Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer 352d

What gives with the lack of Derek Carr deep shots?

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The situation called for a Hail Mary. Even the playcall was for Derek Carr to throw a deep ball into the end zone to let his receivers try to make a play.

But with one second on the clock before halftime and the Oakland Raiders at the Buffalo Bills' 47-yard line and trailing 14-7, Carr did not even look downfield. Instead, he spied running back Jalen Richard 2 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage, hit him with a quick pass and Richard scampered for a 15-yard gain.


Wait, what? Surely, the likes of Brett Favre (Carr's favorite player growing up) or Aaron Rodgers would not settle for a no-risk, no-reward dump-off pass rather than chucking the football and seeing what happens on a no-risk, high-reward chance.

"For me, I'm not even being funny, it's simple math," Carr said Wednesday after the team's walk-through on a tennis court at the posh resort the team is staying at this week.

"Cover 2 with three receivers, where everyone is dropping deep. There's four, five, six, seven [defenders] for three [receivers]. At the end of the day, you roll out, you can throw it up or take a better option underneath when we've seen guys be able to break tackles and things like that, maybe keep it alive, those kinds of things."

Richard, with a running start, made it to the 32-yard line.

"Obviously, we lost by more than one score,” Carr said.

"I take it all in: 'Yes, sir, whatever you want.' But at the same time, I'm going to continue to play the game how I think it's best for our team."

And there it is.

Carr has seemed less eager to stand in the pocket and let plays develop downfield this season. But is the second-highest-paid quarterback in NFL history declining to throw a Hail Mary at the half a symptom or the problem?

Consider: Carr's passing game on throws that travel at least 15 yards downfield has declined greatly this season. In the first two games, when Oakland started 2-0, he completed 88.3 percent of such throws, getting 17.7 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and no interceptions, per ESPN Stats & Information. In his last five games, Carr has completed just 31.3 percent of those throws for 10.3 yards per attempt with three TDs and four INTs.

The eventual 34-14 loss to the Bills was a microcosm of Carr’s reluctance to take deep shots.

Because after completing three of four passes that went 15-plus yards in the first quarter for 82 yards, he did not connect on another deep ball the rest of the game, going 0-for-4 with two picks on those throws.

Of course, the Bills fell back into a soft zone coverage that helped lower his average air yards from 11.5 in the first quarter to 4.9 yards the last three quarters. And as Carr, who signed that monster five-year, $125 million contract extension this offseason, often says, he takes what the defense gives him.

But how fine is that line between taking what a defense gives you and taking what you need as an offense?

"That's a good question," said receiver Amari Cooper, the team's purported deep threat. "As an offense, you want to attack, you want to be dominant, so you really want to have that mentality that you want to go out there and take what you want. But at the same time, you don't ever really want to make things too hard, so if something is there, you should want to take it.

"I don't know. I don't know where to draw that line, but that's a good question."

Then do you attack or simply sit back and let the offense come to you?

"I don't really know how to answer, but I think we should just go out and do our thing and stay within our offense," Cooper said. "We have a pretty good O-line, pretty good quarterback. We're good all around."

But for some reason, the offense has been misfiring since that 2-0 start, and the Raiders have lost five of six to fall to 3-5 at the season's midway point.

And Carr, who finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting last season, is having an off year. A season in which he has already missed a game with a broken bone in his back.

He has thrown six interceptions in his last five starts; he had six picks all of last season.

And he is not responding well to pressure.

Carr, who suffered a fractured pinkie and a broken fibula last season, is just 31st in the NFL with a 37.8 passer rating when pressured, according to Pro Football Focus, with no TDs and three INTs.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said while Carr is "one of the best in the league in making quick decisions to get the ball out of his hands," he simply got rid of it too soon too many times at Buffalo.

"He looks at [the film] and says, 'I had more time. I wasn't under duress. I had more time to scan the field and take some of the shots that we had designed to take,'" Del Rio said.

"Get the ball down the field the way we can, the way he's capable of. Those are things that are

there. We all have to do better. ... Those are the things that when they start accruing more regularly we will start making more plays and having more fun."

With a nationally televised prime-time game at the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the sense of urgency is palpable around the Raiders and Carr. And yet ...

"My mistake is trying to do too much for my team instead of letting our team just do it together," Carr said. "I'll try to make a hero throw or a hero check or whatever it is. That's my mistake.

"Be urgent in the preparation and the process, but when you get on the field, just cut it loose because we're all talented enough to go out there and play well."

Sounds like a take on John Wooden's old maxim: Be quick but don't hurry.

"Yeah, exactly," Carr said. "There's no doubt about it. You have to play fast, but at the same you can't hurry and rush things. Especially at quarterback, I have to be the most calm one."

Circumstances, though, may call for a more risky one, like the Carr who let it fly a year ago and at the beginning of this season.

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