ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Now in his second season in coach Jon Gruden's offense, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has started 15 games since last year's much-needed bye. That's the same number of games he played in his MVP-level season of 2016.
That's also the only other time Carr has played in the same offensive system in consecutive seasons. So there's little wonder why many expected a noticeable jump in play from Carr this year.
Of course, the 2016 Raiders were a 12-4 outfit coming into their own, while this year's still-under-construction version is trying to find its identity, though consecutive wins in Indianapolis against the Colts and in London against the Chicago Bears have Oakland feeling good at 3-2. It is just the third time since the Super Bowl season of 2002 that the Raiders have had a winning record after five games.
Comparing Carr's 2016 campaign, when Oakland started 4-1 in the quarterback's second straight season in then-offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system, and Carr's most recent 15-game stint under Gruden is as good a place as any to see how Carr is stacking up.
"His mastery of the offense," Gruden said, "is much better."
Indeed, you could have said the same about Carr in 2016 before he suffered a broken right fibula in that season's penultimate game and finished tied for third in league MVP voting.
"He's been pinpoint with his throws," Gruden added. "He's been good with the football. He's been a great leader for us. Give him a lot of credit."
While Carr completed 63.8% of his passes (357-of-560) in 2016, he has completed 69.0% of his throws (332-of-481) in his last 15 games, a rate that ranks seventh among 35 qualified quarterbacks in that time frame.
While he passed for 3,937 yards three seasons ago -- compared to the 3,525 yards he's thrown for since last year's bye -- his 7.0 yards gained per pass attempt then is the same as now, which ranks just 24th in the league.
He averaged almost a yard more per completion in 2016 (11.0 to 10.2), and therein lies a potential problem -- the more recent figure is 32nd in the NFL.
But while Carr was more of a gunslinger in Musgrave's offense, he is being asked to be more of a -- wait for it -- game manager in Gruden's version of the West Coast offense.
Consider: While he had 191 first downs by passing in 2016, his 173 first downs by passing the past 15 games are tied for eighth most in the NFL.
Then compare his Total QBR of 54.6 in 2016 to his 51.1 (24th in the NFL) the past 15 games and you see the talent level around Carr plays a part too.
Because while Carr was 12-3 in 2016, when he was sacked 16 times, he is just 6-9 since last year's bye and has been sacked 42 times in his past 15 games.
But he was kept clean against the Bears and old friend Khalil Mack in London. Progress, right?
Finally, Carr had 28 TDs to six INTs in 2016; his 18 TDs to five INTs the past 15 games is eighth best in the league.
Gruden said he anticipates Carr's analytics numbers to improve going forward. Carr does not disagree, for a few reasons.
"We just have a mature, young football team, to be honest," Carr said after beating the Bears. "Our young guys are really talented. It's really nice to have that. We're a better football team this year than we were last year. Coach built a solid foundation. I just want to win. But the cool thing about it now is I could see it last year -- we're going to be awesome, I know it. I know we'll be able to play in big games and beat people.
"That said, no one else believed [Gruden] except the people in our building, and that's all that matters. I think it's carried over since last year. I think it will continue to grow."
Perhaps most impressive has been Carr's efficiency in the red zone through five games of this season.
He has completed an eye-opening 82.4% of his passes inside the opponents' 20-yard line (14-of-17) for 115 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. And even with a shorter field, Carr is averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt, just shy of his 7.0 average in 2016 and in the past 15 games.
As Gruden noted, Carr has completed passes to 14 different players through five games, only five of whom were on the roster at the start of the current 15-game swing last season.
"He's moving our team," Gruden said. "Some of the things that are happening in the running game he gets a lot of credit for -- we're not running into uphill looks. He's doing a lot of recognition at the line of scrimmage ... he's even coaching players. He's coaching them on the sideline. He's coaching them in the huddle.
"You go on the road and beat Indianapolis and beat Chicago and put those kind of numbers together without a sack, that's impressive."
And, apparently, improving.