This weekend, Derek Carr will become the first rookie quarterback in Oakland Raiders history to start a season opener. Raiders coach Dennis Allen announced the first year Fresno State product will get the nod over veteran Matt Schaub, saying Carr has “continued to get better and better, really, in all areas.”
Carr will continue a streak of at least one NFL rookie quarterback starting Week 1 in each season since 2008, joining a group that includes Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, EJ Manuel, and Geno Smith.
So with Rex Ryan’s defense licking its chops, does the Raiders’ decision really give Oakland the best chance to beat the Jets Sunday? What does recent history tell us should we expect from a rookie signal-caller in the first week of the season?
Of the 14 rookie Week 1 starting quarterbacks since 2008, only five have led their teams to wins (Andy Dalton’s Bengals also won their 2011 opener, but Dalton had been knocked out of the game due to injury). Even the much-heralded 2012 class that saw Luck, RG3, Tannehill, Weeden, and Wilson all start openers only finished 1-4 in their debut games, with Griffin leading Washington to a victory at New Orleans.
Touchdown passes will likely be at a premium Sunday in MetLife Stadium. The 14 rookie first-day starters since 2008 combined to throw a total of 13 scores on opening day, less than one per player. Other than that, their average first-game-ever stats are respectable: 18.4 completions on 32.7 attempts for just over 217 yards through the air.
Rex Ryan’s defenses are known for their trademark pressure, and that should make Carr’s Sunday afternoon relatively miserable. Ryan is 7-2 all time against rookie quarterbacks as Jets coach. Gang Green Nation broke down how opposing rookie QBs have fared against Ryan’s complex scheme, and the overwhelming majority posted lower quarterback ratings against the Jets than they did in their overall seasons.
“He’s got a great blitz package,” Carr said when asked about Ryan’s approach. “He’s got, obviously, a lot of different looks that he’ll show. Me being a rookie, he’s probably going to want to show them all.”
While the stats say rookie quarterbacks might seem to be at a disadvantage in their first-ever NFL game, don’t discount the importance of a solid family tree in the case of Derek Carr. After all, a win Sunday would make him only the second quarterback in his family to win his professional football debut. Carr’s older brother David, the No. 1 overall pick by Houston in 2002, led the Texans to a stunning win over the Dallas Cowboys in the first game of the franchise’s existence. Carr’s Texans became the first expansion team in 41 years to win its inaugural game, and the elder Carr threw two touchdown passes in a 19-10 victory.
While the learning curve for any rookie is bound to be steep — and stats from the last six years say expecting a 300-yard, multi-touchdown day may be too much to ask — the valuable firsthand experience Derek Carr picks up this weekend will serve him (and the Raiders) well as the 2014 season unfolds. After all, once Carr’s survived the infamous Rex Ryan defensive scheme, it would seem things can only get easier from there.
“I’m obviously going to be excited,” Carr said about starting the team’s first regular season game of the year, “but as [Stefen Wisniewski] tells me all the time, if we can just keep getting less and less rookie, we’ll be good.”