Hello Raiders faithful. After a two week hiatus, the Raiders O-Line series has returned. After a horrible outing versus Tennessee, the O-Line seemed (key word seemed) better. It is after all blocking for the second leading rusher in the NFL Darren McFadden. However it's still giving up too many sacks and taking a little too long to open up those holes.
The line is hard to gauge right now with so many different change-ups, on the line and at QB. Plus they haven't gotten consistent levels of competition at to this point, making things harder to figure out. But let's see where the lien stands after the St. Louis game and what it might be in the Cardinals game.
Let's start at left tackle, what has been a year-by-year revolving door is now a drive-by-drive revolving door. With the original starter Mario Henderson being shifted in-and-out with the 3rd round wunderkind Jared Veldheer. This has come with varying results.
Henderson, inconsistent as ever, will look great one play, then come back with a major pressure give-up. Veldheer is very similar but seems to do better with run blocking, a major weakness of Henderson's. The team needs to pick one of these two and stick with him.
Henderson offers more experience and slightly more consistent pass protection, but lack in run blocking and when he does get beat, he gets beat bad. Veldheer is a better run blocker and fights off the rusher as long as he can, even if it just slows that rusher down ever slightly. However, he makes some rookie mistakes and struggles more than Henderson with pass blocking.
If I had to pick, I'd pick Veldheer since his problems can be fixed with just more experience. Plus this team has found a good ground game so far, and Veldheer offers more in keeping that going with his physical run blocking and sheer strength. I think the team may very well lean this way soon as well.
Daniel Loper stepped up last week to fill in for Gallery and proved himself to be a pretty good backup. He does good things when it comes to opening running lanes, but his pass protection looks resembling of Carlisle (can we pretty please start him at RG and save a couple million?). While Gallery is gone, Loper will prove a good backup.
Cooper Carlisle looks like Cooper Carlisle, enough said. I still hope we get Langston Walker moved to this spot.
Speaking of Langston, he looked a bit better this week (not a great test but I'll take what i can get). He asserted himself with his run blocking as usual, and seemed quicker to react in pass protection. He still needs to get better though, and quick.
Center saw another change. Veldheer's embarrassment last week was quickly addressed with Samson Satele taking the reigns at center. Satele gave you pretty much the same results (except he looked a little more consistent in pass protection), but with better snapping. A welcome change, but center is still an issue.
Overall the line still is a weakness and I think is the whole reason we are seeing the QB change. Bruce Gradkowski simply does better with this line than Jason Campbell. The play-calling still has its deep throws, but more as a decoy for Bruce to hit Louis Murphy of Darrius Heyward-Bey on the mid-range slant.
Bruce does good things when it comes to getting the pass out quick and dodging the pass rush, we need that with this line. However, we do need Campbell's deep ball as well. The nickel-and-dime passing will only carry us so far.
Preview of Next Week:
Our line faces another grueling test resembling of Tennessee this week against the Arizona Cardinals. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are tough ends to stop and Arizona adds in some dangerous blitz schemes. But I think Calais Campbell plays right into the hands of Langston Walker.
Walker has been facing speedy 4-3 ends and getting toasted, but his 365 pound body against a slower end or backer might prove to be a better matchup for him. Even if he's just chipping the end and moving onto the OLB, it'll be a nice help for Cooper Carlisle I'm sure.
Also Samson Satele gets his first 3-4 test of the year against a struggling rookie in Dan Williams. Truthfully, that middle running attack against the middle of the Cardinals defense will be major advantage for Oakland. Oh by the way, Oakland gets its wrecking ball between-the-tackles runner in Michael Bush back.
Dockett and Joey Porter will be the biggest threats to this O-Line though. Doesn't matter if it's Veldheer or Henderson in, they'll get beat early and often. However, since those two are a tad slower than those 4-3 ends and backers, Gradkowski may be able to dodge them a little easier. Let's just hope Porter doesn't level Grads.
Overall the line should do better than we think, but will still struggle. Luckily the running game and our dastardly screen passes should back off the blitz a bit.
This week's quick hit is for the job of John Marshall and the defense during the second half of the Rams game. You could point at John Henderson's increased involvement in the game as the key factor in the improved run D. But I am looking more at the adjustment of the linebackers.
With less blitzing in the second half, I was puzzled and worried that we were seeing those old vanilla defenses. However, it was secretly a defensive adjustment the likes of which I have craved so long for. Instead of blitzing and overpursuing on the quick cutting Steven Jackson, the backers waited in sort of spy zones to see what was going on.
If it was a pass or play action play, they went back into coverage. But if it was a run, they waited for Henderson and the ends to clog up the middle and stretch lanes, forcing Jackson into holes directly in front of the backers. From there the linebackers would just wait to see if Jackson went for their hole and surged through for a big hit, usually with end or additional backer support for the swarm tackle.
It was a brilliant tactic on Marshall's part and it was thoroughly executed by the backers and expertly called in by Rolando McClain. I honestly call this the most impressive game of McClain's entire football career. He made the defensive calls and adjustments perfectly, doing his best Ray Lewis impersonation.
Games like the St. Louis one are glimpses of what Rolando McClain can do a couple years from now. My the future is bright.
My shout-out goes for Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey. After having the best games of your respective careers I must say, I'm impressed but not yet sold. You two have two keep this up and do this consistently. Darren, this is arguably the year that decides the rest of your NFL career, keep this up so you can stay a productive Raider runner.
As for Darrius, people have very short leashes for you, but my leash for you is long. You showed last Sunday what you're capable of. I'd like to see more of this from you as the year goes on, but don't be afraid of bad games. Fearing bad games increases the chances they will happen, and that makes you fear them even more. It's a bad cycle to get stuck in, and I hope you don't. You have a bright future ahead of you, and I'm confident you'll meet the potential you hold.