Key to Raiders' success is in front of Derek Carr, not in or around QB



Somewhere along the line, the Raiders went from the team everybody thought could be good to a team everybody is surprised actually got good ... and is beating quality competition.

The credit in a situation like this usually falls on quarterbacks, head coaches and general managers, but a closer look at the Raiders reveals that, while Derek Carr, Jack Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie certainly deserve some accolades, the offensive line is the biggest reason for Oakland's success in 2016.

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Don’t take praise for the Raiders' unsung heroes as a knock against their quarterback. But while Carr has played well and clearly has taken a step forward from last season, any MVP buzz for him is both misplaced and premature.

Carr’s 7.19 yards per pass attempt puts him down in Case Keenum and Cody Kessler territory at No. 19 in the NFL, and many of his other bare statistics can be accounted for with the massive amounts of help he has lined up in front of him.

He is rarely pressured by NFL standards and consistently finds himself manageable third-down situations thanks to a top 10 rushing offense — again, credit to the offensive line.

Take a look at this touchdown throw on the Raiders’ first drive against Kansas City.

(NFL Game Pass)

This is three seconds into the play, and Carr has not moved around or even needed to step up in the pocket. He doesn’t even go through any sort of progression other than a glance to the left to nominally look off the defense. It’s a solid throw — especially because of the defensive holding — but it’s a throw any NFL quarterback can make with that kind of protection.

Ever heard the saying, "You get what you pay for?"

According to the salary cap gurus over at, the Raiders are spending a league-high 22.92 percent of their cap space on the offensive line.

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That’s actually the biggest percentage any team has spent on its line since Spotrac started tracking in 2013, and much of that investment came in the past two offseasons as the Raiders added center Rodney Hudson (2015) and guard Kelechi Osemele (2016). 

The moment that made the Raiders' 2016 season, however, was when the team surprised much of the NFL world by signing Osemele but then re-signing LT Donald Penn this past offseason. While many believed Osemele could’ve been an impact tackle for the Raiders' system, the Raiders eschewed spending extra money elsewhere and created a line that can thrive in any circumstance.

(NFL Game Pass)

Here’s Osemele (No. 70) in Week 6 on what will be a nondescript, six-yard run by an even-more-nondescript running back in DeAndre Washington. Now, here is where he and Kansas City’s Jaye Howard end up just moments into the play.

(NFL Game Pass)

That’s not opening up a lane; that’s reserving the whole darn bowling alley.

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Eventually, Howard gets pushed all the way back to the 20-yard line, which is the line bolded in black about five extra yards down the field. That’s called finishing plays, and it’s why even good defensive linemen get worn down by the Raiders over the course of four quarters. 

It’s not just Osemele, either, because here’s where the Raiders line ended up versus where it began.

(NFL Game Pass)

A six-yard run isn’t flashy, but it’s the football equivalent of a lead-off double in baseball. On its own, it doesn’t do much, but it puts a lot more pressure on the defense to be perfect for the next couple of downs, and any offense should be able to take advantage.

The Raiders also have depth on their offensive line with Austin Howard and rookie Vadal Alexander, who have both performed admirably as starters have gone down and forced the team to shift people around.

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It’s important to note that simply spending money isn’t a recipe for success. No. 3 on that list of money spent on the OL is the Vikings, who are spending more than 20 percent of their cap on the offensive line and getting about zero percent production out of them. Going down the list further, similar (yet less extreme) things could be said about the Dolphins, Bengals and even the Eagles, who have struggled at times this season.

So, if McKenzie is going to get credit, it shouldn’t just be for drafting Carr at quarterback and flanking him with talented receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Instead, he should be lauded for realizing he could take something that was a strength of his team in 2015, when the Raiders had an underappreciated offensive line, and turn it into something truly special.

In true Raiders fashion, they’re also one of the most penalized teams this season, and a lot of that is due to the offensive line, which has been dinged for everything from false starts to holding and even personal fouls. It’s hard to quibble with a formula that has worked so well. If they need to play on edge to be successful, coaches won’t want them to calm down. Knowing the temperament of Penn, Osemele and others on

the line, that’s a distinct possibility.

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Then again, there’s also something to be said for the fact that this team could be on the cusp of something even greater as it finds a rhythm and gets more reps. If the O-line can find the line between intensity and penalty without so consistently going across it, it will have a ripple effect on the entire team.

It also will keep Carr in the MVP discussion and the Raiders in the playoff race.