Seven offensive lineman. That’s the number of big uglies the Las Vegas Raiders deployed this past Sunday in their wild 30-24 victory over the New England Patriots. That particular number wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if it were of the extra linemen/jumbo package variety.
However, for the Silver & Black, it was simple attrition. The Raiders offensive line shuffle — an item that’s been ever-present in this 2022 campaign — was initially due to finding the right starting five combination. Against New England, however, it occurred due to injury.
The usual suspects played every snap — left tackle Kolton Miller, center Andre James, and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. But linemen like Hroniss Grasu and Jordan Meredith had to jump into the line up and play significant snaps (Grasu played all the snaps at right guard; Meredith played at left guard after Dylan Parham went down with injury) while Thayer Munford pitched in, too.
There were moments of ugliness, as is to be expected with the moving parts. Often in the second half, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was under sieged almost immediately after the snap. With Sunday’s musical chairs-style offensive line grouping, that makes for 16 different combinations Las Vegas trotted out this season. There were also penalties as miscommunication was rife as the makeshift offensive line had to gel in-game against a ferocious Patriots defense.
Yet, the ragamuffin group held up well when in pass protection the Raiders needed it most and did help pave the way for running back Josh Jacobs to gallop for 93 yards on 22 carries, ensuring all is not lost. Still, the constant pivoting up front is something Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels and his offensive line coaches are adjusting to.
“I mean, I’ve definitely been in some situations where we’ve had injuries and things like that have bothered the camaraderie or the chemistry of the unit, or whatever,” McDaniels said in his victory Monday press conference. “I think part of why we do what we do in the offseason and in training camp, in terms of moving those guys around and making them play multiple positions, is to prepare ourselves for things like this and try to improve the value of each player by having more versatility, so that they’re not just on the left. They might be on the right and then now they’re talking to the right tackle instead of the left tackle and so on so forth. I think all of that kind of plays into this.
“Credit, Carmen (Bricillo) and Cam (Clemmons), I think they’ve done a tremendous job. They don’t flinch when things like that happen, and they got to do extra work to prepare our group to get ready to go. And then credit goes to our guys up front. I mean, offensive linemen are resilient by nature.”
Still, McDaniels isn’t obtuse and admitted play calling had to be managed and mitigated in the face of having two guards on the offensive line that haven’t been steeped in snap counts.
“It does,” McDaniels began when asked if his play calling had to be managed, “and you never want to say that it’s okay to punt the ball on offense. I mean, as being a former offensive coordinator, and somebody who’s, obviously, very involved in that side of the ball. But there are times where the game dictates that you got to be smart versus trying to do too much. I thought those guys battled their butt off, and we certainly — that was not the only reason why we didn’t have more success as the game goes on.”
That said, the 13 penalties the Raiders committed (resulting in 90 yards worth of infractions) was way too much — regardless if the team was deploying new faces on the offensive line or not. It was something that stuck in McDaniels’ craw, even a day later. And it’s something he stressed the team avoid as they careen towards the final three games of the 2022 campaign and a potential postseason push.
“There’s really no excuses. I mean, we all know that snap count to be having those types of issues now,” McDaniels said. “And again, we’ve had some cleaner games recently. And then all of a sudden, to have as many as we did yesterday hurt us the way that they did and put us in long yardage. There’s no excuses for those.
“We need to be able to go out and call a play in the huddle, break the huddle, and get to the line of scrimmage, and snap the ball without penalty before the play clock’s down. So, no, we can’t do that — not inconsistently play good offense.”