By The Numbers: Comparing Saints QB Derek Carr to his predecessor Andy Dalton

We saw a lot of raised eyebrows and questioning takes from the pro football world when the New Orleans Saints announced a four-year contract with Derek Carr valued at up to $150 million, an average annual payout of $37.5 million. That number ranked tenth among NFL quarterbacks at the time of signing, and it’s since fallen to 13th around the league after a couple of young pros signed lucrative extensions.

But Carr has not played like the 13th-best quarterback in the game. He ranks 17th in passer rating (89.8), 20th in ESPN’s quarterback rating (50.7), and 16th in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.96), a metric which accounts for touchdown passes, interceptions, and sacks relative to passing yards and attempts. His passing grade at Pro Football focus ranks 23th (67.5). At best, you could argue Carr is playing like a league-average quarterback, but the numbers suggest he’s closer to mediocre, and that’s certainly what the viewing experience has felt like each week.

Let’s go back to that $37.5 million figure. The Saints paid Carr so highly because they believed he would be a big upgrade over Andy Dalton, the veteran backup who surprised everyone by starting 14 games last year after Jameis Winston was injured, and who received just $3 million from the Saints in his one-year contract. They could have paid 12.5 Andy Daltons for the price of one Derek Carr.

So has Carr been 12.5 times better than Carr? It’s a little premature to compare them head-to-head with Dalton having started 14 games last year and Carr just 10 games into his Saints career, but there’s enough data to work with to analyze some trends. So how do they stack up against each other?

Carr is averaging more passing yards per game (223.1) than Dalton’s pace last season (205.1), but that’s because he’s also throwing more often. He’s clocking 33.4 pass attempts per game against Dalton’s 27. Dalton had a slightly better completion percentage (66.7%) than Carr (65.9%) while averaging a full yard more per attempt (7.6) than Carr (6.7).

One thing Carr has done better than Dalton is protect the football. He’s thrown just four interceptions (1.2% of his attempts), turning the ball over at half the rate Dalton did (nine interceptions; 2.4% of his passes). But Carr has fumbled four times this season, losing the ball twice, while Dalton fumbled five times last year, losing once. Altogether that’s 6 turnovers for Carr in 10 games and 10 giveaways for Dalton in 14 games.

Last year, the Saints ranked 21st in red zone efficiency (521.%), with 25 of their 48 drives into the opposing 20-yard line ending in touchdowns. They’ve regressed this year with Carr at quarterback, posting the 24th-ranked red zone conversion rate (48.6%) while going 17-of-35. Poor execution in scoring position was a major criticism of Carr throughout his Raiders career, and those issues — questionable decision-making, inaccurate passes, and folding under pressure — have continued in New Orleans.

What’s more distressing is that Carr hasn’t hit the big plays outside the red zone, either. He’s thrown 8 of his 10 touchdown passes in the red zone. In his career he’s thrown about 35% of his touchdown passes from outside the red zone, out in the open field. This year he’s done so just twice. Even Dalton was able to hit on those deep touchdown passes from outside the 20-yard line last year (7 of 18; 38% of them).

That’s inexcusable for a quarterback with Carr’s experience and some of the best young deep threats in the game available to him. It’s past time he figure out whatever chemistry issues are putting a rift between him and Chris Olave. Rashid Shaheed deserves even more touches than he’s getting. Juwan Johnson has been a non-factor after breaking out last season with Dalton under center. At least Carr is throwing to Alvin Kamara more frequently, but it’s come at a detriment to his downfield weapons.

Carr is the veteran in the room, the Pro Bowl quarterback with 153 starts behind him. It’s past time he play like it. Or else it’s going to seem increasingly certain that the Saints miscalculated what he would bring to the table. If he can’t outperform Dalton, it’s worth asking whether they should have even made a switch to Carr, much less overpaid him so badly.

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Title: By The Numbers: Comparing Saints QB Derek Carr to his predecessor Andy Dalton
Author: John Sigler

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