Quar­ter­back looks to re­bound in Den­ver af­ter rocky opener

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - NFL - By Matt Kawa­hara Matt Kawa­hara is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: mkawa­hara@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @matthewkawa­hara

There were times ear­lier in his ca­reer, Raiders quar­ter­back Derek Carr said this week, when he would see re­ceivers Amari Cooper or Michael Crab­tree in tight cov­er­age, know he had op­tions else­where and still feel a pang of in­de­ci­sion.

“You want to force that pass,” Carr said. “But it’s like, this matchup over here … is a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

In Week 1 against the Rams, Carr, more of­ten than not, went with the matchups. As the Rams schemed to take away Cooper and Jordy Nel­son, Carr tar­geted tight ends or run­ning backs on 31 of his 40 throws, fol­low­ing a plan the Raiders had laid out dur­ing the week.

Jared Cook caught nine passes for 180 yards, set­ting a fran­chise yardage record for tight ends. But that went for naught as the Raiders lost 33-13, with Carr and the of­fense stalling af­ter half­time and Cooper and Nel­son, their top two re­ceivers, com­bin­ing for just four catches.

For quar­ter­backs, it can be a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween play­ing con­ser­va­tively and tak­ing risks. Much of the dis­cus­sion around Carr lead­ing into Sun­day’s game against the Broncos in Den­ver has in­volved which way he ought to lean.

Cooper, ar­guably the Raiders’ most dy­namic re­ceiver, was tar­geted three times in the opener, fin­ish­ing with one catch for nine yards. While the Rams were aware of him, Gru­den said there were op­por­tu­ni­ties to find Cooper dur­ing the game.

“If we had more first downs in the sec­ond half, had more time of pos­ses­sion, per­haps we would have seen more of Cooper,” Gru­den said this week. “But you look at the film, we had him wide open deep. We didn’t go there. He was open a cou­ple times, and for what­ever rea­son we didn’t go that route.”

Carr — whose av­er­age depth of tar­get in Week 1 was 4.5 yards, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, 29th among quar­ter­backs — said “there was one” play on which he re­called see­ing Cooper open down­field but in­stead threw to Cook for a mean­ing­ful gain.

“That’s the one I was talk­ing about, where you sit there and are like, we had a chance at that (deep route), but there’s a matchup where we ended up pick­ing up the first down,” Carr said. “Where is that fine line? I’m not go­ing to sec­ond-guess any­time on the line of scrim­mage.”

Carr said that Gru­den fre­quently en­cour­ages him if a look isn’t open to “play the team game … ‘Dirt it, come off the field and I’ll get some­thing bet­ter the next time.’ ” Carr threw out of bounds in­ten­tion­ally sev­eral times Mon­day night and said he ini­tially meant to throw away the pass he ended up float­ing to Rams line­backer Cory Lit­tle­ton for a sec­ond-half in­ter­cep­tion.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Ol­son, who worked with Carr as a rookie in 2014, also ref­er­enced the “fine line” in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. But he said the point isn’t to take away Carr’s edge.

“We are al­ways go­ing to be ag­gres­sive,” Ol­son said. “I think that is a mind-set we have of­fen­sively, and we never want him to lose that. … Mov­ing for­ward and through­out his ca­reer, we are al­ways go­ing to want him to be a guy that can push the ball down the field.”

That fig­ures to be a chal­lenge Sun­day. Den­ver lost Aqib Talib but re­turns most of its secondary from a de­fense that ranked fourth against the pass last sea­son. Carr is ex­pected to have an­other tar­get in speedy re­ceiver Martavis Bryant, who re­signed with the Raiders on Wed­nes­day. Carr and Cooper, though, haven’t pro­duced much in Den­ver: one catch on 13 tar­gets in two games.

Of­fen­sive tack­les Kolton Miller and Don­ald Penn will also have their hands full pro­tect­ing Carr from Broncos edge rush­ers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the fifth over­all pick in April’s draft. A re­turn to Den­ver serves as a re­minder of what can hap­pen if they don’t.

It was in Den­ver last Oct. 1 that Carr suf­fered lower back frac­tures on a sack by de­fen­sive end Adam Got­sis. Carr missed only one full game to the in­jury. But Gru­den was among those who sug­gested Carr’s back contributed heav­ily to his strug­gles last sea­son.

Carr, who had pre­vi­ously suf­fered a bro­ken pinkie fin­ger and frac­tured leg dur­ing the 2016 sea­son, in­sisted this week that the only time he con­sid­ers that his­tory on the field is af­ter he gets hit.

“I don’t think about it un­til I’m lay­ing on the ground and mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing is all right,” he said. “You don’t think about it in the game be­cause hon­estly you’re flooded with de­ci­sions and cov­er­ages, fronts and pres­sures.”

Still, when the Raiders try to get back up Sun­day from the blow they took in Week 1, Carr could use a clean pocket — and a clean game.

Scott Straz­zante / The Chron­i­cle

Derek Carr threw three in­ter­cep­tions and found Amari Cooper only once in Mon­day’s sea­son-open­ing loss.

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