The Raiders' offensive line is bigger than you. They are badder than you. They are meaner than you. They are stronger than you. Over the course of the game, all six, seven, and sometimes eight of them will get underneath your pads, drive you off the line of scrimmage, flip you on your back, shove your face into the dirt, and grind your bones into some sort of archaic talcum powder. They will jam a straw into your femur and suck the marrow out like a cannibalistic cocktail.
This group of behemoths are monstrous in size. Their average height is 6'4 1/4" and their average weight is 323 pounds.
Donald Penn and Austin Howard are enormous men who don't have the quickest feet but strangle defenders when they get their hands on them like Michael Myers in the backseat of a car. Kelechi Osemele is a very scary 6'5", 333 pound guard. He is one the most violent and vicious offensive linemen in the NFL. Gabe Jackson was a third round steal from the Raiders' 2014 early round NFL draft perfection. The only player on the smaller side is Rodney Hudson, who relies on his quick feet to cover up nose tackles in cramped spaces; he uses pad level and leverage to move defenders, but even then, he plays HUGE.
The Raiders' offensive line is a murderous group of highly paid mercenaries. Gabe Jackson is the only starter that was drafted. The rest--left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, and right tackle Austin Howard--were all signed in free agency. Combined, they have a cap hit of $33.4 million this year. Each player is being paid at least $6.4 million this season.
What stands out with this group of plundering giants is that they are so mean. So, so, mean. Pancakes don't really happen in the NFL. The defenders are too big, too quick, and too strong to drive three yards backwards and flip over like a tire. Yet the Raiders are that much bigger and stronger that they compile this Madden stat that rarely occurs in real life. Osemele, Jackson, and Hudson demolish linemen, linebackers, and the occasional safety. They get under the pads of defensive linemen and put them on their back. They peel off to linebackers and club them, leaving them shaking on the floor, before pulling the sheet metal door shut.
Watch the right guard Jackson here. He has a one-on-one block against 313 pound nose tackle Sylvester Williams. Jackson punches the chest, extends, and is level with Williams. Jackson overpowers him and drives him backwards. When Williams tries to turn to the ball carrier, he loses the head up strength that kept him upright. Jackson continues to drive and takes him to the ground. For good measure, Jackson plops on his back and shoves his helmet into the ground rubbing his face into it.
Plays like this happen all the time with Oakland. Linebackers and limbs are sprawled across the field. Defensive linemen end up laying face down with 300+ pounds pushing on their back. Players like Jared Crick lose the will to live and just lay down every time they see a double team coming. The Raiders' offensive line doesn't just open up holes for Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington. They incapacitate and break defenses.
Take a look at this still against Denver, a game where Oakland ran for 218 yards in what may be a season-defining win. Murray bounces the run outside. In the middle muck, he bounces away from five Broncos' defenders that are either on the ground or plummeting towards it. The Raiders turn run plays into mass graves.
Oakland isn't just big and scary. They also have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. They are fourth in run DVOA. They have done this by running the ball up the middle. They have run the ball 159 times between the tackles (3rd) and average 4.52 yards a carry in this direction. This is a vertical, head-on running team. They don't run stretch or outside zone plays. The majority of their runs are between the tackles, aggressive and physical. Only 26 of their carries have come on the edges, and when these runs occur, it is by the will and vision of the running back, who cuts something back against the grain or around the tackle.
The Raiders run three plays over and over again--counter/dart/power, inside zone, and lead. On this play, Oakland is running an inside zone play left, up 20-10 on 2nd and 4. They have eight blockers in and only one receiver out wide. They have six offensive linemen on the field. The sixth, Denver Kirkland, is a 340 pound 2016 undrafted free agent. To the left of him lined up at tight end are Clive Walford (#88) and Mychal Rivera (#81). Denver is staying in their base 3-4 defense and bringing in safeties over the tight ends. They have nine defenders in the box, but they are outweighed and outmuscled.
On the right side, both Howard and Jackson are man on man. Center Rodney Hudson and Osemele have an ace to the weakside middle linebacker. Penn and Kirkland have a trey against the defensive end to the play-side inside linebacker. The tight ends have Walford blocking down on DeMarcus Ware (#94). Coming around him to the safety is Rivera.
The Raiders primarily have their offensive linemen take slide steps. One horizontal step followed by one vertical step. This allows them to show the same look every play and puts them directly in front of the defender they are covering up. Hudson is the only sub 300 pound player on the line, but he has great leverage. His hips are bent and he's even with Williams, who's leaning into the block. Next to him comes Osemele.
Jackson gets into Derek Wolfe's chest. Hudson has Williams stood up with his side open to Osemele. The trey has Penn standing up Crick, with his reinforcement, Kirkland, coming deep to take over the block.
When Osemele gets there, he moves Williams all the way over and leaves him struggling. He comes off naturally and perfectly to the linebacker. Penn feels Horward coming over him, so he leaves to the linebacker. Walford's hands are inside on Ware, and he's lower than him. Lastly, Rivera is head up with the safety, Darian Stewart (#26).
Murray has an arc of space created for him. The entire middle is turned into a parabola with a negative slope. Hudson has Williams teetering. It's remarkable how low he plays. His body is perpendicular with the ground. Penn and Osemele are on the linebackers. Crick is shielding his body from Kirkland's block.
Rivera takes down the safety. The only player that misses his block is Howard, who's sidestepped by Von Miller, but it's so far outside it doesn't affect the play at his point.
Because there are so many players in the box, there isn't space for Murray to get anymore than he does. This a rugby scrum. There are 18 players mashing around.
This is the quintessential Raiders' run. A heavy formation. A run between the tackles. Defensive linemen driven back, turning away from blows. Defenders ended up on the ground.
I have not seen a team go this heavy this often since the 49ers used full house backfield sets that confused defenses with a variety of pullers, fakes, and reads. To go this heavy is a new thing for Oakland. Last year they used six or more offensive linemen 4% of the time, which was eleventh in the NFL. Washington led the NFL at 15%. The Raiders are going to easily beat that this year.
The biggest problem with Oakland's scheme is that it creates log jams and corroded holes. There are too many men in the box to get more than what is created. Most plays are a NOFX mosh pit. Oakland continually creates the first four yards of runs, but after that there is too much muck for a much more. The majority of the time, the Raiders pick up an efficient and drive-sustaining four to five yards over and over again.
The other interesting aspect of their run game scheme is how they use their splits. On this draw play against Denver, Penn and Osemele have about a yard between them. Osemele is close with Hudson. There's a yard between Hudson and Jackson, and Jackson is lined up close to Kirkland. This is all exaggerated. What it does is spread out the defense, create natural running lanes and space, and brings the double teams closer together.
Oakland's run game innovations can be seen easily in their enormous heavy sets and subtly by the splits they use.
Additionally, they are one of the rare teams in the league that isn't trying to get as many double teams as possible when running inside. They are a line filled with behemoths who are stronger than the defenders in front of them. There's no point wasting time at the first level when one man can drive him out all alone. This allows them to get to linebackers quicker and opens holes faster.
This is a lead play and looks more like how things are usually blocked. Oakland doesn't use double teams as often as they did on the previous play. Most of the time, they scheme for one double team at the point of attack, and everyone else sees man-on-man blocks on the line or scurries to the linebacker.
Penn and Osemele are big on big. There is an ace between Hudson and Jackson at the nose tackle to the backside inside linebacker. Howard and Kirkland, their sixth offensive lineman, are big on big as well. Fullback Jamize Olawale comes around Howard's block to the linebacker. They have seven blockers against seven defenders.
Osemele and Kirkland get on their blocks immediately. Osemele is low, his hands are inside, and he's perfect. The ace is coming together hip to hip and Hudson has his eyes on linebacker Derrick Johnson (#56).
When Washington gets the hand-off, every defender is blocked. Jaye Howard looks free, but he's punched outside and is out of the play. Everyone is covered up.
The linebacker is able to dip and get his head inside and around the fullback's block, but all he does is open the hole more; he can only muster an one-armed leap after the back. The backside is the key here. Both Howard and Kirkland drive their men off the ball. Howard has his two yards up the field.
In the end, the Raiders only get seven. Washington gets stuck behind Howard's butt. Kirkland chops his feet and takes the outside linebacker backwards, but he doesn't turn him and seal him off. This allows the defender to seep inside and make the tackle covered up. As a result, Washington doesn't get the chance to make the safety miss in isolation.
After runs through the swamp and the same continuous successful four+ yards, things eventually break open. These plays that are constant headaches for defenses lead to beautiful exquisite runs like this.
Oakland has six offensive linemen again, the sixth on the left, and they have a tight end on the right. They are running a dart play to the left, a play with the tackle pulling. Kirkland and Penn are man-on-man. Osemele and Jackson have an ace to the backside inside linebacker. Jackson is blocking down on the defensive end to open up Howard's pull to the playside inside linebacker. Walford is sealing up the backside edge.
When Carr receives the snap, the double team is instantly on the nose tackle. They are hip to hip and one being. Again, Hudson is low, using his leverage. He has perfect hand placement.
I love this ace so much. Hudson uses his inside hand placement to turn the nose tackle. This turns his body into a shield to block the nose tackle from coming back and making a play. It also naturally opens up the path to the linebacker for Osemele. Jackson and Walford do something similar on their block. They punch and turn. This all keeps the backside sealed off.
Kirkland is a gargantuan. He's an enormous man. Not just for his size, but in general, Kirkland is extremely fast. When he pulls, he turns and runs full speed. He doesn't slow down and approach the block with caution. He comes as fast and as hard as he can. It's a car crash with the linebacker. Richard has a generous hole.
Osemele, for all of his strength, size and drive, has some problems at the second level. He has issues getting his head in the right spot and will miss blocks as a result. The key for him, and everyone on this line, is their hands. They miss the occasional block because of misses and whiffs. When they get their hands on defenders, they are so strong and so powerful that it is game over.
Despite Osemele missing his block, all the linebacker can do is meekly leap after the running back. Richard is now free as can be. Now he has a chance to make T.J. Ward, a great tackler, miss in space.
Richard runs directly into Ward. Like Hudson, he's smaller and has great leverage. He keeps his feet moving and runs out of the tackle. He continues forward for a 28 yard gain.
In the run game, the Raiders' offensive line leaves bodies scattered like cremains. They tear defenders down and drive them backwards into the ground. They do this out of heavy sets and use six offensive linemen more than any team I have ever seen. They focus on single blocks and getting to the linebacker quickly. They will pull linemen occasionally.
Even with all that size, the Raiders are one of the best pass blocking lines in the league. They accomplish that with a combination of scheme and incredible interior pass blocking. They have given up only eleven sacks, best in the league. Their adjusted sack rate is 3.5%, best in the league. Their pressure rate is 11.7%, which is second in the league.
Hudson, Jackson, and Osemele are a wall in the center where no pressure seeps through. On the exterior, they have occasional problems. Both Penn and whoever they use at right tackle, Austin Howard mostly, don't have the foot speed to pass-set quick enough to meet great pass rushers square and head up. One on one, they are forced to turn their shoulders to the sideline and open the gate, giving up strength and opening rushing lanes for the defender. Great pass rushers, not good pass rushers, can have their way on the edge against the Raiders.
The Raiders get over this flaw by using six offensive linemen and Derek Carr's quick release to help neutralize great edge rushers. They love to use six offensive linemen in the passing game too. The sixth offensive lineman creates a longer distance for the edge rusher to the quarterback. Logistically, even unblocked, Carr can get the ball out before the rusher can get there. This also removes jet rushes. It places edge rushers next to an offensive tackle. They can no longer get two to three yards pre-snap away from the blocker. They are forced to play on the outside shoulder.
These six offensive linemen formations lead to some funky plays that I haven't seen anywhere else in the NFL. The Raiders, like Kansas City and Carolina, play such a unique style of football. They run pass plays with nine blockers and only two receivers out for routes. This turns Carr into a backyard quarterback with a long, drawn out five M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. He can sit back and wait for either Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree to beat man coverage without ever facing any pressure.
When Carr throws, the ball is on fire. He tries to get it out as fast as possible. Most of this throws are three-step drops and first read throws that he searches out pre-snap. Carr knows where he wants to get the ball and he gets it there quickly. If it's not there immediately, he has issues finding the next man. Regardless, Carr is one of the fastest decision-makers in the league and has one of the quickest releases.
All of this comes together to craft the fourth-best passing offense by DVOA. Oakland has two top fifteen receivers that make cornerbacks look like their shoes are tied together. They don't allow interior pressure that could get to Carr quick enough to have an impact on his throws. Six offensive line sets and chip blocks help out their slower offensive tackles out by creating elongated paths to the quarterback. They shove the edge rusher into the tackle's chest. Carr decides and throws quickly. It's a precisely crafted machine.
The reason why they play like this is it masks Carr's biggest weakness--dealing with the rush. It plagued him in college and was the main reason why he dropped to the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Oakland knows this. This really hasn't changed a whole lot. Rather than focus on the negative and wish and beg for him to correct this problem., hoping he becomes the perfect quarterback, they use their personnel and scheme to slather paint over the holes in the wall. They instead put Carr in a situation where he can use his arm and do what he does best--make perfect and ridiculous throws all over the field.
On this pass play, the Raiders have eight blockers and only two receivers out for a route. Cooper runs a curl route and gets open quickly. Carr faces zero pressure. He just locks on Cooper and watches and waits until he's open.
Oakland can still survive when they don't use these sets and go empty with only five blockers in. The supercomputer between Carr's ears is part of it. The other is Oakland's line is so strong. If they get their hands on you, it's over. On edge rushes, defenders will get around the outside shoulder and think they will at least get a hit on the quarterback. But their tackles recover nicely and their punches lead to defenders flaying and splaying. That much momentum against that much strength leads to snuffed rushes.
Because of the offensive line's strength, defenders can't use inside moves against them and defenses can't create pressure up the middle. Edges rushers can't use counter and power moves with any success against Oakland. Their rushes have to come from the outside, and they have to come from around the edge. Even the best edge rusher in the league, Von Miller, can't disrupt Carr with inside moves.
Here the Raiders are in 1x2x2 personnel with their receivers lined up slot left. The Broncos are running Cover 2 man.
Carr takes the snap. He sits and looks. He is locked onto the side of the field. He never sees the receiver streaking down the left sideline.
He gets antsy when he sees the first sign of pressure and runs left out of bounds. This play shows Carr's two biggest weaknesses--his overreaction to the pass rush and missing open receivers by not scanning the field. Derek Carr struggles once his pre-snap read is covered. This isn't to knock Carr. He's been a top five quarterback this season. It's to accentuate that the issues he has haven't had an enormous negative impact because of the offensive line and scheme surrounding him.
From behind, we see Oakland sliding over one gap on the right side, and playing man-on-man on the left side. This leaves Osemele against Jared Crick (#93) and Penn against Von Miller (#58).
Penn sets up well. His head is matched up with Miller's. Miller is sizing him up, showing an edge rush without running full speed.
When Penn gets ready to make contact, Miller plants and turns. In the center, Crick is the hammer in an E-T stunt. He is coming into the double team to try and open things up for the nose tackle to loop around. Hudson has already read it. He allows the nose tackle to leave and begins to block Crick.
Penn punches and hits Miller in the back.
He slides to the right with him, never losing hand contact. The interior has no threat of any pressure.
Penn takes Miller and runs him inside. He has him roped up.
As Miller moves across Carr's face, Carr gets nervous. Miller isn't a threat. Carr has an enormous pocket to work with and move through. His offensive line is still on their blocks. But rather than sit and wait, or move in the pocket to create new throwing angles, Carr takes off and runs.
If Carr didn't play with a team that could pass block as well as they did, at team that used chip blocks and heavy formations as often as they did, if he didn't have receivers who can get as open as quickly as they do, words would be focused on if Carr will ever see the entire field, or learn how to deal with the rush well enough to become a capable quarterback. But he does play on such a team. Because of the scheme, the offensive line around him, and his talented receivers, CArr can sit back and toss perfectly placed passes across the field.
The Raiders are 7-2. The main reason is because of their vicious offensive line. They are one of the best run blocking teams in the league, murdering teams with their interior run game. They are the best interior pass blocking team in the league, using six offensive line sets, chips, and strength to neutralize edge rushes that allow Carr to do what he does best. Because of an offense that is fourth in the NFL in DVOA, the Raiders are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. All that is just a result of them being bigger than you, badder than you, meaner than you, and stronger than you.
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