Oakland Raiders  

 

Raiders in control after resounding victory over Broncos

Print

OAKLAND -- He had spent the bulk of his night imposing his will against an esteemed but overmatched opponent, relocating accomplished defenders like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller as if they were bales of hay blocking the barn door. Then, with the subtlety of a John Madden sideline tirade from the Raiders' heyday in the '70s, Donald Penn became unhinged.

Thrusting the full force of his 315 pounds toward the west sideline, flailing his arms and spitting out his mouthpiece, Penn, the Raiders' 11th-year left tackle, threw a supersized tantrum Sunday night in front of 54,957 fans at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, a national television audience and one equally massive assistant coach.

"Why the (expletive) are we not running the ball?" Penn screamed. "They can't stop us! Just run the damn ball!"

Gesturing toward offensive line coach Mike Tice, Penn continued: "You need to speak up!"

"How do you know I'm not?" Tice replied.

In reality, Penn and his fellow offensive linemen were in the midst of making a resounding statement -- to the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, and to the football world at large. In a hotly anticipated showdown for first place in the AFC West, the Raiders (7-2) steamrolled the Broncos (6-3) by a 30-20 score, rushing for a ridiculous 218 yards and three Latavius Murray touchdowns in the process.

Given the ease with which Oakland dispatched the league's most dominant defense of the past season-and-a-half, you'd have thought there would have been nothing but hugs and high-fives on the sideline. Penn's surly spit fit, which took place with 7:09 remaining and the Raiders holding a 23-13 lead, showed that winners sometimes must confront the ire that stems from creative differences.

This was the situation: The Raiders had just forced the game's first turnover, with linebacker Bruce Irvin dislodging the football from Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian and defensive end Khalil Mack recovering at the Broncos' 39-yard-line. On Oakland's next play, Derek Carr dropped back and threw a short pass toward fullback Jamize Olawale, who was running a wheel route to the right. The pass missed its target, however, and Denver safety T.J. Ward made an apparent diving interception at the 30, giving his team new life.

It was then that Penn lost his mind, enraged that Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had overcomplicated the issue by doing anything but continuing to ram the ball down the Broncos' throat.

Eventually, order was restored, and all was well that ended well: The interception was overturned on replay review; the Raiders scored a game-clinching touchdown, with Murray blasting over the goal line from a yard out; and Penn and Musgrave hugged it out in the locker room, as the coordinator made the rounds thanking his linemen for a stellar effort.

Rest assured, he was not alone in his praise.

"They are the best in the league, bar none," Carr told me between bites of a chicken sandwich as he stood in the middle of the Raiders' locker room after the game. "I don't know if anybody's scored 30 on (the Broncos) this year, but we always expect to have success up front. And trust me, we're not even close to where we think we can be."

If so, that's a bit scary. Though Carr (20 of 31, 184 yards) put up pedestrian numbers, he had a relatively stress-free existence Sunday night, absorbing a first-quarter sack from Miller, taking a coverage sack (for zero yards) on a fourth-quarter scramble out of bounds and absorbing just a single "quarterback hit." Meanwhile, the line spent the night creating large patches of real estate for running backs Murray (20 carries, 114 yards), Jalen Richard (eight carries, 62 yards) and DeAndre Washington (10 carries, 35 yards), and there wasn't a lot of mystery to the Raiders' methodology.

"In the second half, we only ran two (running) plays," Penn revealed after the game. "We ran the same running play ten times in a row. We kept wearing them down with double teams. They knew it was coming. It didn't matter. That's when you take somebody's will."

According to Tice, the former Minnesota Vikings head coach who is one of the league's best teachers of offensive-line technique, that one play the Raiders trotted out on repeat mode was actually installed at halftime, as he, Musgrave and other assistants assessed what Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was throwing at them.

"It's a play our defense calls Crunch, an off-tackle run that Pittsburgh brought into the league way back when, and a whole lot of us have since stolen," Tice said. "It's basically a double-team -- center and guard, or guard and tackle, or tackle and tight end -- on one of their guys, depending upon what front they show. They tried to bring a couple of guys down low to pull us off the double team, which didn't surprise me, cause it was something Wade did to me when he was the head coach of Buffalo a long time ago.

"It didn't matter. We kept executing that play. We could have announced it. They knew it was coming."

Perhaps the NFL should have seen this coming when Jack Del Rio took over as the Raiders' head coach before the 2015 season and hired Tice, his former Vikings teammate and longtime coaching confidante, to oversee the offensive line. Give Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie credit for assembling a deep and physically imposing unit, built via the draft (right guard Gabe Jackson, a 2014 third-round pick, and right tackle Menelik Watson, a 2013 second-rounder) and free agency (Penn, signed in 2014; center Rodney Hudson, 2015; and left guard Kelechi Osemele, 2016).

"I knew coming in it was a good offensive line," said Osemele, who was lured away from the Baltimore Ravens last March. "We're still getting better. There's no better feeling than what we had tonight. These are the games we dream about."

In fairness, the line has been good all season, with contributions from backups Austin Howard (a 2014 free-agent signee), Vadal Alexander (a 2016 seventh-round pick), Matt McCants and undrafted rookie Denver Kirkland, now regularly employed as a blocking tight end in the team's jumbo package. And for all of the success Oakland had pounding the ball against the Broncos, facilitating Carr's aerial excellence remains the line's primary role.

"We want to protect the quarterback first," Tice said, "cause we're a throwing team."

And yet Carr's jerseys, home and road, have stayed alarmingly clean. Going into Sunday night's game, he had attempted an NFL-high 323 passes but had been sacked only nine times, absorbing a league-low 17 quarterback hits in the process. The Broncos, meanwhile, came into the contest with 19 more QB hits than any team in football, and were tied for the NFL sack lead.

Suffice it to say that the Raiders won this battle between immovable object and unstoppable force, with implications that reverberated throughout the league. Oakland now holds a half-game lead over the second-place Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) and a full-game lead over the Broncos in the division and looks poised to record its first winning season -- and first playoff trip -- since 2002, when the Raiders suffered a Super Bowl XXXVII defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We can do better," Tice said. "We had some dumb penalties, and we have to clean that up. But I think these guys have bought into what we're trying to sell them. They've accepted coaching and accepted criticism. They're big. They're physical. And they care.

"We've made some great strides. And we're gonna get a whole lot better."

Even if, in the process, the line's senior member gets angry once in awhile -- in a highly conspicuous manner.

"Hey, sometimes he gets upset," Jackson said of Penn. "But we just came out with an attitude and a mindset, and we knew if we won up front, we could control the game. We just wanted to take it to them."

Said Penn: "We're nowhere near as good as we can be. We've got a lot of work to do. We're still a work in progress. But we like flying under the radar. We like not getting respect. We go out there and earn it."

And when creative differences arise, they speak up.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop