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What’s Derek Carr doing differently in New Orleans?

The former Raiders quarterback now calls the shots for the Saints. Has his game changed at all?

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Derek Carr is in a new uniform for the first time in his NFL career.

A second-round pick in 2014, Carr played 144 games for the Raiders over nine seasons, first in Oakland and then in Las Vegas. And for most of that time, he was essentially the same player: a consistent, mid-tier quarterback who executed well and made plays when they were there, but rarely seemed to take the Raiders to the next level.

That consistency comes across loud and clear in his stats. Over his nine-year Raiders career, Carr threw fewer than 20 touchdown passes just once, and after his rookie season, his passer rating dipped under 90 a single time. Generally speaking, he’s always been fairly accurate, fairly productive, and gives his teams a pretty good chance to win.

But that was the Raiders version of Derek Carr. Now that he’s traded black and silver for black and gold, is he any different as a player?

Two weeks is about as small of a sample size as you could ask for, but we can see a few small changes in Carr’s game from the Raiders to the Saints.

For starters, Carr is going deep more frequently with the Saints than he did with the Raiders. Through two games, Carr’s average depth of throw is all the way up to 9.2 yards, according to Sports Information Solutions. That’s a career-high for Carr by more than half a yard, and just the second time in his career he’s surpassed 8 yards for his average throw depth. Among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 25 passes this year, Carr ranks third in the league in average throw depth, behind only Tua Tagovailoa at 10.1 yards and DeShaun Watson at 9.8. Incidentally, Carr just barely edges out Jordan Love, who clocks an average throw depth of 9.0 yards through two games.

The other notable change for Carr has to do with where he’s throwing the ball. In the intermediate and deep portions of the field, he’s targeting the middle of the field at a dramatically lower rate than he ever has. In the intermediate area, just 38% of his throws have gone to the middle of the field, down from 49% in 2022 and 65% in 2021. In the deep area, he’s gone to the middle on just 10% of his throws.

So, why the change? It seems Carr is adapting his game to different personnel. So far this season, speedster Chris Olave is the Saints’ most targeted receiver. 21 passes have gone his direction, seven more than the next most targeted player. Olave is, if nothing else, a deep threat, posting a corresponding average depth of target of 13 yards according to Pro Football Focus.

That’s a notable contrast to Davante Adams, Carr’s previous top receiver. As Packers fans well know, Adams is more than capable of going deep, but his true strength is slicing and dicing defensive backs in the short and intermediate areas of the field.

The question for Carr, then, is whether or not this change will be sustainable. He’s playing with a different kind of top receiver than he ever has (at least in his post-Amari Cooper Raiders days), and it’s showing up in his stats. It’s also part of the reason Carr is being sacked more frequently than ever before. Through two games, he’s been taken down on more than 10% of his dropbacks, a career high by a wide margin. If the Saints can’t protect their quarterback, it might not matter if he’s going deep more than before or doing it more effectively.