150 is a big number. It’s how many games Derek Carr has started in the NFL (including 149 regular season games and, tellingly, a single playoff game), and it’s how many millions of dollars the New Orleans Saints agreed to pay him earlier this year. But Carr isn’t meeting the expectations that come with that resume or that level of compensation.
Six quarterbacks have thrown 250 or more passes this season, and four of them have converted 90 or more first downs. The other two are Carr — with 76 first downs on 255 passes — and second-year starter Sam Howell. Howell has converted 80 first downs on 256 pass attempts. He’s started 8 games going back to last season. That’s the company Carr has put himself in, as opposed to other quarterbacks who have been doing this for a decade.
Carr’s bad habit of throwing short of the sticks has drawn criticism from Saints fans and mockery from his opponents, and the numbers bear it out. Pro Football Reference measures success rate as the percent of plays which gain at least 40% of yards needed on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down. Carr’s current success rate as a passer is just 43.6%, which ranks 20th among the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks.
Look at more comprehensive metrics like quarterback rating (where Carr’s 82.8 grade ranks 20th) or PFR’s adjusted net yards per pass attempt (which has Carr at 23rd, with a 5.2 ANY/A) and you’ll see more of the same: he’s on the wrong end of the spectrum in terms of NFL quarterback play.
It wouldn’t be as big an issue if Carr were playing on the modest contract the Saints signed Jameis Winston to; his last two-year, $28 million deal would be more in line with someone performing at Carr’s level. That Carr is instead being paid to play like a fringe top-10 quarterback (his $37.5 million average per-year salary clocks in at 13th) makes it a problem when he’s closer to a bottom-10 passer (his success rate, again, is 20th). If Carr can’t pick it up and meet the expectations set for him, he and his contract are quickly going to become an albatross holding this team back.
So what’s to be done? Adding a new receiver? Changing the play caller? The issues have almost varied week to week. Early this season everyone was (rightfully) concerned about the offensive line. The protection improved as the year continued, though injuries have wracked the unit in recent weeks. Chris Olave and the receiving corps have caught a lot of flak for running poor routes or not competing on contested targets. There’s some validity to that, but watch the tape and you’ll see receivers getting open and Carr not throwing to them.
What about a new play caller? Saints head coach Dennis Allen was asked about personnel changes coming out of the long break between last week’s Thursday night game and said that none were coming. But Allen responded with something interesting when the offense’s growing pains were brought up.
“I think it’s time for those to be done with,” Allen said in reference to the offense’s (and Carr’s) struggles. They’re running out of excuses after seven games with more poor performances than plays to be proud of. When asked what would happen if those things weren’t done with, Allen replied, “We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.”
That was the first real criticism or negativity (soft as it was) that Allen has directed to his offense and quarterback this season, but it was needed. If anything he may have not been clear enough about where the team must improve. Carr has to play better. He has to be more aggressive and make better use of the weapons available to him. Panicking and throwing a no-hope pass to Alvin Kamara with defenders closing in hasn’t gotten in done yet, and it isn’t likely to win games any time soon.
Carr must perform like someone who has been on the field 150 times before. He needs to justify the $150 million contract the Saints signed with him. If not, he’ll go down and taken Allen and everyone in the building with him.