It’s not easy to win on the road in the NFL, and to see a team win its first three away from home, well, that doesn’t happen very often. Denver and Carolina did it, but two-thirds of the playoff teams last season couldn’t pull that off.
To see the Raiders 3-0 on the road is big. You go to Baltimore and lose the lead late, that’s usually not something you climb back out of. You fumble late, you’re backed up. It takes some character from your team to find a way to get that thing done.
But if you look at the way the Raiders are playing right now, they’ve done a good job first of all of building an offensive line. You look at the stats from that game and the quarterback wasn’t hit or sacked. The only time Derek Carr had any contact is when he ran for a first down that was called back by a penalty. To go on the road and play in a hostile environment like that and to not even get your jersey dirty, that’s going to go a long way, not just in the stats but in the win column.
If teams can’t get pressure on you, can’t knock you out of your game and knock you off rhythm, with the weapons they have outside it’s going to be hard to beat that team.
It’s a cliché to say it all starts up front, but it really does. You see these other teams struggle, teams that have good quarterbacks and veteran guys, and they can’t get anything done. It’s because they just don’t have the group in front of them.
The offensive line for the Raiders: LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson and RT Menelik Watson.
It’s those five guys who go unnamed – I don’t know if most people can name the Raiders’ offensive line, if they aren’t die-hard fans – but those guys are the most valuable players. You can have all the experience in the world, you can have talent outside with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but if you can’t stay upright, then you can’t get them the football.
It ties into the run game, also. The run game is there now. Three years ago, the Raiders struggled to win. If you don’t have that presence and ability up front, you’re going to struggle. To the Raiders’ credit, they built that. GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack (Del Rio) have made that their No. 1 priority – to be dominant on the front line – and it has really paid off.
Having everyone go through an offseason together also has been huge for Oakland. The Raiders didn’t have that last year. Derek was banged up and wasn’t able to get all the reps he wanted going through injuries with his shoulder. Crabtree is a veteran guy and you can see it: Derek is looking for him late in the game because he’s a guy who has made plays for him. Crabtree has done it before on the big stage in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. He gets it. His confidence level is off the charts and you can see it. Everyone is giving Amari their top cornerback – he has their attention – and Crabtree is stepping up and taking full advantage of it. It’s cool to see them blossom.
They don’t take negative plays, they don’t take a lot of sacks and they make crucial plays when they need them.
David Carr, on the Raiders’ success
Sometimes you hear, “One of the faults the Raiders’ offense has is they won’t really push the football down the field and take chances.” Well, we see what happens when teams take too many chances. The Arizona Cardinals, they’re supposed to be a Super Bowl team, and they’re turning over the football. You watch the Jets and they’re supposed to be a playoff team and possibly a Super Bowl team, and they’re turning over the ball. They’re both below .500 and have a lot of work to do if they’re going to make the playoffs.
You look at the Raiders and they’re not super explosive. They’re not the Rams of several years ago, but they’re efficient, they’re good at running the football. They don’t take negative plays, they don’t take a lot of sacks and they make crucial plays when they need them. Derek passed for only 199 yards against the Ravens, but he had four touchdowns and didn’t turn over the ball.
That’s a great offense in my mind. As we go forward and we see them continue to gain experience, it’s going to be fun to see this thing develop into what I think can be one of the top offenses in the league. Now, are they going to get to the elite level this year? That remains to be seen. But they’re right there. They’re getting close.
Question of the week
From Stephan Hodges: We often see different metrics used to judge quarterbacks, from completion percentage to touchdown-to-interception ratio to wins. With all the unproven, late-round rookies starting in the NFL, how can a viewer best see if a quarterback is succeeding at the NFL level?
That’s a good question. What stats do you believe in and what stats do you not? I think you look at points scored. You have to be able to get into the end zone. That’s a true indication of how good the quarterback is because it encompasses everything – how he handles the line of scrimmage, how he manages the game in certain situations.
Then, it’s a hard stat to follow, but look at how teams do at in the last two minutes of each half. The New England Patriots for the past several years and Eli Manning was like this when I was with the Giants, they have been at the top of the league in points scored at the end of the half or end of the game. When you’re a good football team and a good quarterback, you score points there.
The last thing, and it’s a combination of the two, is third-down efficiency and red zone. The Rams the first week of the season were 3 of 15 on third downs and they looked terrible. They couldn’t stay on the field. The quarterback doesn’t get paid in this league for what he does on first and second down. That’s the coach’s job. That’s the running game. That’s game plan. The quarterback gets paid to make plays on third down and he gets paid to get the ball in the end zone when in the red zone. It makes or breaks quarterbacks.
David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.
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