against Pittsburgh, which uses a creative and complicated pass rush to get after the quarterback.
That means Carr’s response to the blitz will be as important as ever to victory Sunday at Heinz Field.
“It’s something that we definitely want to make sure we have a hand on,” Carr said. “It’s definitely something that we want to make sure we can handle because as I’ve learned through past experiences from me not even playing, but watching other people play, you can’t complete balls when you’re on your back. I just learned, it’s something that my brother has taught me since I was little, you make sure you’re protected then go from there.”
Carr has always been smart with the football, which led to frequent check-downs and a dismal 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Carr still makes smart choices, but trusts his receivers a bit more and is willing to throw it down field.
“Derek has been making good decisions,” Musgrave said. “Part of being a good decision maker is having the turns or the repetitions at our concepts. So the more turns he gets, I believe he’ll be an even better decision maker going forward, but he’s getting better each and every week.
“We think back to OTAs where he missed 10 practices with his medical condition. We got him there for the minicamp, we tried to make up time there in Napa. We had some shaky times there in preseason, that’s part of the learning process. And there’s going to be some shaky times coming up too. He’s not always going to be as perfect as he has been these last two weeks with no turnovers, but confident that he’s a good learner from his experiences.”