ALAMEDA, Calif. — The thing about offensive linemen is this — you rarely, if ever, hear about them unless things take a bad turn.
Then there’s the performance that the Oakland Raiders‘ retooled and somewhat makeshift line put on Monday night against the Denver Broncos‘ fearsome pass rush. The Raiders’ grunts pitched a shutout, raising the bar for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs‘ revamped pass rush.
Because not only was quarterback Derek Carr, coming off a bruising 51-sack season, not sacked by the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, Carr wasn’t even hit as he stood tall and confident in the pocket.
“I mean, that’s the job and that’s what we hope for,” right tackle Trent Brown, who signed that record-for-an-O-lineman four-year, $66 million free-agent contract this offseason, said sheepishly this week.
“It doesn’t always go that way, but when it does, you definitely got to celebrate that fact — we’ve done it and we’ve shown ourselves that we can do it, especially against the pass rush, and give ourselves a pat on the back. But we’ve got to look forward and move on to K.C.”
The Chiefs are known for their high-powered offense led by reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. But they also looked to upgrade their pass rush in acquiring defensive end Frank Clark from the Seattle Seahawks and signing free-agent edge rusher Alex Okafor to pair with defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Brown has history against the Chiefs, shutting them out at left tackle for the New England Patriots in last year’s AFC title game. He faced Clark twice a season in the NFC West while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’ve got a pretty good [idea] of what I’m going to see on Sunday, but definitely still got to play the game,” Brown said. “Frank Clark is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated pass-rushers in this league. I think he’s a top-five pass-rusher in this league.”
But Clark figures to line up across from Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller, who endured a star-crossed rookie season a year ago as Oakland’s first-round pick. It was in London where Clark had his way with an injured Miller, who was dealing with a knee issue, to the tune of 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Seahawks.
“That week was, adjusting to London and stuff, I think we had three days to kind of get calibrated,” Miller said. “It was a different field — the grass was muddy and, you know, you lose your footing — I think it should be a lot better this game. Plus, you’re not, knock on wood, not injured going in.”
Miller is healthy now, and stronger.
“I just got to stick to fundamentals,” Miller said. “Use chips and sit down for bull [rushes]. Switch off the games, get a good punch off and I should be good.”
While Miller and Brown protected the flanks, center Rodney Hudson and the new guards — Jordan Devey on the left (in place of the suspended Richie Incognito) and Denzelle Good on the right (in place of the injured Gabe Jackson) — controlled the middle as the Raiders forced the Broncos into an epically bad night.
Miller said it was the result of a combination of a strong running game buoyed by efficient inside-zone blocking and opportunistic play-action calls.
Pro Football Focus said Von Miller had “one of the worst games we have ever seen from him” against Brown, with a 64.8 pass-rush grade, a 9.1% pass-rush win rate and a 9.1% pressure rate. Meanwhile, Chubb was at 66.2/10.0%/5.0% facing Kolton Miller.
In fact, PFF showed that the Raiders limited Denver to just five pressures on the night, with the 18.5% pressure rate ranking in the 15 worst pass-rushing games since 2006.
All this from a Raiders line that was 30th in the NFL in pass-blocking grade last season.
No wonder Carr was able to pick Denver apart to the tune of 22-of-26 passing.
“You’re right, I’m going to go as they go,” Carr said of his O-line.
“But as you saw in the game on Monday, just how well our offensive line played, it makes a world of difference. I’ll just leave it at that. It makes a world of difference. I’m really happy that those guys are here, those guys are healthy and those guys are playing well because I’m going to look terrible if they aren’t at their best, because I need their help. I need them to be at their best so I can be at my best.”
Then you’ll hear about them on a more consistent basis.