HoustonFollowing the Raiders preseason finale, coach Dennis Allen was asked if Lamarr Houston was the key to the Raiders’ pass rush. Allen understandably sidestepped the question, saying, “Well, I think he’s demonstrated that he’s got the best ability as a rusher; he’s a little bit more of a power rusher than he is a speed rusher. But I really think he’s a guy that can help getting some pressure on the quarterback.”

Certainly, Allen doesn’t want to elevate one player above others, and, as James Arcellana pointed out on Friday, the Raiders are manufacturing pressure by blitzing from other positions. But, that fact alone doesn’t diminish Houston’s role in the seeming resurrection of the Raiders’ pass rush. In fact, even with the new exotic schemes being employed, I would venture to say that Houston is the single most important pass rusher employed by the Raiders.

In Week 1, in 26 snaps against Anthony Castonzo, Houston earned five hurries, one quarterback hit and one sack. That’s one pressure every 3.71 snaps. Last season, Castonzo surrendered a pressure every 14.03 snaps (on average), which earned him a “Pass Block Efficiency”* rating of 93.8. Sunday’s effort earned him an  82.3, which was the lowest of any tackle who played a snap. That’s quite a difference.

Jaguars’ left tackle, Eugene Monroe, looks to be a tougher challenge for Houston. In Week 1, Monroe surrendered just three pressures (zero sacks) in 52 pass snaps against the vaunted Tamba Hali, an effort that earned him a top-15 PBE. Still, Houston should present a unique problem to Monroe, as his success is predicated on something that Hali doesn’t possess: Speed.

Just don’t tell Houston that. Before Week 1, Houston noted that “Pass-rushing is about technique,” and “not about who’s the fastest or who’s the strongest.” But if last Sunday’s game is any indicator, Houston’s quick off-the-snap is too fast for tackles.

Here are a few examples of Houston’s speed/quickness. I chose not to GIF Houston’s lone sack because, though it was evidence of Houston’s relentless pursuit, it was mostly the result of a good coverage downfield.

Exhibit A:

Though Houston doesn’t get the sack, he does set up his teammates by beating Castonzo around the edge easily. This, by the way, was a common theme throughout the game.

Exhibit B:

Just a few plays later, Castonzo — tired of Houston beating him to the edge — seals off the outside lane. No problem for Houston, who uses his quickness (and a nice stutter step) to go inside. Castonzo does what any self respecting man would do: He intervenes via the ol’ grab the face mask technique. This draws a penalty, which was just as helpful as a sack on this play.

Exhibit C:

This isn’t proof of Houston’s speed or quickness off the edge, but it is proof that he is playing under control despite going 100 MPH after the quarterback. Houston reads the play-action naked bootleg, which forces Andrew Luck to scramble for a loss.


*Pro Football Focus’s “Pass Blocking Efficiency,” or PBE, rating measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed.