Raiders put rookie QB in a vise

This is my Friday column on Derek Carr, Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie. WARNING: This is a Raiders column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

The Raiders don’t have to do it.

The Raiders don’t have to start Derek Carr this Sunday against the Jets. Dennis Allen still has time to bench the Raiders’ future franchise quarterback before the Jets smash and steamroll him like a character in Looney Tunes.

Allen should not start Carr even though Carr earned the job – his passer rating in the preseason was 108 and Matt Schaub’s was 55.

But what did Carr really earn?

He earned the right to play behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. The left tackle, Donald Penn, played for the Buccaneers last season and gave up 12 sacks. The right tackle, Menelik Watson, just got benched.

Carr earned the right to repeat his older brother’s fate. David Carr was the first pick in 2002, and he started as a rookie for the Texans, an expansion team, and he got sacked 76 times. Carr The Elder got beaten down physically and mentally and never got a chance to build confidence. This could happen to Carr The Younger, too.

It’s not wise to make a rookie quarterback carry a bad team. Rookie quarterbacks typically don’t play well. Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie. Peyton Manning went 3-13. In the rare instances when a rookie quarterback played well and won (Ben Roethlisberger went 13-0 in 2004 and Russell Wilson went 11-5 in 2012), they played for teams that already had established running games and established defenses. The Raiders have neither.

The Raiders are the only team starting a rookie quarterback Week 1. The Jaguars’ rookie quarterback, Blake Bortles, is better than Carr. But the Jaguars aren’t starting Bortles. The Jaguars are a prudent franchise.

What have we learned about the Raiders? Let’s start with the general manager, Reggie McKenzie.

We’ve learned he should not be allowed to sign or trade for a quarterback ever again. Revoke his privileges. He has acquired multimillion-dollar busts – Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub – two years in a row at a total of $14 million guaranteed. McKenzie is throwing away Mark Davis’ money.

What have we learned about Allen, the head coach?

We’ve learned he is risking a young man’s future and the franchise’s future for job security.

Starting Carr gives Allen an excuse if the Raiders stink. Say they finish 4-12 again. Allen can say 4-12 was a good record considering he started a rookie quarterback.

Starting Carr buys Allen one more year beyond this one. Firing Allen after this season and hiring a new coaching staff and making Carr learn and operate two different systems his first two seasons in the NFL would jeopardize his development. Young quarterbacks need continuity.

We’ve learned Allen is clever at protecting himself. Will he be as clever at protecting Carr? Allen better be, especially this week against the Jets and their head coach Rex Ryan.

Ryan will try to overwhelm Carr by showing him things he’s never seen before. That’s what Ryan does. His defense is unusual and complex. Even veterans have a tough time figuring it out.

Ryan is going to show Carr the 3-4 defense, the 4-3 defense, the 4-6 defense and the Nickel 4-6 defense. Ryan is going to show a blitz from the left, and then bring the blitz from the right and vice versa. Ryan is going to blitz up the middle, use every blitz package imaginable to test the rookie quarterback.

Can Carr hold up to the pressure? How many checks can he make at the line of scrimmage? Can he adjust the protections? Can he do the little things NFL quarterbacks take years to master? If not, unblocked rushers will crush him.

Allen has Carr’s career in his hands. Allen has to protect Carr, give him a chance to stay on his feet.

Allen must make sure the game plan includes a running game, play-action passes, pocket movement, screens, shallow crosses, three-step drops, five-step drops, easy passes. Get the ball out of the kid’s hands.

That’s what Bill Walsh would have done.

Actually, no. What am I thinking? Walsh wouldn’t have started Carr in the first place. He was too wise for that.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 26 Comments

  1. I had a similar much less wordy and not nearly as well presented rant on the same subject when the word came down that Carr would start. They’re going to be terrible either way they have nothing to lose by starting Schaub while the kid gets used to the speed that NFL games are played at. When they’re 1-7 and Schaub is done for the year on IR then you put in the kid and let him mop up a throw away season. He wont have the pressure of any expectation to win and he’ll get valuable game time reps to take with him into next off season.

    One question I would pose is; how do you know that the decision to start Carr was solely Allen’s?

      1. I think you make some decent points about Carr. I don’t know that the whole “ruining a rookie” thing is real though. If a player gets hurt from poor protection, sure. But it is really hard for me to believe a talented player, one who really can be a top shelf NFL QB is not going to eventually pull through. His brother David got off to a bad start in Houston but by the time he was with the 49ers, if truly had elite talent, I think it would have come through. People say Aaron Rodgers would have done no better on the 49ers than Alex Smith and I just do not believe that. Yes, he would not have had it easy, but you would have seen him make good decisions, be accurate with the ball, fire it downfield when necessary. I think your argument is more solid when you are talking about a guy who could be an NFL starter but not elite. With bad handling, maybe he flames out. If everything is set up well, then he becomes serviceable.

  2. Good point Coffee’s. Grant this reminds me of Plunketts experience in New England. That almost ruined him and took him years to recover. In his case he became so shell shocked the 49ers released him even though they had gambled away their future to get him. He was just lucky to be able to just sit a year on the Raider bench and then get the opportunity via a broken leg to get the chance to start again. Other QB’s in that position have not been as fortunate. Most just disappear.

    1. the Super Bowl winning coach that hasn’t been a head coach in how long now? Don’t you find it just a little bit funny that he has not been able to find another job as a head coach..

      1. I read the first paragraph and thought the story was going to argue picking a QB in the first round was not ideal because he wouldn’t/ shouldn’t be starting anyways. Then I read the rest of the article and found the probable reason he isn’t coaching anywhere in the NFL. The guy starts out the interview process going one direction, then spends the rest of his time about facing and showing a real lack of any in depth understanding of the game.
        His explanation sounded like a degenerate gambler talking about how he lost his money with no real acknowledgement to his own faults.

        1. Hating on Bilick, eh?


          As an OC, his team set an NFL record for most points scored.

          As a HC, his team set an NFL record for fewest points allowed.

          He’d been on the sidelines, pro and college, for a decade or two longer than Grant has been alive. I think I know who’s opinion I’d take.

          Another counterpoint from regular Inside the 49ers contributer Greg Cosell:

          “He’s a player who, just looking at the tape and not being there, looks as if he is being coached well and is receptive to it. And he’s way better with people around him in the pocket than I thought he’d be.

          Carr, who will start in Week 1 vs. the New York Jets, has a snap, compact delivery on short to intermediate throws, and has excellent velocity. He has very quick feet on rollouts and an aggressive mentality. And on a 36-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore against Seattle he also showed understanding of coverages, then patience and poise. He knew what he had pre-snap and delivered the ball with touch and accuracy.

          …Carr navigated the pocket, kept a downfield focus and had a good aggressive throw with good ball location. That’s NFL quarterbacking.”


          Sounds a lot like Cosell is giving Carr the thumbs up as the Raiders best choice.

          1. As an OC, his team set an NFL record for most points scored.

            As a HC, his team set an NFL record for fewest points allowed.
            Sounds like a guy who should be an NFL coach but although he’s made it publicly clear he would like to coach again he’s still up in the TV booth each Sunday.

            1. You’re not wrong that one certainly has a heck of a lot more credible experience on the subject then the other but I still hesitate to put much stock into his opinions when teams are taking chances on college coaches with zero NFL head coaching experience over him.

      2. Hasn’t been hired as a coach, or just doesn’t want to give up a cushy broadcast gig? (aka Dungy-Mariucci-Gruden syndrome).

    2. Did he not win that Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at QB? So much for Billick’s expertise at developing a top round draft pick at QB. If anything, the Ravens had a great defense and a QB who managed the game. Billick was bumped from broadcasting NFL games this season, too, so maybe he is at the end of his string of riding that SB win.

  3. I always think its comical that Grant regularly references to what Bill Walsh would do like:

    a) He was close to Walsh and could have any clue on what he would have done

    b) Walsh never made mistakes and everything he would have done would work for sure.

    You can make a point without always saying “that’s what Bill Walsh would do”.
    Because frankly, you don’t know that and it just weakens your argument.

  4. Why not start Carr?
    Based on his preseason game against Seattle, I would imagine that the raidernation is in a tizzy at the moment.

    We’ll find out after a few games if Carr is the starter going forward, or if the preseason win against the c-hawks was their Superbowl.

  5. Do they have a choice in starting Carr? Schwab has a sore arm. No way is Mark Davis, going to keep Abbot and Costello, or Beavis and Butthead with another losing season.

  6. I think 49er fans need to worry about their inmates instead of the Raiders. Did you all see how hard it was for them to score this preseason? Carr will be fine. The Oline us actually going to be one of the better ones in the league.

    1. I know the Raiders season always hinges on the Pre Season. Every year you Raider fans do it to yourselves and start thinking its a championship year. Then the real season starts and wins like the Seattle win become all to real. Looking on this post, If it wasnt for Niner fans this post would be irrelevant like that East Bay team.
      Its Pre Season dude.

    2. Yeah, excuse us if don’t put much emphasis on preseason. We’re about the real season and trying to win a SB rather than getting excited about beating the c-hawks in the preseason and hoping to win more than 5 games in 2014.

      We may have a few boneheads on the team, but I don’t know of any team that doesn’t. I’ll let the courts take care of them, I’m keeping my eyes on the prize: SB #6.

  7. What would your first thoughts be about an offense if I told you that the RB only had one more rushing attempt then the QB? The RB btw had a 5.0 avg vs the QB’s 2.6.

  8. Carr is not an average rookie QB. He started 4 years in College and is ready for this. Schaub looked awful and still has an elbow issue. This is an easy decision and one of the few correct ones Allen has made.

  9. And the Seahawks shouldn’t have started Wilson in game one of his rookies season, right? And the Colts … Shaub is no longer a good NFL QB. Get the rookie going.

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