As the NFL continues the trend towards a lopsided pass friendly league, there is one secret weapon most of the league has forgotten about; the run game.
A Truly Offensive Identity
The Oakland Raiders have dominated two playoff teams in back to back weeks. Granted even though the scores have finished as close games, they were not reflective of just how well they have played at times. The Raiders are ranked 9th in total rushing yards (672), 8th in total rushing TDs (6), and 11th in averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The monstrous offensive line has established itself as the barometer of the offense.
Rodney Hudson is the central processing unit of this offense, ensuring the line calls are always correct. The recognized leader of not only the line but the team as well, Hudson is run blocking better than he has in years, and is every bit the pass protection specialist as he has ever been.
Since his return in Week 3, Incognito has brought a certain nastiness at guard. That nastiness and edge on offense is what the Raiders were missing since the days of Kevin Gogan and Steve Wisniewski. Forming a union with Miller, the two of them have been a formidable pair in the run game. Against the Bears, both he and Kolton Miller were flying of the ball often reaching the second and third levels. Other than getting flagged for a couple of bully ball penalties, Incognito has been a great pick up so far.
Kolton Miller played most of his rookie season injured and it showed. In the offseason, Miller added 20 pounds of muscle and it’s paying off. Miller has only been credited with allowing one sack, to Everson Griffen. Miller has shut out the likes of Bradley Chubb, Vonn Miller, Frank Clark the man who tore him up, Justin Houston, Danielle Hunter, Leonard Floyd, and one Khalil Mack.
Big Trent Brown has been as good as advertised. He is massive, and he is tough. Brown has battled against the best and has proven to be that man. Teams are no longer primarily lining up their premier pass rushers against him. He has been solid in the run game, but it takes 380 a little time to get up and moving. Brown has found his groove next to his fellow lineman.
A “Good” Problem To Have
Denzelle Good made good on his promise to be back in time to start Week 1 for the injured Gabe Jackson. He and right tackle Trent Brown, appear to be the largest right side of a line since Eric Williams and Larry Allen. The line is playing great has but with Jackson nearing return, a very difficult decision must be reached.
So how do the Raiders handle Jackson’s return? There simply is, no good reason, to make any changes to this offensive line. This line has gelled together and is playing great. They have dominated the Broncos, Bears, Colts, but struggled against the Vikings and Chiefs.
What could the Raiders get from Jackson? He was a Pro Bowl LG, and perhaps he can take this line to the special level. Jackson was a part of the #1 offensive line in 2016. Coming out of the bye, this will be a big decision to keep an eye on.
The Rookie Rushing Attack
Josh Jacobs was brought in to be the bell cow at running back from day one. As the consensus best running back in the draft and only back selected in the first round, Jacobs hasn’t disappointed. Nor has he wasted any time establishing the type of pro he wants to be.
In his career debut against the Broncos, he joined LaDainian Tomlinson as one of two rookies to have a 100 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. After toting the rock for 26 carries 123 yards and 2 TDs against the vaunted Bears defense, Jacobs total of 88 rushes for 430 yards with 4 rushing TDs, broke Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s record of 430 yards rushing through the first five games of his career mark.
So, in some kind of weird way, Jon Gruden was right. The trade for Mack was a good one. Mack got what he wanted, and the Raiders were able to utilize the picks for impact players on their roster and opening a ton of roster space.
Fullback Alec Ingold has been a “Gruden grinder” in every sense of the phrase. Ingold has made diving blocks, over the pile and picking up edge defenders on zone runs. He didn’t win the job until the end of training camp, but the Raiders made the right decision in going with the rookie. Ingold has been clearing the way for Jacobs and the two of them have a large mutual appreciation.
Three Tight Ends
Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, and Derek Carrier have all taken turns being difference makers and chain movers for Carr. Waller is the Raiders leading receiver, catching 37 of 42 passes for 359 yards. Waller, played incredibly unselfishly against the Bears. Waller spent a good majority of his day assisting in being one of the primary blockers assigned to Mack.
Waller has yet to reach paydirt for the first time as a Raider, but has been the absolute backbone of the passing game. His 88.1% catch ratio and 203 yards after contact are pretty eye-popping. His lack of targets in the redzone over the course of five games is rather conspicuous.
Moreau was thought to be primarily the blocking tight end. Displaying a baby soft set of hands, Moreau has caught 10 of 11 targets for 97 yards and a TD as he made a beautiful catch in the end zone against the Bears. He has shown a good feel for route running and underrated athleticism.
Carrier has been the left manning the fort, yet every time teams don’t pay attention to him he makes a big play for a first down.
Wide receivers have come and gone for the Raiders. They started with an intense competition for six spots, and most recently traded a 2021 5th round pick to the Buffalo Bills for Zay Jones.
Jones was a highly touted wide receiver coming out of Eastern Carolina University, his numbers were incredible. In four years he played in 47 games and amassed 399 receptions for 4,279 yards scoring 23 TDs. However, he just didn’t seem to mesh well with the Bills offense. In two years and four games he has caught 90 passes for 1037 yards, nine touchdowns, but a catch rate of 46.4%.
Could be he needed a change of scenery, Josh Allen was a big armed rookie quarterback who’s style clashes with Jones specialty. Jones is a route runner, perfectly capable of getting deep, but his best work occurs in Carr’s happy zone.
Tyrell Williams has caught 17 passes for 216 yards and 4 TDs. Williams has had a receiving touchdown in every game he’s played. He’s been the Raiders consistent deep threat and played through a few things while doing so. Having roughly three weeks in between games should allow him to heal his body from ailment and illness. The trio of he, Jones, and Trevor Davis compliment each other well.
Davis, is a speed gadget player, but his receiving is raw and has potential. In his first action with the Raiders he took a reverse to the house against the Colts. He has shown an ability to find the end zone in both games he played, he just may not always bring the ball with him. A jab, but nonetheless all that speed and playmaking means nothing without the football.
What Does It All Mean?
After a big win against the Bears, the Raiders have been treated to back-to-back losses from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers have also lost again for the 4th time. The Chiefs are now just a half game ahead of the Raiders, and they are suddenly looking extremely vulnerable.
The Chiefs have been absolutely gashed and ripped apart on the ground. Their run defense is once again ranked in the 30’s. The reunion with LeSean “Shady” McCoy and head coach Andy Reid hasn’t yielded quite what most would have imagined. Most importantly, both the offensive and defensive lines are getting absolutely manhandled in the run game.
The Raiders rushing defense is ranked 11th in terms of yards given up (460) and ranked 6th in terms of yards per rush (3.7). The Raiders made the Chiefs one dimensional in their last game. Tyreek Hill has returned and he will aide the offense, but the Chiefs offense can’t beat you if they can’t get on the field.
With the both the Chargers and the Broncos fighting to be the worst in the division it’s imperative the Raiders take advantage of the gifts they have received. In spite of all the travel miles, having played in three different countries, and in the middle of a hellacious five consecutive road game stretch, the Raiders are right in the middle of things.
Is it too early to talk playoffs? Probably, but it’s never too early to talk about keys to success. The 2019 Raiders have shown you their blueprint. They are going to pound the football, throw to the tight ends out of power formations from mismatches they created, and maybe now with a revamped on the fly receiving corp take advantage of one of the leagues most accurate deep passers.
But, the biggest challenge, is the next challenge. The Green Bay Packers will be ready to play, luckily Carr won’t be playing on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field, it will just be a cold day.