Amid the Oakland Raiders’ tumultuous 2017, Donald Penn — the club’s sometimes-gregarious left tackle — has often insisted that the underachieving offensive line has been close to living up to its lofty billing.
A blitz call here. The perfect pull there.
No moment better bolstered Penn’s point than Marshawn Lynch’s 51-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the Raiders’ 24-17 win over the New York Giants last Sunday.
“That one play there, it all came together — like a perfect sandwich,” Penn explained to reporters at the team’s Alameda headquarters.
As the Raiders have produced a 4-2 stretch, propelling the team into a three-way tie atop the AFC West, the offensive line has consistently created space for Lynch and allowed just six sacks in as many games.
Penn lacks a profound explanation for the turnaround.
“Things are just starting to flow for us a little bit better,” Penn said. “Things are starting to open up more, but we’re not doing anything differently. We’re just still working hard like we have all year.”
Penn points out that “Marshawn’s been Marshawn” and that it’s easier to run when the team’s not constantly falling into early holes, but the veteran reiterates that no wholesale changes have been made.
“I think you all want me to say we reinvented this whole wheel,” Penn said. “We didn’t.”
Derek Carr agrees.
“Whenever you have a culture that accepts the coaching and just goes out and works their tail off out here and you just do that steady growth, good things are coming,” Carr said at his midweek news conference.
So does Del Rio, suggesting the rise of the line mirrors that of the Raiders at large.
“Sometimes things don’t go exactly how you want,” Del Rio told reporters. “But you persevere, you stand for the things you believe in and you maintain good character, you continue to work and that’s what we’ve done up front. That’s what we’ve done as a team.”
A favorable stretch in the schedule at least partially explains the uptick in fortune for the line and the Raiders.
Dating back to Oct. 19, when the Raiders slipped past the Chiefs, 31-30, the team has confronted one quality defense — as measured by yards allowed — the Denver Broncos, who were ranked No. 5 at the time. Aside from Denver, the Miami Dolphins were second-best at No. 18.
Last Sunday, the Raiders escaped by a touchdown against a Giants team that has surrendered more yards than any group in football. At Arrowhead Stadium, the Raiders meet a Chiefs team that ranks
No. 30 in yards allowed.
The Chiefs have lost four of five since Carr hit Michael Crabtree for a two-yard score on an untimed down in the Coliseum in Week 7. While Kansas City has spiraled, the Raiders have woken up.
“I feel like if we all look back to that moment, that was a moment where a switch turned on for us,” Carr explained. “Now, we’ve been growing since then and we’re still growing — we’re always going to be growing — but this team, that was a good moment for this team to kind of catapult us forward and get on a run.”
The Chiefs won’t have suspended cornerback Marcus Peters, while Crabtree is back from his ban and Amari Cooper (ankle/concussion) is officially questionable, as of Friday.
For Penn, who prefers pastrami with bacon and cheese, it will be another chance to build the perfect sandwich.
“It’s crazy how this NFL works, man,” Penn said.
Last year, the Raiders lost four times and ended up in the wild card spot. This year, they’ve already dropped half a dozen but are still alive in the division.
“It’s crazy how this thing works. It’s crazy how the tides turn, but I’m happy to still be in the race.”