A Rocky Start…

Oakland Raiders’ starting left tackle Donald Penn began his 2017 campaign under scrutiny.

The Pro Bowler was a no-show at the outset of the team’s training camp in July. Penn would continue his hold out through the first two pre-season games for the Silver and Black. Subsequently, Penn’s return was the end of a staring contest between player and organization. It was one that resulted in the top-tier tackle earning a payday worthy of his top 10 ranking.

Was it worth it?

Penn’s 2016 performance ended on a sour note. Penn was held accountable for the sack that injured Oakland’s franchise quarterback. This single instance seemingly dashed any hopes of a playoff push. Furthermore, Penn went on to suffer a knee injury against the Denver Broncos that sidelined him for the team’s first playoff game in 14 years.

Though Penn allowed the sack that led to Carr’s broken fibula, it was the first of only two sacks he’d allow all season. Additionally, Penn’s absence in the team’s Wild Card matchup against the Texans was an anomaly. Considering Penn had started in a record-setting 160 consecutive regular-season games, this should not have been a concern.

All things considered, the majority of Raider Nation took Penn to task for his holdout. After a show of good faith, Raiders brass chipped in a two-year $21 million dollar contract extension just prior to the team’s home opener.

Thus, we begin…

The Good…

Penn is a fierce blocker who gets off snaps quickly. His quick reaction time and instincts coupled with his ability to set his feet and overpower pass-rushers make the 6’5″ 340 lb. tackle a force to be reckoned with. Known for being a stay-at-home blocker, Penn has the instincts to bounce and shift when necessary.

1 vs. 2

Here we see Penn make quick work of Ed Stinson who already has his hands full with Kelechi Osemele. Using the momentum from his initial push, Penn switches direction and does a good job getting underneath linebacker Demario Davis. Penn’s quick reaction and ability to get downfield with strength opens a crease just big enough for Lynch. Marshawn finishes the play by bullying his way forward for a first down.

Penn vs. Davis

Demario Davis gets that work one more time. With the entire line pulling to the right, Penn gets out in front and beats Davis to his spot. This play depends on Richard picking the right zone and Penn securing the block to spring the big play. Again, Penn’s burst off the line catapults him into the perfect position to neutralize #56. Richard’s vision and speed did the rest and Oakland put six on the scoreboard.

Penn vs. Kerrigan

This is a particularly intriguing matchup. Kerrigan is no slouch at outside linebacker. His combination of size and speed allows him to play with his hand in the dirt in passing situations. Kerrigan finished the season with 13 sacks. His 2017 performance was good enough to earn him himself Pro Bowl honors. It would be his 3rd such appearance since being a 1st round draft pick in 2011.

Penn’s ability to gain leverage and overpower his assignment is on full display. Once again, Penn is quick off the snap, gets upright and beats his defender to the edge. In turn, Kerrigan is no match for Penn’s strength as he’s thrown to the ground with ease. While Penn wins his assignment, Newhouse loses his. Carr steps up, panics, and the pass sails over Roberts and out-of-bounds.

The Bad…

Penn’s 2017 season ended abruptly after the tackle suffered a foot injury late in the season. Through the 14 games in which he started, Penn’s play was above average. With an entire offense in disarray, however, nobody is safe from criticism.

Following an abysmal performance against the Washington Redskins, the offensive line was placed under a microscope. Consequently, Penn was confronted by angry fans in the Coliseum parking lot just two weeks later. Oakland had dropped three games in a row, were the subject of locker room conspiracy theories, and the natives were restless.

Penn vs. Smith

The Oakland Raiders line was dominated from start to finish on primetime television. Despite the aforementioned play against Ryan Kerrigan, Penn was no exception to the onslaught.

Preston Smith earned the starting right outside linebacker position after Junior Galette suffered a season-ending injury in 2016. Preston tallied eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception in 2017. He’s fast, crafty, and has a nose for the ball.

Here, Penn caves under the speed and relentless rush of Preston Smith. Penn fails to get his hands up before Smith and is quickly dispatched. He is simply outplayed and loses control of his assignment.

However, Penn is not alone. This is a total breakdown of the line that results in a defenseless Carr, who goes down fast.

Penn vs. Harris

The Raiders faced the Miami Dolphins on Sunday Night Football in Week 9. The game was ugly but the outcome was welcome. Here, Penn matches up with rookie defensive end Charles Harris. Harris failed to play up to his first-round expectations all year but gets the better of Penn on this play.

Harris does a good job getting underneath Penn’s outside shoulder and pushes upwards and through. In short, Penn loses leverage and absorbs the flag.

Penn vs. Barrett

Penn loses to speed and fast hands. Barrett explodes off the snap, bats Penn away, and dashes around the Pro Bowler in a flash. Penn never has a chance on this play. In turn, Carr takes another sack while coughing up the ball in the process.

Injured On the Play…

Let’s take one final look at Penn’s injury. Penn spent the majority of his career as one of the NFL’s iron men. All things considered, recent scrutiny over his previous two injuries is baffling.

Fans who claim the aging tackle is now susceptible to harm need to take a closer look at the way Penn’s season came to an end. This was not a fluke and was not sustained due to weakness or poor conditioning. It was simply bad luck. Osemele is overpowered by #96 Maliek Collins from the jump. KO falls to the ground, rolls on Penn’s foot, and the rest is history.

Final Thoughts

Donald Penn surrendered three sacks in 2017 (just one higher than his 2016 total). Though the scheme adjustments didn’t favor the Raiders’ offense as a whole, Penn held up quite well. The recent criticism of Penn joins the cacophony of frustration and dysfunction that plagued Oakland throughout the 2017 season.

Considered an elite group in 2016, the Raiders’ “Carr Insurance” did not resemble the cohesive unit from just one year prior. When Penn went down Sharpe took over and the results were mixed.

Pair that with the fact that Oakland has struggled to field a reliable right tackle for some time now and his value increases exponentially. Newhouse, Alexander, and Austin Howard have been less than stellar.

Oakland needs one more year out of Penn. The best case scenario would have Penn mentoring Sharpe in preparation to pass the torch in 2019. This buys Oakland time to fill the hole on the right side and gives Penn one more year under his former head coach, Jon Gruden.


Written by: Kenny Stapler

For more Oakland Raiders insight and commentary, tune in to the Pillaging Podcast (YouTubeiTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher Radio) every week!

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