MEXICO CITY – The Raiders threw for 513 yards against Tampa Bay, and then ran for 218 the following week against Denver. That’s a nightmare for opposing defenses, not knowing how the Raiders will attack.
They have a quarterback and skill players to move through the air or on the ground, but there’s one constant between these differing styles.
A big, mean offensive line. That’s what makes this offense go.
“I tell those guys all the time, ‘if you win, we win,’” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I tell them before the game: if you win, we win. They love that. They want (that responsibility). They play with great effort, and I think it fuels our team.”
The Raiders invested heavily in this offensive front, with big-money contracts given to Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Austin Howard. Donald Penn got a raise on his second contract with the team. Third-round draft pick Gabe Jackson will pocket significant cash when his rookie deal expires after next season.
The line as currently constructed averages 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, and has an edge to it. These guys play mean, but prefer calling it “controlled anger.”
“It starts with a mentality,” Howard said. “We are aggressive and always will be. We want to impose our will. We want to run and protect our quarterback. There’s talent up front, but we should take hats off for (offensive coordinator) Bill Musgrave and (offensive line coach) Mike Tice for getting us prepared and putting us in the best position to succeed. We’ve all bought into this system and play well for each other.”
Despite importing Osemele this offseason, switching Gabe Jackson from left guard to right and needing to play five people at right tackle due to an injury plague, this line has held strong.
Carr has been sacked a league-low 11 times in nine games and running backs rank second with 4.8 yards per carry.
The line’s work has been recognized nationally. Many consider them among the league’s best offensive lines, maybe the second-best behind Dallas.
Before the season started, fans dubbed this line “Carr insurance.” They aren’t just a policy. They’re a vital part of this vehicle.
“There’s no car without the engine,” Penn said with a wry smile. “We tell him we’re the engine, just like the D-line is for our defense. That’s how we try to lead, with our front line.”
This line has been a constant all season, with a particularly dominant showing against Denver where the Raiders ran at will using a small play cluster the Broncos knew was coming.
Most members of this line have played elsewhere, and it would be hard to call any front better that this one. Howard still didn’t want to call it No. 1. He believes this unit can improve upon itself down the home stretch.
“I don’t want to take it too far and say this line is the best,” Howard said. “We don’t need proclamations like that. All we’re focused on doing the little things right and doing the little things better. We’re going to continue to do what we do each week. We want to constantly improve, which is why I won’t say we’re at our best. There’s more out there for us. Our best is yet to come.”