Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has looked remarkably solid thus far in 2021. After years of failing to live up to his MVP-caliber season in 2015, Carr was starting to look like his former self once again, then the Chargers reminded everyone just how average Carr has been over the last six years. After the game, Chargers’ star defensive end Joey Bosa told The Athletic that the team knew as soon as they got a decent amount of pressure on Carr, he would fold.
Now, obviously, getting pressure on any quarterback is going to give your team a much better chance to win. However, Bosa seemed to be implying that Carr would practically become a non-factor if the Chargers could supply enough pressure. Bosa implied that he’d be worried about always getting hit. He wouldn’t trust his O-line, and anytime he saw a D-lineman barreling towards him, like with Christian Covington’s sack in the second half, he’d curl up and give up on the play before the defense had even collapsed the pocket. That’s some pretty harsh criticism, but if it’s true, you can’t fault Bosa for bringing it up.
However, Bosa isn’t entirely accurate.
Since 2018, Derek Carr has started every game for the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. For the purpose of this piece, I will not include his numbers from Week 15 of the 2020 season, since Carr only attempted five passes before leaving the game due to a groin injury.
In the 51 other games Carr has started since 2018, he has seen a pressure rate of 25 percent or greater in 17 of them. In those 17 games, Carr has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for an average of 265.5 yards per game. His overall average in that same span is a 68.4 completion percentage with 265.7 yards per game. That three percent is a marginal difference, but not as huge as you’d expect it to be after the claims that Bosa made. Not to mention that Carr’s touchdown-to-interception ratio in games where he faces significant pressure is 2.56, compared to 2.6 when he doesn’t face that kind of pressure. That is an insignificant difference.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well, has the Raiders’ offense performed worse as a whole when Carr is constantly pressured?” In terms of winning, no. Carr has a record of 7-10 since 2018 when he’s pressured on a quarter or more of his dropbacks. That’s a 41.2 win percentage, compared to 44.1 when he’s pressured less often. Once again, it’s a difference, but not the huge margin Bosa’s claims would lead you to believe. Total team points, though, is a different story. The Raiders average almost 4.5 more points per game (23.29 versus 18.94) when Carr is pressured on less than 25 percent of his dropbacks. That’s a big difference, so take that as you will, but one number in the face of all the others still isn’t enough to convince me that Carr is marginally worse when facing significant pressure.
As is the case with any quarterback, Carr is bound to rush throws and make errant passes in the face of pressure. However, Carr isn’t someone who folds against the pass rush. He’s actually done pretty well against it. In 2020, Carr was ranked by Nick Shook of NFL.com as the ninth-best quarterback under pressure across the league. Carr had a completed passes over expected-plus rate (CPOE+) of 2.3 percent and a passer rating of 77.6, which might not sound great until you realize that guys like Josh Allen recorded passer ratings of just 79.6 in similar circumstances, and Allen was an MVP candidate.
Carr is not the best quarterback under pressure. Rodgers, Wilson, and Jackson are all clearly ahead of him in that department, but that’s not the same as saying Carr folds under pressure. Carr has shown time and time again throughout his career that while pressure may affect him, it doesn’t destroy him. He doesn’t become an awful quarterback when the pocket collapses, and he definitely doesn’t “get shook” when faced with consistent pressure. While some of the sacks Carr took on Monday night — such as the aforementioned one by Christian Covington — didn’t look great, that’s just one instance.
Carr and the Raiders just wrapped up an offseason that saw 80 percent of their starting offensive line leave the team. Carr is having to work with almost an entirely new unit in 2021, and still, Carr was looking like an MVP frontrunner through the first three weeks.
Of course Carr is slightly worse under pressure, every quarterback is. In reality, Carr is actually above average when defenders get close. That’s what the numbers say, and numbers don’t lie.