Barber: Offensive line propels Raiders’ 31-24 win over Lions
OAKLAND - It was a bloody-knuckles win for the Raiders at the Coliseum on Sunday. Or at least it was for Andre James. As the rookie offensive lineman sat at his locker after the game, shirt off and eye-black still on his face, the knuckles of his right hand were scraped raw.
The reward was worth the pain, though. James and the rest of the Raiders’ thrown- together offensive linemen were the unsung stars of a thrilling 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions. Josh Jacobs ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but he had some holes to work with. Quarterback Derek Carr had one of his best games in years, with 289 passing yards and a 116.2 rating, but he was hit only twice by the Lions, and sacked once.
Granted, Detroit does not have a great pass rush. It’s about on par with Oakland’s. On the other hand, it was a spare-parts offensive line the Raiders had on the field — just as it has been all year.
Left tackle Kolton Miller is the only Raiders O-lineman to start every game this season. The team has trotted out six different fronts in eight games. And yet, for the most part, that line has been the strength of the team.
It was Sunday, even with James, an undrafted rookie, making his second NFL start at center, and with utility man David Sharpe replacing Trent Brown at right tackle for nearly the entire game.
Coach Jon Gruden deserves some praise, too. His balanced game plan — 35 run plays, 32 pass plays — took some pressure off the offensive linemen, allowed them to be the aggressors. But that game plan wasn’t perfect. Seven times the Raiders’ offense faced third-and-5 or longer. Carr’s lone sack came on one of those plays, but they weren’t a disaster for the home team. In fact, the touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner, a 9-yard throw from Carr to Hunter Renfrow, came on third-and-9.
All in all, the Oakland line more than held its own.
Sharpe is used to the life of a backup lineman by now. The Raiders made him a fourth-round draft choice in 2017, but he has never been an anointed starter. He bounced from Oakland to Houston (first on the Texans’ practice squad, then their active roster), then back to Oakland, and has always been the “swing tackle,” a guy to plug in when the first-teamer gets hurt. He has started three games in three NFL seasons.
Trent Brown is sort of at the other extreme, professionally. He’s making more than $15 million this season and is considered one of the top offensive tackles in the league. Sharpe is making $645,000, the minimum salary for someone with his experience. So you might have expected a big drop-off when Brown limped off the field following the Raiders’ third offensive play, especially when you consider that Sharpe hadn’t taken first-team reps this week.
“Man, it’s definitely harder,” Sharpe said after the game when I asked him about coming off the bench. “You always gotta stay ready as a backup. But just getting warmed up, finding that groove, it’s a little tougher, man. Just getting a feel of the game, the speed of the game.”