Oakland Raiders MVP Through First Quarter Of Season Not Who You Might Expect

August 14, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and offensive line coach Mike Tice (back) celebrate after the Raiders scored a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during the second quarter in a preseason NFL football game at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
August 14, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and offensive line coach Mike Tice (back) celebrate after the Raiders scored a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during the second quarter in a preseason NFL football game at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders are off to a 3-1 start thanks in large part to an offense among the best in the league – but their MVP through the first quarter of the season might not be who you expect.

The Oakland Raiders, coming off an impressive come from behind win in Baltimore, are looking like a team capable of fulfilling the lofty – possibly even insane – expectations put on them by fans and the media. The win in Baltimore moves the Raiders to 3-1 on the year and helps them to keep pace with the still undefeated Denver Broncos.

The Raiders have won – all three games on the road – with a combination of grit, toughness, and a belief that they can win. Led by one of the best offenses in the league, and a defense that has done just enough to get by – but seems to be improving – Oakland most definitely seems to be a team on the rise, and a team that looks like a legitimate playoff contender.

With three out of four games on the road to open the year, the Raiders had to run quite the gauntlet to get to 3-1. And as we assess this team at the one quarter mark, we can look at all of the different reasons for their success to this point.

But who is the team’s real MVP so far, this young season?

For most people, the biggest factor in Oakland’s rise is Derek Carr, plain and simple. And Carr of course, is a huge reason for it. He’s playing like a seasoned veteran – and he’s been playing at an elite level through the first quarter of the year.

With three wins in four games – two of them, of the dramatic come from behind variety – a 68 percent completion rate, 1,066 yards, nine touchdowns against just one interception, and a QB rating of 104.6 for the year, it’s hard to argue that Carr is right up there as a team MVP.

For some, it’s Michael Crabtree, who has 308 yards receiving on 26 receptions, and four touchdowns on the year – three of them alone in the win over Baltimore. He’s come up with big play and absolutely clutch catch time and again this season and has emerged as Carr’s preferred target on big plays. This, despite the presence of sensational second year man Amari Cooper.

Others might throw their MVP vote at Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, or Jalen Richard. The Raiders’ revitalized running attack led by this three headed beast has most definitely had a strong impact on the passing game and the offense as a whole. This Raiders run game is a legitimate threat to break one from anywhere on the field – something they’ve not had in quite some time.

There are any number of players – especially on the offensive side of the ball – who could have a compelling case made for them as the team’s MVP. And if you did make such a case, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

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But for some of us, the team’s real MVP isn’t in shoulder pads and a helmet. For some of us, Oakland’s real MVP through the first quarter of the season is offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Tice is another of the well traveled, very well experienced, and well respected coaches Jack Del Rio brought in to fill out his staff. And Tice was given a very tall order indeed – fixing the mammoth problem that was the Oakland Raiders’ offensive line.

Prior to Tice’s arrival, this is a unit that couldn’t open holes for their running backs and couldn’t manage to keep their quarterbacks upright. To put it bluntly, prior to Tice’s arrival, Oakland’s offensive line was beyond terrible.

But Tice comes in knowing that the battles are won and lost in the trenches. Everything you want to do as an offense starts up front. After all, if your running backs are getting blown up in the backfield and your quarterback is flat on his back for most of the day, you’re not going to have a lot of offensive success.

We saw Oakland’s offensive line begin go turn around last season under Tice’s tutelage. And now, with a season under his leadership – and immersed in OC Bill Musgrave‘s system under their belts – the offensive line is beginning to flourish.

Oakland Raiders
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive line coach Mike Tice (left) and head coach Jack Del Rio against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2014, under the combined – for lack of a better word – leadership, of Dennis Allen and Tony Sparano, the Raiders’ offensive line helped the running game be the absolute worst in the entire NFL. That’s thirty-second, out of thirty-two teams if you’re scoring at home.

Oakland’s passing game didn’t fare much better, ranking twenty-sixth in the league. This was also an offensive line that gave up 28 sacks on the year. But if Carr weren’t as mobile as he is, that number could have been a whole lot worse.

And while Carr had a decent enough rookie year in 2014, we can see the difference having a real offensive line around him is having. He’s moved from promising rookie with a ton of potential, to playing at an elite level.

Carr has been so good this year that former Raiders quarterback and MVP – and a guy most notable for not liking anybody or being impressed with just about anything on this planet, had this to say:

"“I know it’s premature to start discussing MVP candidates, but this guy has to be right up there.”"

And it’s worth saying that a big factor in Carr’s success is his offensive line. Behind the unit some fans have dubbed, “The Great Wall of Oakland,” Carr and the offense are playing some lights out football. They have one of the best, most electrifying offensive attacks in the league and can put points up by the bunches.

Carr’s offensive line has kept him clean and upright, and has given him all day to operate. So far this season, Carr has taken just two sacks – and one of those was him running out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. His 1.3 percent sack percentage (two sacks in 153 passing attempts) is the best in the NFL – by a wide margin.

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He took the most heat he has this season against a ferocious Baltimore pass rush. But even the Ravens were unable to break through for a sack and only managed a handful of hurries and hits.

And it is that offensive line that has helped enable the Raiders to vastly improve a running game that went from twenty-eighth in the league last year, to a top five unit to this point in 2016.

After seeing this offensive line begin to come together last season, the Raiders headed into the offseason with some optimism. Of course, adding a player like Kelechi Osemele in free agency elevated what was an improving unit even higher.

A starting five of Donald Penn, Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Menelik Watson gave the Raiders one of the biggest, meanest, most formidable offensive lines in the league. Many were talking about them as perhaps the best line in the league, or at worst, a close second to the monsters down in Dallas.

And thus far, the Raiders’ offensive line has lived up to that billing.

But that’s not what makes Tice the team’s MVP through the first quarter of the season. It’s how they got there that’s made him so valuable to this line and to this team.

Injuries have ravaged Oakland’s offensive line and guys have been dropping like flies. Watson, Austin Howard, Matt McCants have all missed time and have necessitated a flip flopping of positions and duties. Osemele has played both guard and tackle, and Penn even switched sides of the line to man the right tackle spot to accommodate Osemele.

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    The Raiders have had to switch on the fly and plug bodies into places they may not necessarily fit. But they haven’t missed a beat. Carr has still had all day to throw and the running game has still been pounding the ball very effectively.

    Tice has had every guy in uniform ready to play – and they have absolutely responded. This offensive line, despite injury and massive upheaval, has done a fantastic job of instituting the “next man up” philosophy and have performed at the highest level.

    And that is in very large part, because Tice has them ready to step in and play when their number is called. They’ve bought into Tice’s philosophies and Tice has them believing in themselves – and in the strength of their unit.

    The Raiders have the best offensive line in the NFL at this point of the season. They’re superior to even, that vaunted Dallas line. They are giving Carr plenty of time to throw, are keeping him healthy, and are blowing guys up in the running game. This is a line of maulers with plenty of attitude to spare.

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    And much of that is owed to Tice’s tutelage.

    It may not be the sexy pick for the team’s MVP to this point, but some of us believe it’s the right one. Games are won and lost up front and Tice has every offensive lineman in his charge ready to play and ready to maul people.

    This offensive line is the engine that’s powering this high octane offense. Which is why to many of us, it makes sense that the engine’s designer, Mike Tice, get the recognition he deserves.