Five Things the Oakland Raiders Can Do to Turn Things Around

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Oct 12, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) rushes for a gain against the San Diego Chargers during the second quarter at Coliseum. The San Diego Chargers defeated the Oakland Raiders 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

3. Run the Damn Ball

For all the struggles the Raiders have had on defense, and there are many, the Raider offense has been awful. Through six games, the Raider offense is dead-last in yards per game with 282.7 and the team is a close second-to-last in points per game with 15.3 (Jacksonville averages 15.0 points per game). The offense is also ranked dead last in total first downs with 94, and is converting 38.4% of 3rd down attempts, with nearly 31% of Raider possessions resulting in three-and-outs. This inability to keep the offense on the field, coupled with the defense’s inability to get off the field, has resulted in a defense that is completely gassed late in games, and an offense that doesn’t get very many opportunities to score. And while it’s hard to expect a rookie quarterback to immediately turn your offense into a well-oiled first-down machine, it’s nearly impossible to expect a rookie quarterback to lead your offense to any semblance of production when you can not run the ball, and the Raiders can not run the ball.

Unfortunately, the Raiders rushing offense has been abysmal through six games. While averaging a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry – eighth-worst in the league – the Raider rushing offense has often disappeared in games: the Raiders have attempted the fewest rushes in the league, and average 17.7 rushing attempts per game. The Raiders have also converted the fewest first downs on the ground in the league so far this year, with 20. If you take away the very strong rushing performance that the Raiders turned in against San Diego, the team has 302 yards rushing on 91 attempts in five games, and 41 yards of that belong to one long breakaway run by Derek Carr.

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  • Of course, part of the issue could simply be the opposition: Arizona, Miami and the Jets are all in the top 10 in rushing defense. Arizona in particular is a very solid defensive unit against the run. But the Raider rushing offense was also awful against a bad Patriots defense. The performance against a good Charger team is the exception, not the rule, and probably a result of some adjustments after being torched in the first half by Derek Carr: the Raiders averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the first half and 8.4 yards per carry in the second. The Raiders also couldn’t or wouldn’t run when they needed to: leading 28-24 with less than six minutes left in the game, Darren McFadden carried once for 2 yards, then Derek Carr threw two incomplete passes and was flagged for intentional grounding and Philip Rivers got the ball back with 4:43 left needing to go only 39 yards after a long punt return. Had Olson/Sparano called three consecutive run plays in that situation, even if each had only gained two or three yards, the Raiders would have punted from their own 31 or 32 yard line with about 3:40 left on the clock, and Rivers would have needed to move his team a lot farther in less time. So even in the Raiders best rushing performance of the year by far, failure to commit to the run may have cost the Raiders a chance to win the game.

    Running the football is less about scheme and more about mentality and commitment to it. In the two years Hue Jackson was in Oakland, the Raiders got to 8-8 because they ran the football effectively: Darren McFadden averaged more than 5 yards per carry in both of those years and the team averaged 4.5 or better. They were able to do that in part because of Hue’s power run schemes, but mostly because of the “bully” mentality that came with those schemes: overpower opponents, push them around, punch them in the mouth. Since Dennis Allen took over in 2012, the offense has been inconsistent in regards to the run: in 2012 the Raiders finished ranked 28th in the league in rushing offense under OC Greg Knapp, in 2013 the rushing offense ranked 12th under Greg Olson. Olson is not a run-focused offensive coordinator, however: his Jacksonville and Tampa Bay offenses were not very good running teams, aside from the 2010 Buccaneers. Olson has a quarterback coaching background, and is reputed as more of a QB guru than a run game strategist. Tony Sparano, on the other hand, is a big proponent of running the football: he is credited with bringing the “Wildcat” to the modern NFL when he was head coach in Miami, and his first two years in Miami were characterized by strong rushing attacks. He was also “run game coordinator” for Dallas for two years in which their run games finished in the top half of the league.

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  • Both Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have shown flashes of ability to be effective running the ball, and the offensive line of the Raiders has shown flashes of ability to block the run against quality opposition. What the Raiders run game needs is a strong dose of smashmouth mentality from their former offensive line coach turned interim head coach, and a commitment by both he and Greg Olson to really run the football like they mean it.  Running the football early and often will help the Raiders sustain drives, keep games close, and help Derek Carr by giving him more situations he can thrive in.  It will also help keep a very thin defensive unit off the field. Running the football, in and of itself, won’t make you a Super Bowl winner, but it sure as hell will win games, and at this point that’s all this team is looking to do.