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

Word of Muth: Raiders-Texans II

Word of Muth: Raiders-Texans II
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

We started out the year with three teams to focus on, and we are left with just one still standing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers may be home for the offseason, but the Oakland Raiders march on, and this column marches with them. So this space will be Oakland offensive line headquarters until they win the Super Bowl, or at least through their playoff loss.

Rather than focus on last week's game here, I'd figure we'd go back to Week 11 and look at Oakland's game against this Saturday's opponent, the Houston Texans. Oakland won the first matchup, primarily due to a trio of chunk pass plays in the fourth quarter from Derek Carr. But I wanted to get a feel for how the Raiders line matched up with Houston's secondary.

Watching the game back, I'm not sure how Oakland's line will fare on Saturday, because it seemed like there were two different units playing in Mexico in the Week 11 game. There was the pass-blocking unit that looked incredible, maybe as good as I've seen them look all year. And then there was the run-blocking unit that looked too slow on the edges and too soft up the middle. They looked physically overmatched at times and finished with horrific numbers (20 attempts for just 30 yards).

We'll start with the bad and get to the good later in the column. The bad was really bad though, as the Raiders didn't block Jadeveon Clowney all night and also really struggled against Vince Wilfork.

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This is a tight end (81, Mychal Rivera) blocking Clowney (90), or trying to block him at least. I know this a tight end getting wrecked, but it illustrates what kind of explosive player the former No. 1 overall pick is off the backside of run plays. It's a little hard to see because of the SkyCam, but Clowney explodes off the ball, catches the pulling tackle (77, Austin Howard), shoves him into the ball carrier, and makes the play. That is so much quick twitch right there.

Clowney made a couple plays from the backside of running plays and came closer to making three or so more. Oakland needs to find a way to slow him down a bit so he's not so aggressive coming off that edge on run action away. Normally I'd say he'd be a great guy to run some boot action passes at, but I'm not sure if Connor Cook is great at throwing on the run. But even if he's not great, most young quarterbacks are at least OK, and moving him could be a way to get some easy half-field reads for him to get him going. Plus, anything to slow Clowney down at all in the run game should help the run game out a lot. I would also like to see an early end-around his way.

The other thing you can do to a guy that quick at closing down plays from the backside is to run right at him. Oakland tried that too, and didn't have much more success.

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Again, it's a tight end (88, Clive Walford) blocking him, but that's straight up abuse and resulted in a 4-yard loss on the second play of the game. I'm not sure how often Oakland is going to be able to leave a tight end in the game if they are going to ask him to block Clowney. I wouldn't be surprised if Oakland goes with even more six-lineman sets than usual (and they use them quite a bit).

Even if Clowney doesn't make the play for a big loss, this play doesn't seem to be going very well for Oakland. Just inside of Clowney you can see the Houston defensive tackle (93, Joel Heath) really stand up to a double-team from Donald Penn and Kelechi Osemele. I watched a lot of Penn/Osemele double-teams and it's rare for them to get little to no movement against someone like they did here.

And then at center, Rodney Hudson is getting all he can handle from Vince Wilfork (75). It may not seem like it, but big Vince is kind of taking it to the Raiders center here. He's keeping his gap right at the line of scrimmage and looking into the backfield. When he sees the run going away, he throws Hudson and cross-faces him. If Clowney doesn't make this play, there's a good chance Wilfork would have for a 1- or 2-yard gain. It wasn't the only time Hudson struggled with Wilfork.

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I went with the wide angle to show how far Wilfork pushed Hudson into the backfield. That's 3 yards into the backfield and right into the running back's lap. Hudson has had a great year, but if there's one thing he struggles with it's a really big nose tackle lined up right over top of him. He'll have his hands full with Wilfork again this Saturday.

As much as Oakland struggled in run blocking, the tables were completely turned in pass protection. Derek Carr had an immaculate pocket on basically every play and used it to have a nice night. Let's take a look at the first touchdown.

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Raiders are going empty here and I'm not sure they ran a quarterback draw all year, so Houston knows it's a pass. That's the best rush they can muster. Look at Penn (72) and Osemele (70) pass off that game on the left side. That's art. Or if you prefer pockets even more ridiculous, there's this play, which lead to a big pass interference call.

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I mean, good lord, Derek Carr is directing traffic out there. The Raiders pass off another game on the left side (though this time they're sliding into it, so it's not as impressive). At right tackle Howard does a great job of exploding out of his stance and into his set, which seems to throw Clowney completely off his game. This was an extreme case, but that first pocket was par for the course last time these teams played.

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A lot of talk has been about whether Cook has a chance to be decent, but if he gets this kind of protection I think just about any quarterback could be average (Ryan Lindley excluded, of course). It wouldn't be the first time a low drafted rookie looked good with incredible protection this year.

One thing to watch, though, is that Donald Penn, who hasn't missed a start since 2007, has yet to practice this week (I'm writing this on Thursday night). If he's out, that could really hurt Oakland's protection, and I'm not sure I'd want a rookie quarterback playing with a backup left tackle -- or worse, the Raiders could bump Osemele out and get worse at two positions because of one injury.

Since this is a preview column I feel obligated to make a prediction. My prediction is that Oakland goes with a lot of six-lineman sets, and they run a reverse or boot at Clowney in the first 15 plays (the scripted ones). For Houston's defense, I bet they blitz way more on Saturday than they did in Mexico (they hardly blitzed at all). At the very least, it should be a tight one.


4 comments, Last at 08 Jan 2017, 4:23pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: Raiders-Texans II

RE: “I went with the wide angle to show how far Wilfork pushed Hudson into the backfield”

Wow, what an illustration of how hard it is to judge line play without looking at multiple angles. I kind of saw what you meant in the sky-cam angle of this play, but the wide angle really makes it clear.

Wonderful work. As always.

2 Re: Word of Muth: Raiders-Texans II

As a Raiders fan, I felt like we could beat this opponent without Carr. But add on the loss of our LT, or at least a weakened Penn, and it feels impossible.

Or, perhaps, Brock will help us out!