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Graney: Good is great, bad is awful for Derek Carr

From the not-so-breaking news department: When quarterback Derek Carr plays well this season, the Raiders win. When he isn’t so good, they don’t.

The obvious sometimes is a significant tool by which to evaluate a team. Even more so when there’s such a wide discrepancy in something like Carr’s performances.

It’s not the be-all, end-all of why the Raiders find themselves 6-5 while preparing to meet the Washington Football Team on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Never is.

More goes into wins and losses than the play of a quarterback. Carr might lead the NFL in passing yards at 3,414, but you reach such a number for various reasons.

(More on those later.)

Still, consider: The Raiders are 6-0 when Carr throws for at least 300 yards. They have averaged 32 points in those games.

They are 0-5 when he doesn’t. They have averaged 13.2 points in such losses.

A pretty significant difference. The good and bad and ups and downs of an eight-year starter.

Red zone woes

“There have been a couple games where we’ve been close to 300 and we didn’t win,” Carr said. “I’ve talked to you guys this year about just taking an aggressive approach. I think that stems from, one, you have to have time to do it, and two, you have to have the play-caller that wants to do those things, and three, you have to have the guys to be able to do that.

“We now have some guys that can really fly. It’s no secret that we are trying to throw the ball deep. You are always trying to improve the process.”

Carr is on pace to throw for the third-most yards in league history, helped by the fact there are now 17 regular-season games.

Problem: All those yards haven’t always translated to touchdown passes. Carr has 17 on the season to nine interceptions. Which brings us back to the red elephant in the room. The red zone.

It’s not good for the Raiders and hasn’t been in what seems like forever. They rank 28th in red zone efficiency. Carr can be explosive as all heck between the 20s, but not so much within a field’s most critical area.

“It starts at practice, at preparation, at putting together a better plan,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “We have to make sure, depending on the scheme we’re facing, that we’re (promoting) the strengths of our players. I need to do a better job with the planning and preparation and practice and execution of it.”

It’s also true that Carr’s big passing games have been somewhat a result of an anemic rushing attack (minus the ground effort at Dallas on Thanksgiving). If you can’t consistently turn around and have confidence in handing off the ball, the obvious alternative is to throw more.

The Raiders rank 27th in rushing among 32 teams, averaging just 89.1 yards per game. There is also the issue of an offensive line that has struggled for most of the season with performance and injury.

Can’t run all that well.

Can’t block all that well.

Neither the fault of a quarterback.

Focused, locked in

But such a combination makes for more and more dropbacks and play-action passes, the latter of which Olson has opted for since assuming play-calling duties six games ago.

“We got a big one this week,” Carr said. “If we don’t take care of business in meetings, don’t take care of business at practice, then Washington is going to come in here and beat us. You would think this is the time to get hot. We’ve done it the other way in the past. We’ve got to be focused and locked in and bring it on Sunday.”

If they do it to the point where he throws for 300 or more yards, they should be fine.

If he doesn’t …

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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