OAKLAND -- Derek Carr is going through a rough patch. The beloved Raiders quarterback is being criticized for his part in this prolonged losing skid, a rarity since his rookie year.
Carr is supposedly playing it safe, getting rid of the ball quick, throwing short and avoiding potentially risky deep shots downfield.
That doesn’t sound like someone who wears No. 4 as homage to Brett Favre. Alex Smith comes to mind instead.
The Kansas City signal caller is notoriously known as a game manager, a cautious leader who rarely lets it rip.
Not this year. The former 49ers No. 1 overall pick is killing it in K.C., with career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. The early MVP candidate has 12 touchdowns and no picks despite the fact he’s throwing deep more than ever.
Now that sounds like the Derek Carr we knew last year.
These quarterbacks seem to have reversed roles heading into Thursday’s clash between AFC West rivals. The Raiders are 2-4 and in desperate need of win against the AFC West-leading Chiefs.
Smith and Carr can be truly dynamic downfield. Only one guy’s found that rhythm lately.
That’s crystal clear when examining their deep throws.
Nobody’s better going yard this year than Smith, per analytics site Pro Football Focus – wrap your head around that – who is 13-of-23 for 526 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions on throws beyond 20 yards in the air. Carr is 17th, completing 3-of-10 deep shots – no starter has fewer attempts -- for 109 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.
Last year, Carr ranked fifth in passes over 20 yards in the air, again, using PFF stats, with a 46-percent completion rate, 858 yards and a 117.6 passer rating. Smith was 20th in that category, completing less than a third of his attempt with a 72.8 passer rating.
The Raiders certainly want to push the ball downfield more. Carr has but four explosive plays in nearly three games of the Raiders’ four game losing streak – he missed the Baltimore loss with a fractured in his back – and hasn’t worked short passes consistently enough to score often.
“We definitely want to be able to (create explosive plays),” Carr said. “Now does that mean we’re going to do anything differently or trying to force things? Absolutely not. That’s where you get in trouble. That’s something that I’ve learned in my career. You can’t force it. You just have to work hard and let it happen.”
Some think Smith is letting it fly with a stoked competitive fire because the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid believes a strong supporting cast led by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and rookie running back Kareem Hunt allows him to do big things Carr typically does.
There is, however, one constant heading into Thursday’s matchup. Smith has owned the Raiders. The Chiefs have had Carr’s number.
Smith is 9-1 against Oakland. Carr’s 1-5 against K.C.
Smith has 8.3 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns and just four picks against the Raiders. Carr averages 4.92 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and five interceptions versus the Chiefs.
“These are big games in the division,” Smith said. “You know they’re going to be four quarters. You know they’re going to come down to the end. You just try to go out there every single play and execute. They’re all hard fought and have been close.”
Carr knows Kansas City stands in the way of his ultimate goals. This year, he has to get past them to get the Raiders back on track. That won’t be easy.
“They do a good job of rushing the passer. They do a good job of stopping the run. They do a good job on the coverage end,” Carr said. “They’re sound. They’re really well-coached. (Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton) is a great coach. All the respect for him. So much respect that he even texted me when I got hurt last year. He’s just a good dude. But this week I don’t like him too much. He does a really good job of making sure everyone is locked in. They’re really smart. They’re really smart players. They don’t do a lot so they can see route concepts. They can visualize things and get used to seeing those kind of things.”