Raiders' offensive line leaves Derek Carr under constant duress

Derek Carr was sacked seven times by the 49ers in Week 9. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Derek Carr laughed.

No, not in a smarmy way. Not even as if he had just heard an uproarious joke. More like, well, relief.

The Oakland Raiders quarterback is under duress unlike any time before in his career -- he is on pace to be sacked a career-high 48 times -- and had been asked if he had leaned on older brother David for some advice. David Carr, you'll recall, was sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie for the expansion Houston Texans in 2002, 49 times in 2004 and 68 times in 2005.

That's when the younger Carr laughed.

"It's not that bad, man," he said Wednesday, before referencing his offensive line. "My guys are awesome. The thing about [David] is, there was times where they would have the right guys blocked, they just physically couldn't do it. At least our guys fight. So we've got that going that for us."

Which is nice ... for a 1-7 team.

Because while Oakland had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL a short two seasons ago, injuries and ineffectiveness have taken a toll. Physically and mentally.

Oakland's presumptive starting O-line of Kolton Miller, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Donald Penn have a combined salary-cap number of more than $31 million for 2018. Raiders quarterbacks have been sacked 25 times -- Carr has taken 24 of those -- the ninth-most in the NFL.

Carr's sacks this season, according to the Associated Press, have come in an average of 3.931 seconds, as opposed to the 5.068 seconds it took the previous two seasons, when he was sacked 16 and 20 times, respectively.

The O-line is simply not giving him time. More, maybe, than what, say, Chester Pitts, DeMingo Graham, Steve McKinney, Fred Weary and Ryan Young afforded David Carr in Houston in 2002, but that is of little comfort to Oakland in 2018.

"No doubt it affects him; it affects any quarterback," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of the pressure Carr is facing.

"You get an offensive line that's healthy and playing great, it makes everybody's job a lot easier. I'm not going to make any excuses. I think Derek is doing some good things. It does make things difficult when you have the amount of injuries that we have had. I just got a nice call from my brother [Redskins coach Jay Gruden], he lost all his linemen the other day, too. Got eight games left, we have to continue to coach hard and find a way to improve."

This season's Raiders team is not without its positives. Hudson is as solid and smart as they come among centers, having not allowed a single pressure in seven of eight games, per Pro Football Focus data, and his 89.1 pass-blocking grade is the best among NFL centers. Osemele at left guard is a former All-Pro, while Jackson at right guard was seemingly a star on the rise.

But while both Osemele and Jackson have dealt with injuries -- Osemele has already missed three games with a right knee issue -- the tackle spots have seen mixed results, at best, with two rookies in Miller, a first-round pick, at left tackle and Brandon Parker, a third-round pick, on the right side. It's the first time since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that Oakland has started rookies at both offensive tackle positions.

Miller is nursing a sprained right knee and is now also wearing a brace on his right elbow, while a sprained ankle in training camp slowed Parker, who has had a baptism by fire after Penn went on injured reserve with a groin injury in Week 5.

Against the 49ers, Parker played 41 snaps at right tackle and surrendered one sack and five total pressures in 24 pass-block snaps, per PFF. And with an overall grade of 44.8, Parker ranks 74th of 76 qualifying tackles.

The Raiders have undergone a change in philosophy under O-line coach Tom Cable, one that actually began last season. In 2016, Oakland was more of a power scheme unit. In 2017, more zone-blocking concepts came in.

"I mean, we know who we are, as an offense and an offensive line," Jackson said. "We've just got to do the right things and just build on them, you know?

"I don't want to try to put nothing on the system or on the injuries. If we're out here, it's our job to do what we're supposed to do, to do right. We've just got to do more of that."

Still, during the Raiders' 34-3 loss at the San Francisco 49ers last week, the offensive line was so beaten up that at one point Osemele had to move to left tackle and Jon Feliciano replaced him at left guard. Ian Silberman also saw snaps at right tackle when Parker was benched. Oakland's offense struggled mightily, giving up eight sacks and going nowhere.

Yet with Miller on the field to start the game, the offense was moving. Consider: Before Miller was injured on the opening drive, the Raiders averaged 11.2 yards per play. After he was injured, they averaged 3.6 yards, and their only score was a 37-yard field goal on said opening drive.

With Carr under constant attack by the Niners, Gruden put in backup QB AJ McCarron. More McCarron could be in the offing, and Gruden said he has already made adjustments for Carr with so much pressure coming.

"We throw the quick gain," Gruden said. "We try to move the pocket. Try to get help where help is needed. But when you're down 24-3 and you're trying to get back in the game, the best way to do it is throwing the football. We have to do a better job as a team.

"In seven out of eight games, we haven't had one drive start in positive field position. Field position has been almost horrific, to use a mild word. We have to get better field position. We have to get more opportunities. We have to call better plays, certainly, but we are trying to do everything we can to get help where help is needed."

Carr insists he gets the message Gruden is imparting, even as familiar faces such as Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Bruce Irvin are now in Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta, respectively, as part of his deconstruction/reconstruction movement.

And Carr has a fine line to walk between having total trust in his offensive line, no matter how banged up it is, and having to run for his life because of how banged up it is.

"It's hard, right?" Carr said. "There's sometimes where it's gotten that way and it's not a knock on those guys, they're trying their tail off. We've got some young guys trying to play ... some young guys that are trying to get their feet wet against the best players in the world and it's not easy for them.

"Physically you take a beating ... you've got to keep going, though."

As a rookie in 2014, Carr and the Raiders started 0-10. Two years later, they were about to be 12-3 when he broke his leg. Since then, the Raiders are 7-19, including a playoff loss at Houston.

"There's one of two things that's going to happen: Either we're going to keep going through a crappy situation and I'm going to quit and give up on working hard, or I'm not," he said. "I'm just going to work my tail off until, almost to a stupid point, almost to where my body hurts more.

"I'm probably one of the most competitive people you'll ever meet. I want to dunk on my nephews. I'll block my 2-year-old's shot to make it hard on them. I hate losing. ... I work my tail off to make sure that our city, our fans, our team, our coaches can enjoy winning. Sitting here at 1-7 sucks, but nothing in me is going to stop until I see the other side of it."

A less leaky offensive line would help.