HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden wants no part of negativity, and he doesn’t want it anywhere near his Raiders.
“There’s enough of it in politics, in our social world right now, and we’re here to try to create a positive Las Vegas vibe and have some fun here,” Gruden said Wednesday.
And there might not be anything more synonymous in the NFL, with a Las Vegas vibe, than big plays that electrify a sellout crowd.
The Raiders are 2-0, in large part because of an improved defense that is making timely plays and putting the football back in the hands of quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr is equally responsible for Las Vegas being one of two undefeated teams in the AFC, along with Denver. The eight-year veteran QB is tied with Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady for the most pass plays covering 20 or more yards, with 12 apiece.
And, seven of Carr’s dozen passes were actually thrown 20 or more yards, which ranks second only to Arizona’s Kyler Murray (8).
In 2020, Carr finished with 16 completions of 20 yards.
“We still have plenty of areas to clean up, but yeah, I mean when you call a play that works, whether it’s a short-yardage conversion or a goal-line conversion or a long, big play, you have to get excited about something,” Gruden said. “There’s enough negativity out there to kill any rat right now. So, I do get excited when we make a good play, especially a big play in an explosive game.”
Carr’s 817 yards passing leads the NFL, well ahead of Murray, who is second with 689 yards.
Even more impressive, Carr’s numbers come from playing behind a patchwork offensive line that has been short-handed since the season started. Carr has been under pressure and blitzed 29 times — second-highest in the league — by two of the more stringent defensive units in the league from Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Carr, who was better known for checkdowns earlier in his career, has played with more confidence while making a concerted effort to get the ball downfield.
“I just try and execute it the best possible way I can, and the way coach Gruden designs the play,” Carr said. “We’ve been fortunate that our defense has been playing at such a high level. We’ve been able to take some shots, take some chances, and it’s been nice that some of those have worked out for us.”
Worked out well, in fact.
Per SportRadar, Carr’s average pass has traveled a career-high 8.9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, more than two yards from his average in 2019, when he ranked near the bottom of the league.
With a stable of targets, and star running back Josh Jacobs on the mend, the passing game has shown the depth of the Raiders.
“There is a lot to work on with the variety of offense that we have,” Carr said. “If one thing maybe isn’t going the way we wanted to, then maybe we go to this, or we have this, we can tap into that, and I still feel there are some things that we haven’t been able to do yet that I’m excited to show.”
Carr’s top target, Darren Waller, is tied among five others with a league second-highest 15 receptions.
Speedy wideout Henry Ruggs hauled in a game-sealing 61-yard scoring pass Sunday against Pittsburgh, and do-it-all receiver Zay Jones had a 31-yard TD in overtime against Baltimore in the opener.
Bryan Edwards provides a different option for Carr, with a longer and more physical frame, and ranks 13th in the league with an average depth of 15.0 yards when targeted.
Hunter Renfrow’s no-fear attitude has established him as a go-to target on third downs. He has shown a knack for catching anything thrown his way, even under a blanket of coverage.
And then there’s Kenyan Drake, who’s tallied 87 yards after the catch, proving his role in the backfield is much more than taking a handoff.
“We are a very good football team,” Carr said. “We definitely feel that way, but feeling that way and actually going out there and winning football games are two different things. So, we don’t want to rest in what we’ve done and we kind of want to look ahead and hopefully continue to be hungry because honestly, it doesn’t matter how many games we win. It’s still not enough. And that’s the mindset, it’s not enough until you’re in the dance and win the last game.
“And I think that’s the culture that coach Gruden has been trying to create here, and I think it’s something we’ve bought into, and hopefully we can sustain through the season.”
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