ALAMEDA — Only three NFL quarterbacks currently own interception-less streaks of more than three games.
Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback ever. Aaron Rodgers, maybe the second-best quarterback ever. And Derek Carr, the quarterback of the 2-9 Oakland Raiders.
Rodgers’ streak spans seven games, Carr’s six and Brady’s four. Carr has completed 119-of-183 passes during his stretch, good for a 65-percent completion rate. However, he’s only thrown for 1,186 yards over those six games, less than 198 yards per game, and averaged a meager 6.48 yards per attempt. Clearly not throwing interceptions doesn’t mean you’re chalking up yardage or winning games, so what can we make of Carr’s nonetheless impressive streak?
“I just think he’s a really good decision maker,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s never been one to throw a lot of picks. I think he realizes right now that winning the turnover battle gives this team right now the best chance to win. He’s done a great job of taking care of the ball.”
Carr’s last six games stand in stark contrast to his first five, when he threw eight interceptions, three in Week 1, two in Week 3, two in Week 4 and one in Week 5. Three of those came in the end zone, when balls to Jared Cook, Martavis Bryant and Derek Carrier were picked off in crucial situations. Now Carr is six games deep in a pick-less run, the longest such streak of his career by three games. Twice before he went three games without throwing an interception, from Week 7-9 in 2016 and Week 13-15 in 2014.
But anybody who’s watched the Raiders this season knows the streak may not be as impressive as it looks on the surface. Carr’s 119 completions during the stretch have, on average, gone for less than 10 yards. And a look at NFL’s Next Gen Stats unveils some numbers that devalue Carr’s six game interception-less streak.
Next Gen Stats measures “aggressiveness,” which “tracks the amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. AGG is shown as a % of attempts into tight windows over all passing attempts.” Carr has only ranked higher than 20th in that category once in any of the last six weeks the Raiders played. His highest aggressiveness rating came Week 12 against the Ravens at 23.5 percent, placing him fourth in the league. His lowest aggressiveness rating came Week 6 against the Seahawks, when his 3.2-percent aggressiveness rating landed him 28th in the league.
Carr’s average intended air yards over that span, per Next Gen Stats, were nothing special. He only ranked higher than 18th in the league once during any of the last six weeks the Raiders played, and twice he finished last or tied for last in the category. Carr’s highest average intended air yards in the last six games was 8.8 against the Ravens, placing him 10th in the league. His lowest mark came Week 6 in London, when his 2.7 average intended air yards put him dead last at 30th in the NFL.
Granted, opportunities to throw deep and be aggressive get taken away when you’re on the ground. Carr has been sacked 24 times in his last six games, so not all blame rests on the quarterback for his low rankings in the aforementioned two categories. But if anything, they reveal that six straight games without an interception may not be as glamorous as it seems for No. 4.
Carr, however, takes pride in the streak that seemed unimaginable at season’s start.
“At first, I was just trying to figure the offense out, feel things out, being too aggressive and trying too much to help us win. Really, when I would make mistakes it actually hurt us, so just doing my best to take care of the football and to put our defense in good situations,” Carr said. “Taking care of the football so it’s easy on our offense, so we aren’t playing from behind and things like that. I’m just trying to do my best that way. It’s something that I like. It’s not something that I even think about, to be honest with you.
“Anytime you can take care of the ball in games by not throwing interceptions, obviously fumbles happen, and you can’t do anything about those in the pocket. When it comes to interceptions, just making good decisions and trying to put the team in the best situation. More so, I think of it as a team thing. Not putting our defense on a short field and stuff like that.”
Over that six-game span, Carr has faced the Seahawks, Colts, 49ers, Chargers, Cardinals and Ravens. Three of those defenses – Seattle, Indianapolis and Los Angeles – are currently tied for sixth in the league in interceptions, so Carr hasn’t always faced the easiest of competition during his stretch. Next up is the Chiefs, also tied for sixth, whose head coach views Carr’s streak as a testament to the quarterback.
“He’s getting the ball out. He’s got a good tight end there which is a quarterback’s best friend always. He’s using him and that running back (Jalen Richard), who’s a quarterback’s second-best friend. Those become important elements to the stats that you’re throwing around,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on a conference call. “To the question you asked there, I don’t think he’s more conservative. No, I don’t think that. I think he’s just dealing it up to the guys that are there.”
Carr admits he made a conscious effort to be less aggressive after his early-season flurry of interceptions. He singled out his first-down end-zone interception in Week 3 against Miami, when Carr forced the ball to the back-left corner of the end zone with the Raiders trailing by only four and three minutes remaining. The Dolphins sealed their win with a 74-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
“I didn’t need to do it then. We have a lot more time to score and win the game. Finally got a one-on-one and was too aggressive,” Carr said. “That was one. I can’t remember other games right now, but there are definitely times where if we sat down and looked at them, ‘you don’t have to do that.’ It’s me just trying to win the game, trying to do too much. That’s always been a problem I’ve always tried to hold back on. With Coach Gruden coming in, I’m so aggressive and fired up all the time. We’ve learned to mellow that out a little bit so I can do better for our team.”
Carr has mainly been less aggressive and thrown shorter in his six-game interception-less streak, but against the Ravens he was far more aggressive and averaged more intended air yards than in any of the five games prior. He says teams are playing the Raiders in coverages that enable them to push the ball but still take care of it, and Sunday will show us if that trend continues against the league’s worst pass defense in terms of yards allowed.
And while extending that streak to seven games against the Chiefs would be impressive, it’s short-sighted to ignore that Carr’s streak may not be that impressive if you examine how tough his throws are and how far they travel.