Derek Carr dropped back on third-and-long, saw nothing develop downfield and decided to scramble 11 yards to a first down before punctuating the play with a demonstrative fist pump and scream.
A quarterback who had been hesitant — and often ineffective — when running the ball during his first six seasons has added a new dimension to his game that is paying big dividends this year for the Las Vegas Raiders.
“He has a lot of pride in his performance and he really wants to improve and I think he knows one of the areas that he can really make a difference is running for a first down here and there,” coach Jon Gruden said. “We all know he can hurt you with his arm, he can get it done in the pocket, but 42 yards rushing, a scramble for a first down on third-and-9, picking up a second-and-long on a read option, make us harder to defend and certainly make him harder to defend. And I’m really proud of the effort he’s made to improve in every area and that’s the big one.”
Gruden has tried to make that a priority since returning to the Raiders as head coach in 2018. In Gruden’s first stint with the team, Rich Gannon had great success as a scrambler, ranking fourth among all quarterbacks from 1999-2001 with 1,058 yards rushing.
That had never been a big part of Carr’s game despite being a good athlete. He had always felt more comfortable just sitting in the pocket and trying to beat defenses with his arm.
But his increased comfort in his third year in Gruden’s system has led to more scrambles which has come in handy, such as in last week’s 16-6 win at Cleveland when his 41 yards rushing were the fourth-highest output of his career.
Carr’s third-down conversion run in the third quarter helped set up Las Vegas’ only touchdown and then he added an 18-yard run late in the game to set up a key field goal. He also lowered his shoulder and took a big hit fighting for extra yards on another run.
“I feel like as a football fan, whenever the quarterback does that kind of stuff, it pumps the whole sideline up,” Carr said. “It pumps the whole team up when the quarterback lowers his shoulder, even if he is being an idiot. It pumps the team up. I have tried to jump over people and I have tried to run over people, and I might not be the best at it, but I am going to try it. I felt like those moments right there ignite our sideline. So if I am able to continue doing that, I might be a little more sore than usual, but whatever it takes to win is all I care about.”
Carr’s 94 yards rushing for the season aren’t nearly as prolific as more athletic quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson, but it marks his second-most in a season behind the 138 he gained in 2015.
And Carr has made the most of his runs, turning them into nine first downs — including eight in his past four games. He believes that threat will open up more opportunities for big plays throwing off scrambles if defenses start playing him to run.
“They have to choose right now if they’re going to come out of their coverage responsibility or are they going to stay back, and it does allow for some big plays,” Carr said. “It has allowed for me to get out and for guys to get wide open, and sometimes I don’t really extend it all the way. I get out and because they come up I’m able to throw it right as they get out of the pocket and I don’t even have to run. So, it has helped and it has opened that part of our game up. … It’s something we’ve worked on and we’re still trying to get better, but it’s definitely helping us.”
NOTES: RT Trent Brown returned to the team after being hospitalized following an IV mishap before the game in Cleveland. He is not ready to practice yet. … CB Damon Arnette had his injured wrist examined in Houston this week and is expected to start practicing Thursday. … The Raiders had eight players miss practice: Brown and Johnathan Abram (illness), Jeff Heath (hip), Maurice Hurst (ankle), Arden Key (foot), Kolton Miller (ankle), Rodney Hudson and Johnathan Hankins (not injury related).