The Raiders have been spoiled in recent years. They’ve had the great luxury of being able to insert two game-changing running backs into the game at anytime and in any situation. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were easily the most dynamic running back duo in the NFL for the last two years.
Be it first-and-ten or third-and-long, both Bush and McFadden were weapons that could gain yards in a multitude of ways. They kept defense both honest and frightened.
Well, that amazing duo is no more. Bush is now a Chicago Bear leaving McFadden’s health at the fore front of any conversation surrounding Oakland’s prospects going forward.
Is it bad luck, the injury bug or brittle bones? Whatever it is Darren McFadden’s got it in the worst way. In years previous McFadden’s injury issues were frustrating only in the sense that we never to see all he can do. Bush isn’t nearly the same weapon but his talents were such that losing Run DMC was made all the easier.
Without Bush the Raiders will need more than McFadden to remain healthy. They’ll need contributions from others to help ease the pressure on McFadden.
Luckily they’ve got the weapons to do so.
One of the more undervalued assets Bush brought to the team was his presence in the passing game. On screen passes Bush was deadly in the open field, just ask the Chargers about that. His hands were reliable, his vision top tier and his downhill style was a nightmare for smaller DBs.
Now we know McFadden can be just as good on screens. In fact he has the homerun speed Bush lacks. So too does Taiwan Jones. In his second season Jones will be expected to step up as change-of-pace back capable of making explosive plays as both a runner and receiver.
Beyond Jones, there’s also another weapon the football world is slowly getting hip to. That would be the beast known as Marcel Reece. He too is threat in the passing game and the Denver Broncos can vouch for that.
During his time calling plays in Houston, Greg Knapp was masterful at ways for Arian Foster to get touches in more ways than hand offs. Expect plenty of that with McFadden, Jones and Reece at his disposal.
Naturally it will not be possible to simply manufacture the 977 rushing yards Bush gave the Raiders last season. That is where McFadden’s health is most important. Aside from an impressive preseason showing Jones didn’t get enough touches as a runner to show what he can do and Reece will never be a fulltime back like Bush.
That being said, let’s not forget that this new NFL is heavily reliant on the pass. With Carson Palmer getting a full camp to learn the new offense and hopefully a full compliment of healthy receivers there is no reason why Oakland’s aerial assault shouldn’t be among the league’s best.
The passing game should help to offset some of what will be lost in the rushing attack.
The most difficult area to address will be short yardage. Bush was a bruiser that could run through defenders as easily as he danced around them. That was his most unique trait that will be the area Oakland will struggle to find new production from. Bush was the type of runner that could wear down a defense, chew up the clock and keep those chains moving. Greg Knapp will have to find creative ways to fill that void.
Overall the loss of Bush is big but not crippling. Even with two dynamic runners the Raiders were still only a .500 ball club. That has nothing to do with the running game but let’s not act like the .500 Raiders losing Bush is like the undefeated Patriots losing Tom Brady. Last I checked neither the 8-8 Raiders nor the 16-0 Pats won the Super Bowl. For the Raiders to lift a Lombardi it will take a total team effort no matter the names on the back of the jerseys. Carson Palmer thinks this team has what it takes. Maybe he’s right. Maybe’s he’s foolish. Either way the Raiders will be going at it without Bush. Next man up!