This is in praise of Raiders’ rookie quarterback Derek Carr. But not too much praise. Call it praise tempered with caution. Big emphasis on the caution.
First the praise. Carr came up big against the world-champ Seahawks Thursday night in the Raiders’ fourth and (thank God) final exhibition game. He threw three touchdown passes. His passer rating was through the roof. He was mobile and accurate and he has a major-league arm. The guy is a dreamboat.
One play says everything. First quarter. First and 10 at the Seahawks’ 36-yard line. (We slip into the eternal sports present tense here.) Carr in the pocket. Drops back. Looks left. Seattle cornerback on the right side studies Carr, sees him look left.
Cornerback, thinking Carr will throw left, thinking a mere rook can’t scan the entire field making several reads, eases his coverage on Denarius Moore running down the right side.
Carr steps up in the pocket. Resets his feet. The kid looks right. Throws the bomb. Throws the bomb deep right. Ball travels about 50 yards. TD Moore. This double read, this deking the corner is something our sweet-talking Santa Clara friend Colin Kaepernick still cannot do and may never do.
What did we learn about Carr?
He was composed. He handled pressure superbly. He showed the ability to make instant decisions. Even if he was playing against backups, he still made plays. He showed excitement and passion and he made the team excited and passionate. He rallied the team, gave his teammates a jolt of jubilation. He made the Raiders come alive.
Not all quarterbacks do this. It is possible — likely — the Raiders’ theoretical starting quarterback, Matt Schaub, does not rank high on the excitement meter. Schaub does not emote. He does not generate electricity. He operates at a low hum.
Last season, Schaub got benched in Houston. It’s more like he got exiled. Think of Napoleon on Elba. Oakland was the only place that would take him. So far, he’s done nothing with the Raiders. Let’s be honest here. And now his elbow hurts. Last season, the Raiders blew it with quarterback Matt Flynn. They have to be wondering and fretting if, in Schaub, they bought another bad sausage.
Here what’s wrong with Schaub. The great quarterbacks anticipate the window and make the throw before the window is confirmed. Think Joe Montana, Steve Young, Tom Brady, John Elway, Drew Brees. I could go on.
But the Schaubs and Alex Smiths (yes him) of the world need confirmation of the window before they make the throw. That is why they are late or miss the window for the big play.
Smith and Schaub have different motivations, different personalities. Smith’s nature is calculating — he could be a cost accountant or an actuary.
Schaub hesitates because of the mental trauma he suffered in Houston, because he kept throwing “Pick 6s.” Throwing a pass and seeing it intercepted and seeing the interceptor run back the ball for a TD made poor Schaub cautious, methodical, unable to respond with instinct. He is gun shy and afraid to pull the trigger.
OK, so far, I’ve made the case for starting Carr over Schaub. I understand that. Now comes the caution part. No way the Raiders should start Carr instead of Schaub against the Jets next Sunday in the first real game of the season. If Schaub’s elbow is bad and he can’t play, then start Matt McGloin. Do not start Carr. Be cautious.