In order to bolster the offensive line the Raiders were faced with the tough choice to sign Richie Incognito last week. The always-in-trouble offensive lineman is set to compete for the starting left guard position along with Denzelle Good who was added late last season. Incognito brings a considerable amount of off-field and lockerroom concerns and suggests the lack of depth on the offensive line was a serious enough problem for the Raiders to even consider adding the lineman.
Purely from an on-field perspective, however, Incognito’s addition does make sense. More than anything he’s a fit in Tom Cable’s zone running scheme and has the potential to ease the drop in production due to the departure of Kelechi Osemele. Here is a look at what the 4-time Pro Bowl guard does well and some of his limitations.
Incognito shows great awareness on the field. He has a feel for defensive line stunts in both the run and pass game. This tackle-end twist in the clip above not only shows his feel for the game but his ability to violently finish the play. From 2015-2017 Incognito made the Pro-Bowl 3 consecutive seasons. In 2017 he ranked 5th among guards in pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus who credited him with allowing only 2.0 sacks and 2 pressures all season.
Two things that Incognito does so well in pass protection are punching the defender and mirroring his rush to keep him off the quarterback. He has formidable upper body strength and has clearly shown that once he gets his hands on a defensive lineman its over. He backs that up with nimble footwork for a 320lb man. The two clips above show him perfectly timing his initial punch and then moving his feet to keep his body between the rusher and the quarterback.
As pointed out above Incognito only gave up 2.0 sacks and 2 pressures in 2017. Each of these negative plays had a common theme however and it was a result of Incognito missing his initial punch. This play against Kansas City interior defender Chris Jones is one such example. We see Incognito take an angle set before whiffing on the defensive tackle. Credit him with his change of direction ability to recover make a last ditch effort but this play still goes down as a pressure.
Run blocking is the area where the Raiders should get the most out of Incognito. The play above is an outside zone “pin and pull” scheme where the TE blocks down on the defensive tackle allowing Incognito to pull around and up into the second level. First you have to notice Incognito’s excellent agility again, this time being used in the run game. Second when he gets to the second level he tosses the linebacker aside creating a huge hole for his running back. Incognito was widely considered one of the best pulling guards in all of football for the past several years.
The play above is another type of outside zone but instead of pulling Incognito’s job is to execute a “reach block” on the defensive tackle lined up on his outside shoulder. This means that the guard will start the play with his head inside of the defender, work laterally to the left, and end up with his head outside the defender. This requires not only great technique but you guessed it, footwork and agility to pull off. In the 2017 game against the Broncos Incognito had his way with Derek Wolfe and owned him all game.
This is another zone concept but this time it’s inside zone to the right. Incognito’s responsibility is to help the center with the nose tackle before moving upfield to block the second level linebacker. We see Incognito deliver a jolting blow to the nose tackle before heading upfield and engulfing new Raiders linebacker Brandon Marshall driving him 10 yards downfield. Too bad the fullback missed his block otherwise LeSean McCoy would have had a running lane right behind the new Raiders guard.
Incognito isn’t flawless in the run game. Here he allows a tackle for a loss. First thing is his pad level is too high and we can see the guard’s head is clearly higher than the man he is blocking when they collide. Secondly his hands should be inside the defenders arms. Instead the defensive tackle is able to land the inside hand throwing Incognito’s arm into the air.
Interestingly enough Incognito can struggle in a “gap scheme” where he has to one-on-one block a defensive tackle and drive the defender off the ball like the play above. Zone schemes tend to work on angles and out-leveraging defenders with double teams and lateral movement. Gap schemes are more like sumo wrestling where an offensive lineman has to beat the defender with brute strength (and of course technique).
This play where Incognito gets called for holding against Von Miller is just to show you the guard has a tendency to get grabby when he loses balance. Incognito has a reputation for dirty play, taking the top spot in 2009 Sporting New’s survey of NFL players who voted on the leagues dirtiest player. He can also simply lack discipline and make poor decisions on the field. While he has improved since the beginning of his career in terms of penalties his track record is still not great. In his last 3 seasons of playing professional football Incognito was the:
- 12th most penalized guard in 2015
- 6th most penalized guard in 2016
- 9th most penalized guard in 2017
You figure there will be around 70-75 guards starting in the the NFL in any given season (factoring in injuries on top the the 2x32=64). For the new Raider to be in the top 15% or worse of penalized linemen is a troubling statistic.
Purely looking at football Incognito is a clear fit for the Raiders. His stellar play in zone blocking schemes is obviously what made the Raiders think his potential benefit outweighed the risk his personality brings to the organization.
From a non-football standpoint however Raiders fans know too well the potential risk, having lived through the story of Barrett Robbins, the center who suffered from mental health issues (much like Incognito) and had a major episode prior to Super Bowl XXXVII. All Raiders fans can do now is hope Incognito doesn’t add to his long list of discrepancies during his time as a Raider.