At the halfway point of this season, the Raiders were struggling and the team’s offensive line was taking abuse.
That group of blockers, which had ranked among the NFL’s top lines in 2016, was struggling. The Raiders’ running game wasn’t overpowering opponents the way it did the previous season and Oakland quarterbacks were under more pressure.
In fact, former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, writing for SB Nation, wrote at this season’s midpoint that the Raiders’ O-line was the league’s most disappointing. One of the reasons, he said, was because new offensive coordinator Todd Downing had changed the blocking approach used under Bill Musgrave in 2016.
“It’s not because the line isn’t any good,” wrote Schwartz. “The guys up front are killers. They are physical, they finish guys and want to work for the extra yards. I’m putting this on the offensive coordinator.
“The Raiders brought in a new OC … one who wants to run outside zone. The Raiders offensive line is built to run straight ahead, which it has done for years. It’s been a struggle at times trying to make the switch.”
But as the Raiders head into their AFC West matchup with the Chiefs in Kansas City Sunday – a matchup of 6-6 teams tied for the division lead (along with the Chargers) – there are signs Oakland’s blocking crew has its mojo back.
In the win over the Giants last week, Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 101 yards, with the big play being an early 51-yard touchdown burst right up the middle on which guard Kelechi Osemele destroyed a defender. It was straight-ahead, no-finesse football, the kind the Raiders offensive line loves.
Osemele said the idea vs. the Giants was to establish a physical run game early to take control.
“That’s what we wanted to do, especially on that first play (Lynch’s TD run), calling power on the first couple of plays of the game, and smacking a linebacker and getting downfield,” Osemele told Raiders.com. “That sets the tone and lets them know that up front we’re not playing around. We’re here to play and we’re going to run the ball today, and that’s exactly what we did. We set the tone up front.”
Over the past three games, the Raiders are averaging 108.3 yards on the ground, after averaging just 88.3 over the first nine games, noted Vic Tafur of The Athletic. Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Marshall Newhouse are coming together at just the right time for Oakland to make a push for a playoff spot.
Jerry McDonald noted this week that Lynch and offensive line coach Mike Tice have talked often this season about meshing his style with the style of this offensive line, and the results are improving in recent weeks. It’s a good sign for the Raiders, who probably need to win three of their final four games to have a shot at the AFC West title.
Kickoff for Sunday’s game in Kansas City is set for 10 a.m.