In the run up to the Oakland Raiders’ Monday night matchup with the Houston Texans, Donald Penn had no interest in dwelling on the past — even though the team is coming off back-to-back outstanding performances by the veteran left tackle and the rest of the offensive line.
“I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but we had a bye week and those two weeks are like really behind us right now,” Penn told reporters at the team’s Alameda headquarters.
In consecutive games, Derek Carr threw for 513 yards against the Miami Dolphins and the team’s crew of running backs rushed for 218 yards against the Denver Broncos. The common thread between those performances was the stout play of Penn and the rest of the Raiders in the trenches.
“I’m not really thinking about those past two weeks,” Penn continued. “I’m moving on to this [Houston] defense because they have a great defense and they’re not getting talked about enough.”
During a season in which Carr has thrown his way into the MVP conversation, there hasn’t been nearly enough talk about the guys protecting him.
No one better understands the connection between the offensive line and the rise of Carr than the quarterback’s older brother, David. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft, David Carr, was sacked 76 times during his rookie season with the Texans.
From the day Derek became a Raider, the elder Carr has been studying the big guys up front tasked with guarding his little brother.
“Honestly, when Derek first started playing, that’s all I watched,” David said during an appearance on the Damon Bruce Show on 95.7 The Game. “I watched him, but I was watching the o-line.”
“When I talked to [general manager] Reggie McKenzie and [head coach] Jack [Del Rio] says, ‘We’re going to put a good offensive line in front of your brother.’ [I thought,] ‘All right, we’ll see. We’ll find out.’ I was the biggest skeptic because they were not very good in Oakland for a long time.”
Now, he’s a believer. The Raiders’ line has allowed 11 sacks through the first nine games and ranks as the top unit in the AFC, according to ProFootballFocus.
“You saw what they did against Denver last [game],” David said. “They decided, ‘You know what? We’re going to run for 200 [yards]. We’re going to throw for 200. We’re just going to pound it.’
“It’s very rare that you get that in a football team.”
The gregarious Penn offered a simple explanation for the line’s unique ability to set up both the run and the pass.
“If you don’t play with anger as an offensive lineman, you’re playing the wrong position,” Penn said. “You have to play with anger. I feel like that’s an offensive lineman’s personality. You’ve got to have a little anger”
Carr complements that rage with his cool and composed demeanor.
“Derek Carr is the saint in the back,” Penn said of the third-year quarterback.
“He keeps us in line. He doesn’t curse, doesn’t like it when we do, but he sits back and lets us play. He gets in our face if we’re getting out of hand and calms us down when he needs to, but that’s Derek Carr’s job because he’s the leader of this offense and of this team.”
During his weekly press conference, Carr was characteristically effusive in praising his line.
“I tell them before the game, ‘Hey, you win, we win,’” Carr said. “They love that. They want [us] to put it on them.”
Based on the Texans’ defensive numbers, the line’s top job at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City will be to create running lanes for the team’s backs. Houston has allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game, but ranks No. 26 when it comes to stopping the run.
Whatever the game plan calls for, the line will be ready to back up its leader.
“He calls us the engine. There’s no car without an engine,” Penn said with a chuckle. “It’s crazy his last name is Carr.”