Right tackle has been a weak spot for the Raiders for a few years now. Over the past three seasons, the position was up for grabs and the two men who battled for the spot were Menelik Watson and Austin Howard.
Watson was the team’s second round pick in 2013. Every year, he would win the right tackle job only to go down with an injury. In 2014 the Raiders made Howard their top free agent addition, initially putting him at right guard before moving him back to right tackle the past two seasons.
Watson missed 11 games as a rookie, 4 games his second season, all of 2015, and six games in 2016. Every time he went down, Austin Howard stepped up. But every time Watson was healthy, the Raiders went back to him over Howard.
This offseason, Watson left as a free agent, signing a 3-year deal with the Broncos. Howard remained with the team through the offseason as he recovered from offseason hip surgery. He was released before camp and signed with the Ravens.
Both players have been starters for their respective teams this season. Last week the Raiders faced Watson in Denver and this week they welcome back Howard with the Ravens.
Mack destroyed Watson and the Broncos on the pass rush. Though to be fair, one of his two sacks came against Donald Stephenson when he was replacing Watson for one play. But that doesn’t diminish the other sack in which Mack simply bull rushed right through Watson along with Mack’s 6 other pressures, 3 other QB hits, 3 run stuff, and 3 tackles for loss.
Watson had already given up 6 sacks this season coming in. Let me say again that he somehow beat out Austin Howard for the starting job every time he was healthy, including late last season.
In the shuffling this offseason, the Raiders were in the market for a right tackle. One of the top names out there was Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner who left to sign a monster 5-year deal with the Lions. The Raiders signed Marshall Newhouse to a much more meager 2-year deal and let Howard go, who promptly signed with Baltimore and has started every game this season. Funny how these things work.
“Like him a lot,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday over conference call. “He’s playing good football. He’s learning the system. I think he’s gotten better every single week. You guys know him. He’s a smart guy. He’s a very hard worker. He likes football. He’s a good guy to be around. Nothing but a joy and I’m sure glad he’s with us. He’s helped us.”
It would be logical to think if Watson’s performance this season against the Raiders is any indication, especially considering he consistently won the job over Howard, it could be another big day for Khalil Mack. But that may not be so automatic.
Joe Flacco has been sacked nine times this season. None have been charged to Howard.
Through four starts and 134 pass blocking snaps, Howard has yet to allow a sack from the right tackle spot and has allowed 7 total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranks him 15th in pass blocking efficiency among tackles, and his 81.0 grade is 10th among tackles.
Jaguars pass rushing duo of Calais Campbell (5.5 sacks) and Yannick Ogbah (4.0) have 9.5 sacks this season between them. Campbell shared a sack against the Ravens, but neither were able to get a sack facing Howard.
Those two are the only pass rushers Howard has faced who have as many sacks this season as Mack (4.0), though it’s not a stretch to say Howard hasn’t faced anyone the likes of Mack this season.
Just like Watson, the advantage in familiarity goes to Mack. He knows Howard’s weaknesses and tendencies well. And whether Howard knows Mack’s techniques is very different than being able to stop them. There isn’t a tackle out there who has proven they can completely neutralize Mack.
It should be another fun reunion.