Raiders' offensive line 'jelling well and communicating'

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ALAMEDA — The Raiders were intent on strengthening their offensive line.

At the season’s onset, handing 26-year-old Trent Brown the most lucrative contract ever granted to an offensive lineman in NFL’s history — four years, $66 million with $36 million guaranteed — certainly emphasized the front office’s priority to give quarterback Derek Carr some room to breathe.

Some offensive linemen donned sweaters that read “Carr Insurance” after practice on Friday. They’re on the same page — the hefty investment for some and patience with others is starting to paying off.

The 5-4 Raiders are set to face the winless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday a half-game out of first place, behind a Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs team in the AFC West. Carr’s game is starting to harmonize with coach Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense. Pro Football Focus ranks Carr’s 93.2 passing grade as the third-highest on crossing routes — in other words, he is efficient in the short pass game built into Gruden’s offense.

Decent pass protection helps. And Brown — who is questionable for Sunday’s game — is helping lead a once-dismal O-line into a stunning turnaround.

“We’re on the same page together,” Raiders guard Gabe Jackson said. “We have different people, but everybody has just been jelling well and communicating.”

In 2018, Pro Football Focus estimated that the Raiders’ offensive line had the 25th-worst pressure rate in the NFL. Heading into Week 11 this season, the Raiders have jumped up to the third-best pressure rate, per PFF. With Brown on board, the O-line has a 4.4% sack rate, which ranks fourth in the NFL behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys. Carr has been sacked just 12 times.

Brown often shares with his teammates little tips he learned on his Super Bowl run with the New England Patriots last season. This crew has the right chemistry, he tells them.

“Curveballs to throw, weight distribution, little things that help a lot,” Raiders tackle Kolton Miller said of Brown’s advice.

Alongside Brown, Miller has made significant improvements. Miller’s fourth-worst 48.2 PFF grade in 2018 has crept up to a 64.3 ranking this season, which is about league average.

The turning point for the offensive line came last month in Chicago against former teammate Khalil Mack and the Bears. The O-line didn’t allow the Bears’ defense a single sack. A hungry Mack was the only Bear to lay hands on Carr, collecting one QB hit.

Carr was asked after that game about his favorite Brown signing (Antonio or Trent) in the offseason.

“My favorite Brown was obviously Trent, for obvious reasons,” Carr said. “It’s my wife’s favorite signing also, for me to go out there and play against this defense and only be touched one time — that doesn’t happen.”

The improved O-line has also helped the Raiders become one of the most prolific teams on third down. They boast a fourth-best 47.75% third-down conversion rate this season.

“There is so much that goes into it,” Carr said on Wednesday. “We’ve just been really good as a whole with our process, from our coaches putting together a plan, our linemen picking up blitzes and our guys winning on routes.”

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