Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Raiders beat the Broncos on Sunday night and officially took control of the AFC West race. There were a bunch of potential storylines going in, such as Khalil Mack vs. Von Miller (even though they aren't even on the field at the same time), are the rising Raiders ready to overthrow the division's recent powerhouse, and things of that nature. To me, the story coming out of the game should be Oakland's offensive line kicking the tar out of a front seven that carried a team to a Super Bowl a year ago.

Oakland's offensive tackles struggled a bit in pass protection, but they weren't destroyed or anything. And other than that, the battle in the trenches was a one-sided beatdown. The Oakland interior offensive line held up well in pass protection, and all five (and often six) guys up front flat-out got after it in the running game. They got consistent movement off the ball all night, and were knocking guys way out of their run gaps. It was as good of a performance as I've covered this year.

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If you read this column a lot, you know that I like to use the first play of the game as an example of how one team set the tone early. Here it's more like one player, as right guard Gabe Jackson starts the game off right. He's singled up here on the defensive tackle (Sylvester Williams, 92) and just mauls him off the ball. He knocks Williams back 4 yards and into the ground. If I hadn't cut the GIF you would have seen him walk over him after the play, looking like LeBron James stepping over Draymond Green.

I want you to look at Jackson's feet after contact. Notice how their turned out a little, but they're relatively flat on the ground; he's driving through the inside arches of his feet. That's how you play with power -- he's not on his toes, he's got lots of cleats in the ground. Think about when you squat heavy weight. You don't come up on your toes, you keep your feet flat and drive through your inside arches. That's how you move the bar, and that's how you take your strength from the weight room to the field. That's exactly what Jackson is doing here.

This isn't a huge play, it's not even particularly well blocked (the tight end/right tackle combo on the play-side doesn't get to the linebacker) but I wanted to highlight Jackson and point out that they still gained 5 yards here. On the third play of the game the Raiders ran the ball again and only gained 1 yard, but left guard Kelechi Osemele knocked his guy back a couple of yards and drove him into the ground. From the first drive Oakland's offensive line was establishing that it could move Denver's defense, particularly on the inside.

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This is just a Tackle O play (I think I've also seen it called a Dart play). It's essentially single-back power, with the backside tackle pulling instead of the guard. This is blocked perfectly by the entire unit, so we'll just move left to right to talk about it.

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The Raiders are playing an extra lineman at tight end, and Denver Kirkland (79, and ironically named for this game) does a nice job of handling the edge player and keeping him wide. At left tackle Donald Penn (72) really has nice footwork and also uses a strong "be really big" technique. He steps hard inside to cut off any penetration from a slant, but also to influence the defensive end inside. To the end, that footwork feels like inside zone away, so he has to squeeze down with Penn to maintain some form of gap integrity. But as he steps down, Penn just engulfs him and he can't see anything behind Penn (this is one area where being a huge-ass dude is an advantage). So he can't come off and make the play front-side until the runner is already gone.

The combo from the left guard (Osemele, 70) and center (Rodney Hudson, 61) is just OK. Osemele does a great job of banging the nose tackle back-side all the way past Hudson, but then he whiffs on the linebacker. Luckily, the play-side is so clean that the linebacker can't make it to the hole in time to make a play. The right guard (Gabe Jackson, 66) has an easy job (just don't get beat inside quickly) and doesn't screw it up.

And finally, this is a great job by right tackle Austin Howard (77) pulling across the line and knocking a linebacker out of the hole. Howard had a tough task in pass protection, but I think it speaks well of him that he didn't let Von Miller's pass rush get in his head and affect other parts of his game. This was a pretty football play capped off by a running back breaking a tackle to gain another 10 or so yards. Gorgeous stuff here.

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This play is all about the combination on the left side. I know I've said this before, but I love watching Osemele play. He's still playing left guard here, and look at him run right through the the defensive tackle's inside shoulder on the way to the linebacker. I don't know how he plays with so much power, but just look at how that tackle's body completely turns when Osemele makes contact. He's completely off balance, and Penn just body-surfs across his limp body. Also, unlike the previous play, Osemele blocks the linebacker this time.

It wasn't a huge factor in the play, but Hudson's block here is really good. Typically on this combo with the right guard, as the center you'd want to get your helmet play-side so the running back can cut to either side of you. Sometimes, though, the nose tackle is playing too heavy play-side and that's just not possible. When that happens you want to do exactly what Hudson does, which is widen the defensive tackle as much as possible without giving up any penetration. Here, Hudson moves him basically hash-to-hash while keeping him right on the line of scrimmage. It forces the back back-side, but if the back-side is that big, there's plenty of room to go.

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I feel for Denver defensive end Billy Winn (97) here. It's not every day you have to deal with a 330-pound tackle and a 340-pound upback. The upback here is Kirkland again, and he comes down and absolutely hurls Winn inside. Notice his hand placement. It's right on the hip, which is a leverage point, and that allows him to throw the defender like a small child in the middle of the line.

This was all too common for the Broncos last Sunday: their front seven getting tossed around by Oakland's huge offensive line, and their defensive backs forced to make tackles 7 yards down the field. I'm anxious to see these two teams play again to see if it looks the same up front.

Before we go, I do want to highlight an artist at work. I know we just spent a lot of time talking about how Denver's defensive line got dominated, but like I said in the opening, the Broncos' edge rushers did have some success against the Raiders' tackles. Von Miller's first-quarter sack was particularly nice.

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You can't see from this angle, but it all started with Miller's get-off, which is as good as there has ever been in the game. But aside from that, the technique is so great. Miller keeps his shoulders so square upfield that Howard has basically no target to punch at. Since the target is so small, Miller knows where Howard's punch has to come (the small numbers on his shoulder pads). Because Miller can guess what Howard's hands are going to be aiming at, he just has to time his hands right to counter, which he does with the smallest, most casual chop move you'll ever see. It looks like he's brushing a fly away. From there he leans and bends right into the quarterback for the sack.

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You may be asking why every edge guy doesn't try some variation of this move. And the answer is they do, and if they can do just one of the five things Miller does here as good as Miller does all of them, they have a shot at being pretty good.

I already mentioned that Miller has the best get-off in the game, and getting upfield quickly is crucial for this move. The timing of his hand chop is great too. But the ability to keep your shoulders square (and therefore your surface area tiny) is entirely dependent on your ability to lean and bend at the end, and Miller looks unreal here. I always thought Robert Mathis was as good as anyone I'd seen at this portion of the pass rush (James Harrison was also awesome at it), but Miller is in their league. Most guys have to start turning their shoulders at 4 or 5 yards because if they get further upfield, they can't bend back towards the quarterback. Miller can run full speed to 7 yards before starting to bend inside. He basically runs a right angle to the quarterback here. This isn't normal.

Comments

10 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2016, 11:54am

2 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

Hey Ben, unrelated but can you give any insight as to how Browns #66 could look so bad on this play?
https://vine.co/v/5IaU5TVZ79n

That's beyond just bad football, he looks like a windup toy that ran out of juice. Could it be that he was expecting the center to get the other half of the guy?

4 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

That's exactly what it is. He's thinking he doesn't have that guy unless he cross his face, so he's just trying to stay still and provide some presence to help the center. He's not really trying to block that guy. Clearly, he or the center went the wrong way.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

Looks like the center was also left blocking nothing at all. Between those two, wouldn't that indicate that the center should've been pitching in on Baltimore's DE (or whomever it was that penetrated so quickly and made #66 look like a schlepp)?

6 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

Thanks again, Ben.

This was one of those 'must watch' games, and not just because of the records and divisional rivalry/playoff implications.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like some teams starting to say: 'Oh - so you set up your defense to stop the pass-happy offenses of today's NFL, and sunk a boatload of money into small, speedy ends? Okay - we're bringing back the power-run.'

8 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

You mean like the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams of 2012?

I don't think you're wrong. The NFL has always been cyclical. Small receivers lead to small DBs which leads to offenses going back to big receivers (and potentially run-heavy). Troubled teams tend to hire coaches from successful teams and then copycat them. But with the cap and limited talent, the successful teams implement change before everybody else.

9 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

The Raiders' OL is starting to gel, with Gabe getting more comfortable at RG and the unit adjusting to the loss of Lee Smith. Watson's return from injury might be brief given his injury history, but Howard's play has improved coming off his ankle injury. The play of the two rookies (Alexander, Kirkland) has made McCants and Feliciano forgotten men. Penn's been a revelation at LT (knock on wood). Last year his played dropped off and he looked old. So far this year he's been solid for 9 weeks and now gets to rest with the Bye. Hudson's been as advertised. Would be the hardest guy to replace. Finally, KO's been the MVP of the OL. Dude is a man among boys. The Raiders ran the same running play 10 times to his side to end the game. Denver had no answer for KO & Co.

10 Re: Word of Muth: Beatdown by the Bay

Do you remember that o-line we had under Gruden? Fat Frank, Wisnewski, Mo Collins, Linc and Barrett Robbins. Linc is now a terrible sideline reporter for the Raiders games on radio.

I can't believe how Barrett Robins screwed up his life so bad - although mental health issues aren't a choice. I really feel sad for the guy to have had it all and have it gone like that.