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

Word of Muth: Oakland Impressions

Word of Muth: Oakland Impressions
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Before Week 1, I had already decided that I was going to write about the Panthers for the first real column of the season (last week was just a dress rehearsal). They were playing in a national TV game that just happened to be a Super Bowl rematch. But then Jack Del Rio went for two when the Raiders were down one late in the game against the Saints, and I changed my mind. Big-balled decisions make me want to write about your big guys up front.

The big guy that really jumped out to me was Donald Penn. I hadn't seen much of Penn since he left Tampa Bay (where he didn't cover himself in glory), so I was skeptical that he had actually improved as much as everyone says he has. One game in and it looks like not only was I selling him short, but everyone else was too. I thought he was fantastic (at least until the fourth quarter when he had to move to right tackle, where he was just OK). With his size I figured he'd be a good run blocker, but his pass protection is what really impressed me.

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

Take the above play. Penn (72) is taking an aggressive set to sell the token play-action fake. The hardest thing to block on an aggressive set is a hard inside move, which is exactly what the defensive end gives Penn here. But Penn does a really nice job of closing down flat down the line of scrimmage and burying the end inside. That's textbook stuff.

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

This play isn't as dominant, but it is just about as impressive. I'm not sure there are much harder things in football then to kick to wide-9 technique on third-and-long with absolutely no help. Look at all the space the defensive end (Paul Kruger, 99) has to work with. You may think the end is doing Penn a favor by lowering his head and bull-rushing, but it's very difficult for an offensive tackle to be dealing with that much open area and then sit down on a power move from a guy who has a 5-yard running head start. Penn gets pushed back into the quarterback a little bit, but he makes it take long enough, and digs in earlier enough to not affect Derek Carr at all. A great job of playing on an island.

(One side note on this play: if Penn had given up a sack here, the announcers would have ripped the Oakland line for giving up a sack against a three-man rush. But it doesn't matter how many guys the defense rushes if the tackle is one-on-one on third-and-long. If Penn had given up a sack here, it obviously would not have been a good play, but it wouldn't be some travesty of justice against quarterbacks because a three-man rush got to him. When considering how sacks happen, don't just count the numbers, take into account the scheme and see if the coach or sometimes the quarterback needs to be blamed for a sack.)

It wasn't just Penn that played well. I thought left guard and big free agent signing Kelechi Osemele played awesome as well. In the season preview article, I wrote about how much I loved watching Osemele in Baltimore because of his knack of finishing blocks. I'm glad that a big free-agent deal hasn't seemed to extinguish that fire.

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

This is from the long touchdown run in the fourth quarter after Osemele had moved over to left tackle. Osemele (70) does a nice job of covering up the linebacker at the second level, but what I love is how he runs his feet when the linebacker tries to come off and make a play. It's hard to just drive guys at contact and bury them in the NFL. Most pancakes come from blocks like this. You engage the defender, hit your landmark, and when the defender tries to shed to make the tackle (so he's not pushing against you anymore but is trying to move away), you run your feet like crazy and drive him into the dirt. That's a professional football play right there. Gets me excited.

What got me really excited about Penn and Osemele is how well they have seemed to gel already. Their combination blocking in the running game was getting movement up front and taking care of guys at the second level. Below you can see them work a nice combo block that led to a 9-yard gain.

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

[ad placeholder 3]

Look at Osemele shove the defensive end (David Onyemata, 93) onto Penn. Osemele shows great strength to displace the end from the B gap into the C gap, and Penn does a nice job of fighting off the illegal hands to the face (never called against the defensive line) to hold the block long enough for the back to hit the hole. Osemele also does a nice job on the second level.

Penn and Osemele are so good that it doesn't matter that Rodney Hudson gets his ass handed to him a little bit at center here. Hudson needs to be able to reach a head-up nose on this play, but instead he gets out-leveraged and bench pressed into the backside of the play. That nose tackle (John Jenkins, 92) is in total control, and if the defensive end had not been knocked so far outside, he probably would have made a play for a short gain.

Hudson had issues blocking defensive tackles in the run game a couple of times, and I thought he just played OK. He was very good in pass protection, but I thought mediocre in the running game. He did show some flashes here and there so I think it might have just been an off night.

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

That may not look like a world beating block but it's damn tough one to make. The defensive tackle (Nick Fairley, 90) shifts late in the snap count and probably takes away Hudson's help. So Hudson has to step aggressively to try to reach the shaded nose. But the nose slants backside, and Hudson has to slow himself and wheel back around to seal him off without allowing too much penetration. It doesn't look dominant, but it's a fine football play and one that a lot of centers don't make consistently.

[ad placeholder 4]

Osemele really does a nice job here of getting to the middle linebacker (Craig Robertson, 52) as well. (He might have gotten away with a hold, but it wasn't called, so I say it's a good block). The Saints have a stunt on where the nose tackle (Fairley) and linebacker (Robertson) basically switch A gaps from where you would expect based off alignment. The Raiders aren't working the best combinations to block it (if Osemele and Hudson were working together it would be easy), but still get it blocked up. If you're on New Orleans' staff this probably pisses you off because you have the right call -- this should have been no gain -- but your guys get out-executed.

Before we go I want to highlight one last play that wasn't pretty, but it was effective. It was a blitz pickup from the first quarter. The Raiders had a third-and-7 and New Orleans showed double A-gap pressure.

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

You can see them talking everything out before the snap. I can't tell exactly what the protection here is, but it looks like they block it how they want to. The only guy they end up leaving unblocked is an edge guy who Carr knows is going to be unblocked before the snap. I used to have a coach that said "Sometimes you just have to block the guys that can hurt you the worstest the fastest." Here, that means making the guy with the longest way to run be the unblocked guy. Sure, you wish you didn't waste a blocker on a 'backer (Robertson) who ended up dropping, but you have to respect guys in the A-gap because they can get home quick. The Saints got a free rusher, which is what the defense was designed to do.

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

Unfortunately, when you see the wide angle of the play you learn that by disguising their stunt so much, the Saints put Robertson in a position where he couldn't cover anything outside. This is a simple pitch-and-catch for the conversion.

This isn't bad coaching by the Saints or anything -- sometimes the other guys call a play that beats you -- but it is indicative of a team that may not be sold on its defensive talent. They're trying to scheme pressure because they don't trust their guys to get it. So they align wackily in hopes of confusing the offensive line, but in the process they put their guys in an awful position to execute their assignments. The Saints got a free rusher, but they didn't confuse anyone. Carr knew exactly who the rusher was going to be and exactly how to beat this blitz.


6 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2016, 8:45pm

3 Re: Word of Muth: Oakland Impressions

Numbers, Ben, numbers... what is Osemele's number? We need numbers to follow your excellent analysis.

Edit: Ahh, down a little more you did list his number...sorry.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Oakland Impressions

I guess I was looking for some analysis of how much more cohesiveness the line needed to develop as a new assembly. But then, it was rearranged during the game making that kind of analysis hard. Too bad the duct tape and chewing gum had to be used in the first game.