WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va — Josh McDaniels has often been asked over the years what his offensive philosophy is. If you know the Las Vegas Raiders coach and how protective he is of information, you know he probably didn’t answer the question the first dozen times.
But maybe it’s the endless trees and green mountains here. Or the 1-0 start. But McDaniels reflected on the core of his offensive system as the Raiders get ready for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
It’s the big grunts up front. And the fullback. And the extra offensive tackle every now and then.
“Protect the quarterback, stay inside out, and give him an opportunity to read the defense and throw the ball,” McDaniels said. “It’s not about plays. It’s not about formations. It’s not about schemes. It’s really not about that.
“If you’re going to pass the ball successfully in the NFL, it needs to start with the guys up front and giving the quarterback an opportunity to do the things that he needs to do.”
The offensive line wasn’t perfect last week in the win over the Denver Broncos, but was pretty good. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t sacked and had time to stand and deliver.
“That’s a good place to start,” McDaniels said.
I questioned the assembly of the offensive line last season, and it turned out to be the least of the Raiders’ problems in the 6-11 season. They have returned four of the five starters and have a lot of confidence right now. And while I have been somewhat critical of McDaniels in his year-plus here, I don’t question his ability to draw up a pass protection on the whiteboard.
The Raiders were ranked as the top pass-blocking offensive line last week, and besides being confident, McDaniels’ linemen are comfortable with what they’re doing.
Aggregated pass protection measures from 3 sources.
Honestly this mostly checks out, though the ratings for PIT are all over the place.
The teams with 100 in the “SIS” column are teams with zero charted blown blocks
(BUF/NYJ not shown bc no data yet) pic.twitter.com/HWBqjqnABB
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 13, 2023
“There’s been a real investment,” left tackle Kolton Miller said Thursday after practice at The Greenbrier. “Investment in the scheme, going from Year 1 to Year 2. It’s not all new to us anymore, so we’re really buying in and trying to improve every day. It’s been clean, and we’re in a rhythm.”
Raiders making the best of their time in West Virginia as they prepare for Bills
Miller, in his sixth year, has become a pillar of consistency at left tackle and also one of the team captains. He is join by second-year left guard Dylan Parham, center Andre James, right guard Greg Van Roten and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. Second-year tackle Thayer Munford Jr. rotated in for five snaps at right tackle on Sunday and also played 13 snaps as an extra tight end when the Raiders went big with their jumbo package.
“Jumbo is a good changeup, and a lot of teams are using it more,” Van Roten said. “It’s exciting to get an extra guy out there to help you out.”
Munford will come in handy against a Bills defensive line that is worrisome even without injured pass rusher Von Miller. Leonard Floyd had 1 1/2 sacks in the loss to the New York Jets on Monday, pass rusher Greg Rousseau is on the rise, Ed Oliver is formidable inside and DaQuan Jones, Shaq Lawson, Jordan Phillips, A.J. Epenesa and Poona Ford contribute to a very formidable rotation.
“They’ve invested a lot of draft picks and/or resources into the defensive line,” McDaniels said. “They’ve got a really good front. They’re really well coached. … They rotate a lot of players in there, so you’re rarely going to see them where they’re gassed.
“They have pass rushers inside, pass rushers on the edge. They do a lot of good things in the running game too.”
Van Roten knows the Bills well. He spent last season, his eighth in the NFL, with them and played in 16 games and started four.
“Going back to Buffalo is exciting,” Van Roten said. “It’s a fun place to play and I know a lot of the guys, having been there last year. It will be a good test for us as a team.”
The Bills play fast and are disciplined.
“You kind of know what you’re getting up front, and then on the back end they do a good job of disguising stuff,” Van Roten said. “They are very decisive, so if you hesitate they will take advantage of that.”
The Raiders have had plenty of time to get ready for the Bills during their five-day getaway to The Greenbrier, the 250-year-old luxury resort nestled away in the Allegheny Mountains. There is not a lot to do out there and some of the players haven’t been comfortable straying too far from the resort.
“It’s kind of a spooky environment,” center Andre James said, “We did some ghost hunting … We haven’t found anything yet, but we’re still looking.”
James was supposed to be a short-term center for the new regime, but he is back for a second season as Parham remained at guard. He is a hard-working, good-natured glue guy that every offensive line needs and is athletic enough to get out ahead on some of Josh Jacobs’ runs.
“We have a close-knit group and we enjoy hanging out together outside of the building, and then Greg has fit in really well,” James said. “He is a smart dude, he is an Ivy Leaguer (Penn) so obviously he learned the system real quick. He might be too smart for his own good.”
Parham, meanwhile, was seen as the future center but maybe he gets too comfortable at the guard spot to move.
“He’s very steady,” Garoppolo said of Parham. “He lets things roll off his shoulder as well as anybody. He’s as cool as the other side of a pillow. He’s strong as hell, man. He moves people, he’s not afraid to get dirty when he needs to, and he’s versatile.”
The only moving pieces on the front line are Eluemunor and Munford. Eluemunor won the starting job … but it was close.
“I just think that Thayer and Jermaine busted their butts man and really worked hard at competing with each other,” McDaniels said. “I think they’re very unselfish … . If you have good football players and they’ve earned the right to play – I know most people don’t consider that. We didn’t rotate them the entire game long, but we have more than two receivers that can play, we have more than one back. And so those guys earned that, and I think it only helps us if we’re going to need it eventually in the season.”
Munford called Eluemunor — who is well-versed in McDaniels’ system from their time with the New England Patriots — his big brother last season, and that bond has gotten even stronger.
“I have all the respect in the world for him,” Munford said. “He taught me how to be a man and how to become a better player. … I was struggling last year mentally because I didn’t know what was going on. This year, I am happy and more myself, doing my job right and cheering my teammates on.”
That includes honorary offensive lineman Garoppolo, who can take a hit despite all the talk of his injury history.
“Jimmy G is a freakin’ dawg,” Munford said. “He is tough and asks for everything we have to give him another second or two in the pocket, and we’re going to do all we can to give it to him. He took some hits in that first game like it was nothing.”
The line knows that if it can give Garoppolo some time and open up some holes for Jacobs, the Raiders will have a chance to win every week. Even in Buffalo, against one of the best teams in the league coming off a loss.
“We have a lot on our plate, and we are up to the challenge,” James said.
(Top photo: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)
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