Football is mostly won and lost at the line of scrimmage. The trenches are where the true football battle is fought as teams try to gain that extra yard and protect the quarterback for one more second.
The trenches were a mixed success for the Oakland Raiders last season, where the offensive line was able to open up running lanes and protect the quarterback. However, defensively Oakland gave up a league worst 5.1 yards per attempt and finished in the middle of the pack with 39 sacks, 2o of which came from the defensive line.
Offensive line: The Raiders return four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season and add an experienced guard in Mike Brisiel. This group of five will look to improve upon a line which gave up 25 sacks last season, good for fourth-best in the NFL, and also created holes which allowed Oakland to run for 4.5 yards a carry, seventh-best in the league. The youngest of the bunch is Stefan Wisniewski, who is in his second year out of Penn State, but he comes from a family of offensive linemen and fit right in during his rookie campaign last season. Brisiel spent the last four seasons with the Houston Texans and helped pave the way for three 1,000-yard seasons. At the other guard spot is 13-year veteran Cooper Carlisle, a ironman who has started 60 straight games and 79 of 80 since joining the Raiders. At right tackle is Khalif Barnes, who took command of the starting spot after doing spot duty the previous two seasons. He is another grizzly veteran who brings a ton of experience and grit to the offensive line. The weakest spot on the offensive line is at left tackle, but Jared Veldheer is starting to get more and more comfortable on the blind side in his third year in the league.
Defensive line: The Raiders’ unit with the most brand names is the defensive line which has stockpiled veterans who have had success at the professional level. The strength of the defensive line is in the interior where Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly patrol. In a combined 21 years of experience, the duo has more than 850 career tackles and 87.5 career sacks. Their ability to make big plays is well known and can help carry a struggling secondary with an improved pass rush. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 campaign which sent him to the injured reserve list at the beginning of October. He made an impact in each of his first two seasons with 11 combined sacks and 85 tackles as a reserve lineman. On the other side is Lamarr Houston, who is no slouch himself having had 90 tackles in the last two seasons combined. He’s a big body who also has big play ability, which will be helpful to help spark the defense. A key reserve in the rotation will be Desmond Bryant, who had five sacks last season and made 35 tackles, 30 of which were solo stops. The other critical backup is David Tollefson, who spent the last five seasons winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. Despite only getting two starts in five seasons in the Meadowlands, he made the most of it with 10 sacks and three forced fumbles. He has been on the upswing of late with five sacks coming last season in addition to a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
To survive in this league, you need to be able to run the ball and stop the run and last season the Raiders were unable to stop it. This will need to change in order for Oakland to contend in the AFC West, but the Raiders have the talent to turn things around and find a way to stop the run.