It began with utter dominance and jubilance then the third quarter came and everything came crashing down. It was a game of huge momentum swings. The Raiders controlled the first two quarter and then in a blink of an eye, the Panthers completely took the momentum. However, Carr would overcome a dislocated pinky and deliver a vintage fourth quarter performance that ensured that the Raiders would have their first winning season in fourteen years.
The game began with Carr surgically slicing up the depleted Panther’s secondary. He began the game eight for eight and was throwing absolute dimes.
On this naked boot play, the Defensive end doesn’t fall for the fake and is right in Carr’s grill, but Carr is still able to place a ball right over the inside backer, before the flat defender, and under the safety.
Return of the RPOs
The Raiders have used run/pass options (RPOs) sparingly this season, but heavily used it in this game. They ran RPOs 12 times for 61 yards (5 yards per play) but got big yardage on them in critical parts of the game.
On this play, the Raiders have an inside zone called with a bubble screen to the trips side. Carr sees that there is seven in box which means there is one more defender than the offense could block so he throws the screen. The seventh defender in the box has to make up a lot of ground and sprints out to the screen. Crabtree makes him pay by cutting inside of him and making a play.
Picking on Klein
The Panthers run a lot of tampa-2 in long yardage situations, which is fine when you have an athlete like Luke Kuechly playing middle linebacker, but Kuechly was ruled out of the game with a concussion. I wrote an article before the game about how offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, should test which ever Panther linebacker that was going to fill in for Kuechly in the deep middle and that is exactly what Musgrave did in the game. In the article, I posted a clip of the Raiders running an all verticals concept against the Steelers tampa-2. Coincidently, the Raiders ran the same exactly play against the Panthers.
The difference between this play and the one against the Steelers is that Andres Holmes is running the bender route to split the two safeties. Middle linebacker, A.J. Klein is responsible for running with Holmes. The safety to the right is so concerned with helping Klein, that he locks onto Holmes even as Carr begins his throwing motion to throw to Johnny Holton, who is wide open in the area the safety vacated. Carr places the ball perfectly for a huge pass play. Exploiting Klein in coverage would be an important strategy as the game went on.
A Most Resilient Pinkie and the Trinity of Throws
The game took a 180 degree turn and took a nose dive in the third quarter for the Raiders after Carr dislocated his pinkie on a botched snap. It would fit a nicer narrative if I told you that Carr ran out of the tunnel and immediately led the team back into the lead but he actually threw wood into the fire by throwing an interception on an ill-advised throw across his body when he came back. However, when the fourth quarter started, Carr resurrected as he usually does and ignited the come back with a trinity of throws.
Throw Number #1
The Raiders drove down the field to the fringe of the high red zone to face a third and eleven. They were down eight after getting 25 straight points scored on them and needed a spark badly. The Panthers came out in their favorite long yardage coverage, Tampa-2. The offensive call was a double outs concept to the right. The concept is designed to flood the cornerback’s zone. Holmes was lined up outside and Walford inside. The corner bumped and trailed Holmes, leaving a tiny sliver between him and the linebacker. At first, I thought Walford did a good job of settling into the hole into the zone, but Carr actually intentionally under threw the ball to fit it in. Walford makes a nice adjustment, catches the ball, and suddenly the Raiders are in striking distance.
Throw Number #2
On the next play, the Panthers bracket Crabtree while playing man to man on every other receiver. Walford is lined up as the “point” of a trips bunch formation the left. The Raiders run a four verticals concept from the bunch. As Seth Roberts runs a wheel, Crabtree runs a seam and takes two defenders with him, which leaves Walford one on one with Klein on a bender route. Klein does a good job of positioning himself to cover Walford, but Carr throws Walford open with a beautiful back shoulder throw away from Klein and the backside safety for the touchdown. That’s a throw only a handful of people in the world could make.
After the touchdown, the Raiders were still down by two points. There was yet another play that had to be made.
The Raiders run a similar double outs concept that they ran a couple of plays ago. This time Crabtree, Roberts, and Cooper are lined up in trips to the right side. Roberts and Cooper run the double outs, while Crabtree runs a flat route underneath. The Panthers are playing a goal line cover-2 defense, so the Raiders attempt to flood the cornerback’s zone in the flats, but with three receivers this time. Cooper’s out route occupies the safety but fell down on the route. Three defenders go to Crabtree, who had an excellent game to this point, leaving Roberts open in small window in the end zone. Carr once again fits the ball in a tight window and ties the game.
The degree of difficulty of these three throws are high, but when you consider that Carr made these three throws all in a row, it is pretty remarkable. When you consider how critical this drive was, you have to say to yourself, “wow”. When you consider this guy just dislocated his pinky a quarter ago, you remind yourself that you are seeing something special and to enjoy it.
The Final Chapter
After a defensive stop, the Raiders got the ball back with a chance to recapture the lead. Two plays later, they found themselves in another critical third down situation. It’s a third and nine this time. Most teams would be happy to settle for nine yards, but that’s not the nature of this team. When they see an opportunity to capitalize, they will sell out to make plays. Coach Musgrave knew the Panthers were going to use a lot of tampa-2, so he adjusted his shallow cross concept to get Crabtree isolated with Klein by having Crabtree line up a slot to run a bender right down the middle of the field.
Musgrave calls the adjusted shallow cross play and sure enough the Panthers come out in Tampa-2. The Panthers tried hard to disguise the coverage as cover-1 but Carr sees the safety rotation when the ball is snapped and looks right to Crabtree who is matched up with Klein. Carr gets hit as he’s throwing and under throws the ball but Crabtree is able to come up with the catch anyways. Needless to say, Klein had a rough day.
The Raiders final RPO was an old fashioned RPO. The Raiders originally had an inside zone run called, but Carr sees the safety walk into the box and knows that the defense has too many defenders in the box to block and he also knows that Crabtree has a one on one with a back-up corner. So Carr signals to Crabtree to run a fade. The rest of the offense executes the inside zone, but Carr flash fakes the ball to the back and throws another beautiful back shoulder pass that put the Raiders in position to kick what would be the game winning field goal.
Carr’s poise and mental sharpness in these type of pressure situations is why he leads the league in game tying or go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter according to ESPN Stats & Info. It takes a special type of person to be able to tune out all the noise and perform when the game matters most and Carr does it week after week. Raider nation should be happy to know that they have a quarterback who has elite skill but also possesses the ever so rare clutch gene.