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Breaking down the Raiders offense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Oakland quarterback Derek Carr is a work in progress, as you'd expect with any rookie.

Never was that more clear than the one throw above all others he wants back: a deep shot up the left sideline to a double-covered Brice Butler with 1:20 left against San Diego on Oct. 19. The Raiders trailed by just three points and were already in Chargers territory. Butler ran a go route against soft coverage at the line of scrimmage -- which was San Diego's 45-yard-line, already within the outer limits of kicker Sebastian Janikowski's range.

It was an unwarranted gamble. Jason Verrett grabbed the pass, got his toes down in-bounds, and Oakland's best chance at a win in the first half of the season evaporated.

But this is mentioned because it is the exception to the rule of Carr's rookie season.

If one trait defines him and his performance, it is disciplined decision-making. He is a pragmatist who knows when to escape, when to surrender on a play, and how to avoid sacks that cripple drives and force long-yardage situations from which the Raiders struggle to escape.

He does the things you expect of a savvy veteran. He checks down. He takes few unnecessary risks. He scans the field. He uses his eyes to force defenders out of position.

"He does a good job in looking off the safeties. He has good accuracy. It's just (that) everything hasn't come together for their offense yet," said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. "But I think he's pretty good."

And he avoids contact better than any quarterback in football. Oakland's sack rate and quarterback-hit rate are the lowest in the league -- lower than even the Broncos and Demaryius Thomas.

"He doesn't like getting hit," said Broncos wide receiver Isaiah Burse, his teammate at Fresno State. "He'll switch the protection to try to protect him as much as he can and he'll get the ball off. He won't take a hit. That's one thing about him -- he knows how to protect himself well."

"He's going to get the ball off quick," added defensive end DeMarcus Ware. He's going to dump it down to his running back or short passes that make sure he keeps the game close."

But he is capable of taking the shots when they exist -- including in that ill-fated day against San Diego, when his late interception was his only blemish.

That day, the interception was his only blemish. He threw four touchdown passes, including a 77-yarded to Andre Holmes on the game's third play. That play could not have gone any better; Carr capitalized off a five-man rush that included a corner blitz, and hit Holmes in stride on a stop-and-go route down the right seam.

Carr stayed in the pocket on that play. But he's seen increased success rolling out, particularly to his right. That allows him to avoid contact -- contributing to the low sack and hit rates -- and extend plays.

"He's not going to run the ball a lot, but he's one of those quarterbacks that can really string plays out and get the ball deep down the field," said Ware. "He gets off the ball really quick. So he knows even if you blitz him, even if you rush him, it really doesn't matter. He's going to get the ball off quick."

And that ability to rapidly process the play in front of him and make the correct decision is the biggest reason why the Raiders believe they have their franchise quarterback.

"I really believe he is," said Oakland interim head coach Tony Sparano. "That isn't something I throw around loosely because that's a special tag. This kid is a young kid that is just going to get better and better and better and he's displayed a tremendous amount of maturity right now. He's got one of the best releases that I've seen in a long time. He's got great arm strength, all the tools, and he works really hard at it.

"The qualities that he has at the quarterback position are rare, and you don't find those guys often."

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