Word of Muth: Most Valuable Protection

by Ben Muth

The Raiders started a little slow last Sunday against Buffalo. They were trailing 10-9 entering the third quarter after settling for three field goals in the first half. But they came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and put up a whopping 29 points after halftime to finish with a double-digit win. Obviously the whole offense was rolling in the second half, but I thought their offensive line in particular stood out.

Typically what really gets me excited about a great offensive line performance is the run game. It's flashier for an offensive line and really jumps out at you watching the game. It looks way better to knock defenders all around the field than it does to just not get beaten for sacks and pressures. Great pass blocking performances may not look as impressive -- it's just five guys holding the rope and not getting beat too often over 30 or 40 attempts -- but protecting the quarterback is more important. This past Sunday, I thought the Raiders put forth a truly great pass protecting exhibition.

The key is that all five guys for Oakland up front were so consistent all game. When one guy got beat, he wasn't beat cleanly, and the other four were so steady that Derek Carr had plenty of room to maneuver around the little bit of pressure he might have felt. It really was awesome to watch.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

How many times have I written about teams struggling to pick up line games in this column? Well this is what it is supposed to look like. Gabe Jackson at right guard (66) does a great job here of passing the game off with his right tackle (Austin Howard, 77). The defensive tackle lined up over him is driving hard for the offensive tackle's inside hip. His goal is knock the offensive tackle so off-balance up the field that he can get pressure coming inside while still keeping some semblance of contain.

But Jackson doesn't allow that. He feels the defensive tackle rushing wider than usual and gives him a good punch to the outside to knock him from the inside hip of the right tackle to the outside shoulder. That makes all the difference and makes Howard's block so much easier. Jackson then comes off inside and holds up against the bull rush of a defensive end who has a running start. He keeps the end at 4 or 5 yards, which is a really nice job of passing off a twist on the two-man side of a protection. If Derek Carr had not stepped forward so far because he thought he was going to throw quick, there would not have been any pressure.

The Bills ran a twist on the other side, and Oakland handled that as well. It's less impressive because that was to the three-man side of the protection. It's 3-on-2 for Oakland over there, so they should pick that up every time. It's done well, but just less impressive than what is happening on the right side. This is a well blocked play where Carr's pocket presence is pretty terrible, which results in a needless throwaway.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

This is a play where the left side of the line shines. I know it's just a three-man rush, but due to the nature of the protection, it's one-on-one for both left guard Kelechi Osemele (70) and left tackle Donald Penn (72). I don't care how many guys are rushing for the defense, the difficulty of your job depends on how much help you have as an individual on any given play. Both guys are pretty much on their own, and Penn in particular is on the proverbial island.

[ad placeholder 3]

I want to focus on Penn first, because he's textbook right here on how to play a hard inside spin. Penn takes a good initial set and throws his hands well (his head might be too involved at the initial punch, but he does a good job of getting it out of there when he feels the spin), but what I want you to focus on is how he closes down the line of scrimmage flat on the inside move. You have to kick out and back against an edge rusher initially, but if he makes an inside move it's vital that you slide inside flat so you don't give up too much penetration. Penn doesn't give up any ground on the inside move, slides parallel to the line of scrimmage, and completely shuts the door on the defensive end. Again, I know it's "just a three-man rush," but tell that to Donald Penn, who has to block a defensive end who doesn't care for rush lanes and winds up past the center eventually.

At guard, Osemele is also pretty good here. He gets some initial help from center Rodney Hudson (61), but after that he's on his own. One thing all three of the Raiders interior guys do really well is set very aggressively at the snap. They do a great job of limiting penetration and giving Carr room to step up. Look how firm Osemele is at the start of this rep. It almost looks like he's running a draw with how he goes from a short, quick pass set into almost a drive block. He starts to lose the defensive tackle late in the play but does a great job of running his feet (and not quite holding) to finish his man in the ground and allow Carr to make a throw down the field.

Before we go, I do want to compliment the right side of the line as well. Now, they basically have a 3-on-1 (the running back, right tackle, and right guard are all looking at the defensive end the whole way), but they execute it. Any time you get to outnumber a defensive guy, particularly an edge guy, you want to knock him on the ground. This may not look devastating, but those guys hate getting knocked around and hate feeling outnumbered. It frustrates them. When you get a chance to be a little physical in the passing game, you have to take it.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

The last couple of plays were against base pass sets, so I wanted to include a blitz pickup as well. Buffalo is running a pretty straight forward double A-gap pressure here, but they bluffed a safety blitz pre-snap, so there's some window dressing. I don't know what protection scheme the Raiders are running here (could be a man scheme or half-slide), but I do know they blocked it up exactly as they drew it up.

[ad placeholder 4]

Like most blitz pickups, it starts with the center. You can see Hudson (and Carr) identifying certain players before the snap. When you watch Hudson set, you can see him leave his right hand up for the linebacker on that side. That's not because he's trying to block him -- it's to guard against a potential cross stunt between the two linebackers. It's always tough to pass those off if the running back is responsible for one of the linebackers (like he is here). By leaving an arm out, Hudson would be able to feel the stunt sooner, and give himself a better chance of blocking it. Also notice that he gets two steps straight back before he moves left to block his guy. If he goes to the left immediately, he gives the linebacker to his right an easy way to get on his hip and by him if they are running a twist. By getting immediate depth he is giving himself needed space to assess the situation. Again, Buffalo doesn't run the stunt, but you always have to set to block the worst-case scenario. Here, Hudson sets so he can block the twist, and he can always block the straight rush like he does here after he prevents getting screwed by a twist.

Hudson is not the only one that does a nice job here. The right side of the line does a good job handling an end-tackle twist. The running back steps up and meets the A-gap blitzer quickly and decisively. And finally, and most awesome, Osemele gets to do a dead-on impression of a wrecking ball. Once he passes off his man to left tackle Penn, he comes back inside and looks for work. He cleans out both A-gap blitzers in a great show of physicality.

As I said earlier in the column, I usually really enjoy watching dominant run blocking performances. But this Oakland line is so good in pass pro and so physical (a Bills rusher ended up on the ground in every one of the GIFs above) that I wouldn't mind if they threw it 50 times a game. This is a great unit that is so enjoyable to watch.


4 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2016, 7:19pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: Most Valuable Protection

First Muth article I can remember (and checked the last five to test) where not a single defensive player is named. Honestly guys, I know the FO policy is "Buffalo are sooooooo uninteresting let's just pretend they don't exist" (see Audibles), but damn. Some of that good blocking came against particularly noteworthy players, and looks even better when that's known.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Most Valuable Protection

Ben -

Twice last week I saw a protection scheme I'd not noticed before: The LG, at the snap, without hesitation, pulled way strongside, past the RT, a couple yards behind the LoS, and just set up there and waited. Once he ended up helping the RT with the LDE, and the other time he just hung out there until the pass was thrown.

Can you find a moment to explain, either here or in a future column?

Both times I was particularly worried about the LT as it meant he had huge spaces to both his inside and outside.