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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jon Gruden has been having a rough week.
First, he took a loss on Monday Night Football, which may as well been called Tuesday Morning Football, and now he’s got to get his team ready—on an extra-short week—for one of the toughest road trips in the NFL.
Oh, and then there’s this…
“A skunk got lose in our locker room, that’s no kidding,” the head coach said on Wednesday of how bad his week really has been. “We have a short week, no sleep a wild skunk running around in our building… It’s a smell I still can’t get out of my face.”
What’s worse? That’s not a skunk, Jon, that’s the smell of your quarterback ever since he signed a five-year, $125 million deal after his career season in 2016.
Let’s compare and contrast:
2016: 12-3 record, 357-560 (64%), 3,937 yards, 28 TD, 6 INT
Since: 6-10 record, 352-555 (63%), 3,799 yards, 22 TD, 16 INT
Carr’s latest outing in Week 1, 29-40, 303 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a blowout loss. This, after a nearly perfect first half that saw the Raiders hold a three-point lead.
“I don’t know what happened,” Gruden said in a defeated tone that matched the look on his face during the end of the game.
Unfortunately for the renewed head coach, that first half seems like an outlier for his QB, and even then, the only touchdown drive he led was on the script to start the game.
Carr has regressed mightily over the past season-plus, and while a lot of people were scratching their head over Monday’s second-half dropoff, a lot have their guesses on what’s caused Carr to go in reverse since 2016.
“He hasn’t been the same since he broke his ankle,” one Bronco told me on Wednesday afternoon. “Watch him. He doesn’t want to get hit anymore, he doesn’t want to hang in there.”
Monday night’s game had some glaring examples of that. Once Carr’s internal clock tells him pressure is coming—even when it isn’t—he panics.
“Too many schemes,” another player said. “A quarterback can never get comfortable when he’s playing with a new offensive coordinator every year.”
To me, it’s a mix of both of those factors contributing to this new Carr smell, with a heavy dose of the latter.
Here’s the thing, though, it’s not as if the Raiders have been shuffling offensive coordinators because they haven’t found the right one. They had the perfect offensive coordinator for Derek Carr, as evidenced by the 60-touchdown-to-19-interception clip he put up in the two years he worked with him.
His name? William Scott Musgrave, you may know him as Bill. Oakland, and then-head coach Jack Del Rio, inexplicably sent Musgrave packing without a new contract following the 2016 season, a season in which his Raiders offense was the sixth-best in the NFL.
“He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever been around,” Carr said three different times in less than a minute on Wednesday, a fitting thank you to a man who helped him become very rich.
“Bill is as smart as they come. He’s brilliant,” Case Keenum echoed later in the day.
The same could not be said for Del Rio, who was hell-bent on promoting quarterbacks coach Todd Downing, thinking he was the next up-and-comer. After one season in which Downing’s offense ranked 23rd in points per game, he was let go when Gruden came to town. Downing now serves as the tight ends coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
On Wednesday, I asked Carr why he had his best season under Musgrave’s tutelage.
“I’ve had games where I threw three picks, I’ve had games where I’ve thrown five touchdowns,” He said, beating around the bush a bit. “I’ve done that in every offense that I’ve ever been in, it’s always like that. When Coach Musgrave was here, I had a lot of good days. It is what it is. I think the thing about him is how smart he is. We did our very best to see what the defense was doing, putting us in the right situations and things like that. He’s great at that. That was one of the things that really helped us, his brain.”
While it’s obvious that Carr misses Musgrave, what was also evident during the press conference is that he didn’t have any similar praise for the coaches that surround him now.
Now, it’s important to note that he was never asked about Gruden’s offensive mind or that of his new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but usually, you don’t have to. Most players, after praising a former coach, would carefully praise their current coaches to a similar or higher degree.
During his entire press conference, which lasted about eight minutes, Carr didn’t mention Jon Gruden or any Raiders coach.
Maybe it’s the fact that Gruden traded away the only player that gave Carr a respectable defense to work with, maybe it’s that just-smelled-a-skunk look the head coach had on his face when watching Carr throw the game away. Whatever it is, this doesn’t exactly feel like a match made in heaven.
“He’s done fine,” Gruden said when asked how the veteran QB has handled his playbook.
Whether it’s the ankle or the fact that Bill Musgrave turned Carr from a Mazda to a Maserati, one thing is abundantly clear, Derek Carr is still in love with his ex, and his ex has moved on.