ALAMEDA — Derek Carr spent part of his bye week defending himself against accusations he cried after getting sacked one of six times in a blowout loss in London. If he wasn’t crying because of physical pain, he had all the right to because of how bad his offensive line was in a 27-3 loss to the Seahawks in Week 6.
Carr withstood six sacks that night, tied for the most sacks he’d taken in a single game in his then-68-game career. Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller, playing on a faulty right knee, allowed three sacks against Seattle to bring his two-game total to six sacks allowed and 15 quarterback pressures surrendered, per Pro Football Focus. Rookie right tackle Brandon Parker wasn’t good, either.
But after a much-needed bye week, to rest both mentally and physically, Miller and Parker played arguably their best games of their young careers in last Sunday’s 42-28 loss to the Colts. The Raiders’ defense was terrible, but Carr played like the best version of himself (21-for-28 with 244 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and his first career rushing touchdown), thanks in large part to his two rookie offensive tackles enjoying a similar bounce-back performance as their quarterback.
The Colts didn’t sack Carr and mustered only four total pressures, according to PFF. Those four allowed by the Raiders was the second-lowest total of any team in Week 8. Miller, after allowing those six sacks and 15 pressures in his previous two games, allowed only one hurry, no sacks and no hits in 29 pass-blocking snaps against Indianapolis, according to PFF. Without Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch for the first time, the Raiders offense figured to take a step back, but Miller and Parker helped it do the opposite.
“You have to be able to have time. That’s why I was able to get to the third guy or fourth guy in some reads,” Carr said Tuesday. “That’s all the offensive line.”
The Colts came into Week 8 tied for fourth in the NFL with 21 sacks, so they hardly entered Sunday a push-over in the pass-rushing department. The 49ers, Oakland’s Thursday night opponent, rank tied for 25th in the league with 16 sacks. If Miller, Parker and the interior offensive linemen play like they did in Week 8, keeping Carr on his feet in Week 9 should be a cakewalk.
Silver linings come sparsely on a daily basis at Raiders headquarters these days, but the vast improvement of two vital future pieces in such a short span came as a pleasant gift despite loss No. 6. Jon Feliciano is often sturdy when called upon as a backup, which was the case at left guard for the injured Kelechi Osemele on Sunday, and center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson always deliver. The big question marks during the bye week were the two rookies, and their rebounds put the whole puzzle together.
“I was really pleased with our line,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Monday. “After not playing particularly well collectively in London, that group of five really responded and played well for us yesterday.”
Carr was sacked only 16 times in 2016, which ranked 34th in the NFL because three quarterbacks on the Browns were each sacked more that year. In 2017, his 20 sacks taken ranked 30th in the league. This season has been a different story, with injuries to his Pro Bowl left guard Osemele and his Pro Bowl right tackle Donald Penn, along with integrating two rookies into the mix on a once-dominant line.
Yes, the bye week obviously helped the Raiders not allow a sack in Week 7, but another goose egg in Week 8 has moved the Raiders from seventh to 17th in the NFL with 17 sacks allowed. The defense hasn’t provided any reason for optimism, and a depleted wideout group and running back room doesn’t inject much confidence into anyone either.
Maybe the only bright spot left for the Raiders is their offensive line and their quarterback, whose continued improvement in tandem – specifically Miller, Parker and Carr – could salvage any remaining pride in an otherwise lost season.
“Whenever we have time, we can execute at a high level like that,” Carr said. “That’s always going to help for sure.”