May 27, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub (8) takes the snap at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
This offseason saw massive turnover on the O-line. Starting LT Jared Veldheer walked in free agency, as did starting guard Mike Brisiel. Tony Pashos and Andre Gurode were not re-signed. In the free agency market, Reggie McKenzie went on an o-line shopping spree, bringing in a trio of veteran free agents for cheap. Former Bucs tackle Donald Penn headlined the group, which also included former Jets tackle Austin Howard and former Giants guard and center Kevin Boothe. He also chose to re-sign much-maligned offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, one of the few pre-McKenzie era players still on the roster. In the draft, McKenzie grabbed monster guard Gabe Jackson out of Mississippi State in the 3rd round, and added two offensive tackles – including Dan Kistler out of Montana – in the undrafted free agent rookie class. On paper it appears that the Raiders have improve their strength and versatility up front, but the loss of Veldheer and Brisiel means that last year’s most effective pass blockers are gone. Donald Penn, who will likely line up at left tackle, struggled as a pass blocker throughout last season. So how will the Raiders expect to improve as a passing offense?
Enter Matt Schaub. After perhaps the best season of his career in 2012, Schaub had a deplorable 2013 campaign, throwing 14 INT’s against only 10 TD’s in limited action due to his being benched after a streak of four pick-sixes in four consecutive games. Schaub was acquired for a 6th round pick this offseason, and with the selection of quarterback Derek Carr in the second round of the draft, seems destined to be a temp, simply filling the role as starting QB until Carr is ready. While the organization has committed to Schaub as the starting quarterback this season, many have speculated that Carr may take over the reigns at some point before the year is over. Yet despite the low expectations and the massive turnover of the offensive line, combined with 1-2 punch of aging running backs with injury histories, Matt Schaub can very well turn around the Raiders offense this year because of one thing: he won’t take as many sacks.
Matt Schaub led the Houston Texans to the best season in franchise history and a playoff appearance two years ago, and has been to the Pro Bowl twice. While he has eclipsed the 4,000 yards mark three times, he has never thrown for 30 TD’s in a season and has thrown more than 10 INT’s in a season five times. He is not particularly mobile, his arm is not particularly strong, and he had the luxury of throwing the ball to future Hall of Fame WR Andre Johnson throughout his entire run in Houston. But one stat that doesn’t exactly jump off the page may be the most relevant stat to the Raiders’ offensive production in 2014. Schaub, throughout his time in Houston, was only sacked on 5% of pass plays, exactly the same sack percentage as Tom Brady, and significantly lower than Aaron Rodgers. Schaub was sacked 21 times last season in ten games, and had the 11th lowest sack percentage in the league. Schaub, for his faults, makes quick reads and releases the ball quickly, with average release times on par with Drew Brees.
For the Raiders rebuilt offensive line that will likely feature young players like Melenik Watson, Gabe Jackson and Tony Bergstrom seeing plenty of playing time, this makes things much easier. In a division that includes Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Von Miller and facing tough NFC West defenses four times this year, no offensive line will face a more challenging gauntlet of pass rushers than the Raiders. A quarterback who can get the ball out of his hands quickly means they only have to slow down the pass rush, not stop it. If they can run the ball effectively – which this offensive line is built to do – they will find themselves in far fewer 3rd and long situations throughout the year, meaning the pass blocking only has to do “just enough” to let Schaub make his read and deliver. If he can do this with anywhere near the competence he showed throughout most of his career, the Raiders offense will be just fine, and the offensive line will look a lot better in the process.