Oakland Raiders: What Was Learned from Last Night’s Win

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September 14, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders guard Austin Howard (77) during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at O.co Coliseum. The Texans defeated the Raiders 30-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Raiders can Run Block 

For most of the year, I and many like me have blamed the Raider o-line for the poor rushing performances, with much of that blame falling to free agent acquisition Austin Howard, who has struggled to get out in front when he’s called upon to pull.  Last night, Howard and the rest of the offensive line put that all behind them and punched the Chiefs defense right in the mouth. On both of Murray’s touchdown runs, the o-line, along with a lead-blocking Mychal Rivera, sealed off the Chiefs defense, allowing the running back to easily find the open crease and use his speed to score. Rivera, who has been generally considered a receiving tight end with a limited skill-set as a blocker, made great blocks on both touchdown plays, including sealing off two-time All-Pro Tamba Hali on the first score of the game. The much-maligned Austin Howard pulled across and sealed off his man on that play, as well. On the 90-yard TD play, Rivera slid across the line from the fullback spot and stopped Chiefs linebacker James-Michael Johnson cold, freeing Murray to cut back and hit the hole for the huge play. On the crucial 17-play, 80-yard, 7 minute, 21 second drive that led to the game-winning score in the 4th quarter, the o-line and tight ends simply imposed their will on the Chiefs stellar defensive unit, shoving them around as the bigg, powerful Marcel Reece punched his way forward to pick up crucial yardage and Derek Carr twice snuck forward to pick up key first downs.

On that final drive, Reece carried the ball 7 times for 34 yards, with most of his damage coming inside behind Austin Howard, Stefen Wisniewski and Khalif Barnes, who was filling in for injured rookie Gabe Jackson.

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  • Run blocking starts with a certain hunger, desire, and mentality, a mentality that former O-line coach Tony Sparano has been trying to instill in this unit all season. They found that mentality last night, but the coaching staff helped them in another way: with scheme. Throughout the year, the Raiders have run frequently out of single-back sets and shotgun formations, and of course the Raider rushing attack has been absolutely pathetic. Late in the San Diego game, Murray ran for big yardage out of offset-I formations behind a fullback, either Marcel Reece or Jamize Olawale. Last night, Rivera lined up as the fullback in the offset I on both scoring plays – and the results were of course 101 yards and 2 TD’s on those two plays. He also lined up as the fullback ahead of Reece during the crucial late drive.  While I am the first in line at the Greg Olson Haters Club meetings, using Rivera this way was a master stroke by Olson. Because he is not normally a run-blocking tight end, defenses may have been looking for the Raiders to try to use play action to get Rivera into the flat (think Spider 2 Y Banana). But he blocked extremely well in that spot. Also, rather than pulling Khalif Barnes and Austin Howard way out to the edge on sweep plays, Olson used pulling guards to kick out or seal off on cutback/power plays, which allowed the blockers to get on a man much faster and allowed plays to set up quicker.

    Olson used an extra offensive lineman (Matt McCants) along with blocking tight end Brian Leonhardt to give the Raiders o-line seven or even eight blockers up on or near the line of scrimmage, allowing for better seals along the backside and longer double-teams at the point of attack. The ability for a running back to take a handoff and have nine teammates immediately engaged with defenders in the box makes a big difference for an explosive back like Murray, as well as for a powerful back like Reece. Using a heavy formation to get “hat on hat” and push the defense also allowed Derek Carr to find soft spots on two key sneaks for first downs that kept that long drive alive for the Raiders. Run-blocking does not need to be complex or creative to be successful, and the Raiders showed that very basic running concepts sometimes are the best ones last night on their way to victory.

    It should be noted that the Raider offensive line also did a hell of a job in pass blocking, allowing one sack to a unit that was averaging three sacks per game coming in, a unit that includes the NFL’s current sack leader and a 2-time All-Pro who has 78.5 career sacks. The Chiefs defense is ranked 8th overall in the league, and the Raiders did a great job at punching them in the mouth last night.