Easily the most criticized unit on this Raiders team this season has been their offensive line. They received much of the blame - whether justified or not - for their terrible run offense through the first part of the season. That criticism reached a fever pitch in St Louis last week in a 52-0 loss to the Rams.
A similar difficult day was expected for the offensive line against the 49ers who have an outstanding defensive line and pass rush attack. But this offensive line came up big time. Derek Carr had time to throw much of the day and used it to carve up the 49ers defense.
The box score has Carr sacked once in the game, but in actuality he was not sacked at all. That sack was late in the game and Carr went down intentionally to run clock and Dan Skuta merely touched him down.
In total, Carr had three touchdown passes, two of which came on consecutive 80-yard drives in the second half. Not only did he have time to step into the pocket and go through his reads, but one of those touchdown passes went to an offensive lineman.
The pass went to Donald Penn from three yards out. And unlike the last two catches an offensive lineman had on this team, this one was intentional... and legal, as he had reported eligible.
Derek Carr, of course, had glowing reviews of the play of his line.
"I told them I was like, ‘Wherever we have to go to dinner. You guys deserve so much.' I'm a little worried about that one, but, I think my wife is more worried than I am especially with Christmas around the corner. But, they deserve so much credit. They've done a great job all year and we work really hard at our protection plan. We work really hard at trying to have no sacks and those things. They work their tails off. I kept telling them during the game, ‘Guys, I'm literally just standing back here. This is awesome. You're doing a great job, please keep it up.'"
That line from left to right was Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard, and Khalif Barnes. Barnes was starting because of the ankle injury to Menelik Watson. And as expected after a week of practice there, he performed far and away better than he did in spot duty last week. Barnes made 49ers sack leader Aaron Lynch a non-factor.
As a team, the 49ers came into the game with 25 sacks on the season with pass rushing threats coming from all over the defensive line and linebacking corps including Lynch, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Ray McDonald. Yet between them they had the one gimme sack and two hurries the entire game.
As for the run game, it wasn't fantastic in the game, though it wasn't as bad as it had been in many games this season. Raiders leading rusher was Latavius Murray who ran for 76 yards on 23 carries (3.3 ypc). He also had a big run to start the Raiders first touchdown drive and another big run late when the Raiders were looking to run down the clock to seal the win. He was asked after the game if the offensive line deserved the game ball.
"Without a doubt. It makes it easier on Derek. It makes it easier on the running back. When you have that kind of trust and everybody's on the same page, it's definitely a good thing and good things happen when they play the way they did today."
After getting beaten badly in the time of possession battles this season, the Raiders controlled the clock on Sunday, keeping the ball for 32:55 which was nearly six minutes more than the 49ers. Clock control is very much a product of good offensive line play.
Antonio Smith went as far as to joke that he and the rest of the defense was getting bored waiting to go back in the game.
"It was exciting a little bit and a little boring," said Smith. "We was on the sidelines for like ten minutes. We had to stretch all over again before we got back out there on the field. That's how you want your offense to be though."
Perhaps that freshness from resting up on the sideline was why the defense was able to step up as they did. And for Antonio Smith's part, why he was able to get two sacks in the game. The offensive line was even helping out the defensive line. A good example of the offensive line is so critical to the overall success of a team. And they had a day on Sunday.