One of the first things Antonio Pierce wanted to do as the Raiders interim head coach was getting aligned with his offensive line.
It had been an up-and-down season for the unit. Some of the early season struggles were a bit strange for a group that consists of mostly the same starters that propelled Josh Jacobs to a rushing title the year prior.
Through the first eight games in 2023, Jacobs averaged less than three yards a carry, while also adjusting to playing with three different starting quarterbacks.
Pierce felt the need to light an emotional spark while getting to know the men in the trenches better.
"I was in every meeting with the O-line this week," said Antonio Pierce. "I was their best friend. I was encouraging them."
In order to get the most out of the line, he had to educate himself first. The former NFL linebacker is familiar with the intricacies of a defense, but now found himself "focusing on [the O-line's] terminology, their techniques, their fundamentals." Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo was also a huge help, frequently seen standing on the sidelined next to Pierce throughout the Week 9 matchup against the New York Giants.
The encouragement provided from Pierce to the line paid dividends inside Allegiant Stadium.
After being sacked seven times in his first NFL start against the Chargers, Aidan O'Connell was kept clean in the pocket to no sacks. Additionally, the Raiders rushed for a season-high 125 yards.
Additionally, the 24 points scored in the first half against the Giants can be traced back to the trenches.
"It starts with them," O'Connell said following the Week 9 win. "I think they've been challenged a lot to do their job and execute, and I think they did an awesome job. Those guys, they play so hard.
"The offensive line is such a hard position, you just get yelled at nonstop and you really don't score or anything like that, so it takes a special guy to play offensive lineman. I'm super proud of our guys for establishing the run, keeping me clean in the pass game. It was just a really good job by them."
The play of the offensive line has also drawn praise from analysts at Pro Football Focus. The Raiders group have a top five pass blocking grade in 2023 and led the league in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency rating in Week 9. Kolton Miller currently ranks third among all offensive tackles in offensive (83) and pass blocking (84.5) grades.
"We knew Kolton Miller is one of the best left tackles in football. Frankly belongs on some of the more underrated guys across the league list," Pro Football Focus analyst Brad Spielberger said on Upon Further Review with Eddie Paskal. "The growth from Dylan Parham, I think he looks for work, looks to take on another assignments if he doesn't have a guy in a one-on-one matchup. The growth of a lot of these young players has been really encouraging."
The unit will have another tough task on their hands against the Jets. New York has the No. 1 ranked defense by Pro Football Focus (88.3) while holding opposing quarterbacks to an average 76.6 rating. Things won't be easier if Miller, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, can't play Sunday. Regardless of the circumstances, the offensive line seems to have a quiet confidence within itself based off what the group has already been able to accomplish.
"[T]hat's a good group, and they're a tight knit group," Pierce said. "I think that showcased last night if you really go back and watch the game, watch our guys come off the ball to the second level. It was impressive. It set the tone the first drive of the game. They are the reason why if we're going to move forward and keep moving forward, it will be because of those guys."
Head inside Intermountain Health Performance Center as the Raiders prepare for Sunday Night Football against the New York Jets.