At 3-4, the Raiders can’t afford to lose if they want to keep up in the AFC West. Tied with the Chargers in the division basement, Oakland is right behind the Broncos (3-3) and trailing the leading Chiefs (5-2).
If they hope to get on a run – with wins over the Bills (this Sunday) and Dolphins (next Sunday) on an East Coast road trip – the Raiders have to continue to be explosive offensively, as they were in last week’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City, while improving defensively.
One of the keys will be the performance of Oakland’s offensive line.
Against the Chiefs, the O-line lived up to its preseason billing by giving quarterback Derek Carr the time he needed to pass late in the game. Now, facing a good Bills front seven, the unit must build on that momentum.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice believes his group is up to the task.
Tice this week admitted the unit hasn’t played as well as it did last year, when the Raiders were No. 6 in the league in rushing and gave up 18 total sacks.
“Are we where we were last year? No,” Tice told Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “But I don’t think we’ve been awful.”
He believes the offensive line got off to a slow start this season because the team switched from a power-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme to accommodate the addition of former Seahawk Marshawn Lynch, who has thrived in that sort of scheme in the past. One of the results of that switch has been fewer runs between the tackles, Tice said, an area where the Raiders led the league in 2016. In fact, Tice said Raiders backs have told him this season, “Coach, we’re tired of running sideways.” He told Barber his linemen want “to come off the ball and hit.”
Yet he says run-blocking grades have been mostly good. The running attack is very close to its efficiency of last season and could be ready to start rolling, even with Lynch out this week and Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and rookie Elijah Hood in the backfield.
Tice also believes the pass protection – which has given up 13 sacks in seven games – hasn’t been as bad as some have said. As Barber noted, the analytic website Pro Football Focus has ranked Oakland second in the NFL in total pressures allowed (46) and pass-blocking efficiency.
In fact, PFF ranks one member of the line, center Rodney Hudson, as the best at his position in the NFL. Hudson hasn’t allowed a sack or even one pressure this season.
As the Raiders head into Buffalo, it appears right tackle Marshall Newhouse will be unable to start, meaning Vadal Alexander will fill in. But even with Newhouse out, Tice is sure his unit is ready to start dominating games again. It might even happen Sunday in Buffalo.
Tice said he’s told his players they’ve played some good games this year, but they can be better. Tice told Barber that he told his blockers “you guys haven’t given me a great game” yet.
Sunday’s game against the 4-2 Bills is set to kick off at 10 a.m. in the Bay Area. Oddsmakers have made the Bills 2½- to 3-point favorites.