For the past couple of weeks, the Las Vegas Raiders offensive line has been a hot topic of discussion around the league. Their ability to block has been under a microscope, so we thought it would be critical to keep tabs on the offensive line and monitor their improvements week over week. After Week 3, I can say there is hope for this Raiders unit from what they are putting on film.
It shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle that the Raiders offensive line has allowed the 3rd-most combined quarterback sacks and hits at 15 total through three weeks of football, according to PFF. However, the pure number of sacks and hits is a bit skewed due to the number of times the Raiders quarterback has dropped back to pass (3rd-most in NFL).
After watching every snap of the Raiders offensive line, the improvements made through three weeks give me hope this unit can once again become a top-10 unit over time. In fact, PFF already has the Raiders O-Line ranked as the 15th unit in pass-blocking efficiency, and ranking them as a middle of the league unit in pass protection.
Just like how we started in last week’s review, we’ll go over some of the bad first.
The Dolphins game for the Raiders couldn’t have started off any worse. On the game’s first passing play, RT Alex Leatherwood gets beat by a defensive end who chops Leatherwood’s hands down, and the DE pushes QB Derek Carr after his pass:
The mental aspect of playing quarterback cannot be underestimated. When a team gets pressure on a QB, especially early on in a game, it can make the QB feel anxious, leading to negative plays.
Aside from Leatherwood’s loss on the first pass play of the game, on literally the second pass play of the game, LG John Simpson misses picking up a DT/DT game by the defensive line, and it leads to another hit on the QB, this time a sack.
When defensive linemen stunt, it is up to the offensive linemen to switch. Simpson should have passed off the DT to C Andre James in the play above and picked up the twisting DT.
He missed on this play, and Carr takes a sack, which leads to a punt for the Raiders.
To keep the momentum going for the Raiders’ bad start, on the very next drive, the Raiders throw a pick-six. Then, the Raiders turn the ball over on downs on their own side of the field, which would lead the Dolphins to score and go up 14-0.
On the fourth drive of the game, we got more of the same. The Raiders gave up another sack on Carr, but this time it was because the running back couldn’t block a blitzing safety. A few plays later, a terrible snap by James ended the drive:
Before the fumbled snap, James snapped the ball high three consecutive times. The fourth ended up going over Carr’s head for a fumble and loss of 18 yards after the referees deemed Derek Carr’s throwaway attempt didn’t get past the line of scrimmage.
Snapping the ball to your quarterback is a fundamental of football, and at this point, Andre James and Carr have fumbled a snap in each of the first three games (Raiders recovered all three).
James did have some extra tape around the hand he snaps the ball with, and it is believed that this was the main reason he was snapping the ball high. After the fumble, he was observed getting the tape removed, and he didn’t fumble the ball again after that point.
But as you can see, after four drives for the Raiders, the offensive line had allowed two sacks on Carr, another hit, a fumbled snap, and things couldn’t have looked worse. However, that is when things got a little bit better.
The Raiders offensive line really started putting it together. In total, they ran the ball 33 times for 142 yards, but more than that, they kept Carr clean enough for him to pass for 386 total yards through the air:
Carr was sacked two times on the first four drives of the game and was only sacked the rest of the game once more. The offensive line did a great job picking things up in the passing game.
But the biggest key to why the Raiders had success along the offensive line was because of one big adjustment they made in the running game in Week 3. And it really started at the end of Week 2 against the Steelers.
If you read last week’s film review, something I had said to watch for was if the Raiders would go away from the zone running scheme and focus on a more traditional gap (power) based run scheme, and that was precisely what Tom Cable and the Raiders offensive line did. And it paid dividends.
For the Raiders offensive line, their strength when it comes to running is RG Jermaine Eluemunor and RT Alex Leatherwood. Both guys are both better at gap blocking as opposed to zone blocking. Leatherwood has tremendous strength at the point of attack:
Alex Leatherwood down blocks on the 3-technique DT and moves him 2+ yards. LG John Simpson pulls and blocks his guy (although it was not a great block). RB Peyton Barber picks up a solid four yards.
To ice the game in overtime, the Raiders went back to the power run on four straight plays, including a really nicely-blocked play by the offensive line:
If you watch the play above, focus on WR Hunter Renfrow, TE Darren Waller, and RT Alex Leatherwood. All three guys do a great job down blocking. However, the best block of this play comes from LG John Simpson, who pulls and kicks out LB Sam Eguavoen.
The Raiders ran the zone scheme 15 times this game, and power 15 times. They ran zone on 74% of their runs in Week 1, so they’ve really switched the way they want to block.
Although they had a lot of success with power in Week 3, look for the Raiders to continue adding pressure by running the zone concept. RB Josh Jacobs is a better zone runner, and RB Kenyan Drake also had some success against the Dolphins:
The Block of the Day
The best block from the Raiders-Dolphins game came from Darren Waller on this 18-yard run by Peyton Barber:
Darren Waller does a great job doubling the DL lined up on the inside shade of Alex Leatherwood. The two double-team the DL, and then Waller does a great job keeping his head up and getting off of the DL and getting to the inside of the MLB. This block by Waller opens up a huge lane for the running back.
Offensive Line Grades through Week 3
|Player||Snaps||Sacks + Hits||Overall Grade (Week 2)|
|Kolton Miller||235||1||A- (B+)|
|Jermaine Eluemunor||218||1||B+ (B-)|
|John Simpson||235||2||C (C+)|
|Brandon Parker||35||2||N/A (C-)|
|Andre James||235||1||C- (D+)|
|Alex Leatherwood||200||8||D- (F)|
|Denzelle Good||17||0||N/A (N/A)|
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