Why the Raiders must pound the rock to beat San Diego


The Oakland Raiders’ Week 7 matchup against the San Diego Chargers must revolve around an improved rushing attack if the Silver and Black plan to leave San Diego with a victory, and the first step towards that is feeding the ball to lead back Latavius Murray.

Through five games, Murray has carried the ball 80 times for 336 rushing yards and two touchdowns, thus pushing his average yards per carry total to 4.2.

Murray’s best game of the season came in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, as rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. His ability to maintain consistent production on the ground forced Cleveland’s defense to respect Murray with people in the box, which in turn, allowed for quarterback Derek Carr and his two leading receivers to make a great deal of plays in the passing game.

Carr completed 20-32 passes for over 300 yards and two touchdowns, while both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree earned over 100 yards receiving.

Oakland went on to win that game 27-20.

Now with the Raiders set to face another defense that has struggled to stop the run early in the season, it’s seemingly imperative that Oakland reapplies the formula used against Cleveland and get things going on the ground.

According to NFL.com, San Diego is ranked as the fourth-worst run defense in the league, as they have allowed an average of 132.5 rushing yards per game through six weeks in 2015. San Diego’s defense is also ranked dead last in yards per carry at 5.4, this mainly being due to their inability to stop the big play. In six games the Chargers have allowed a running back to carry the ball for over 20 yards on one play 10 times, the most in the NFL.

When looking at the tape, San Diego’s inefficient run defense can mostly be attributed to their inability to shed blocks at the point of attack and the poor play of their two inside linebackers.

While defensive end Corey Liuget has found moderate success making plays in the backfield, the other two defensive linemen for San Diego, Sean Lissemore and Kendall Reyes, have noticeably struggled to make plays in the run game. According to ProFootballFocus.com, both Lissemore and Reyes have earned non-passing grades in terms of run defense.

To make matters worse, San Diego’s starting inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Donald Butler have not been of much help from the second level of the Chargers’ defense. While Butler and Te’o were originally believed to be two strengths within this defense, the two have simply not been able to get off the blocks and make plays in the hole on opposing running backs at a consistent level. Through six weeks, Butler and Te’o are ranked No. 145 and No. 151 among 153 eligible linebackers, via PFF.

When going up against a defense that struggles to shed blocks, it is important for a back to remain patient in the backfield in order to allow the hole to develop, a characteristic of Murray’s game that has directly correlated to his ability to produce in the NFL.

Heading into the bye, Murray had been dealing with a shoulder ailment that had apparently limited his ability over the past two games. With the added rest, Murray has been able to fully participate in practice, and Oakland’s coaching staff has likely been able to adjust some of the issues with their offense that had been limiting Murray in the past.

“We definitely looked at some things that we want to do, and we identified something we must continue to do well,” Murray said, via Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. “I’m excited to get back to work and get this running game going. … When you look our past games on film, we’re close to a big run or a touchdown here and there. The week was about cleaning up the little things and paying attention to details. If we do that, those big runs can come.”

Though Murray’s health and the fine-tuning of Oakland’s rushing offense should directly correlate to an improvement in that area, it’s also important that Mike Tice and company found a way to evaluate the play of their offensive line and adjust accordingly. Starting right guard J’Marcus Webb, for example, has heavily struggled to sustain run blocks in Oakland’s first five games, thus making it a necessity for Tice to make adjustments that allow Webb to have more success as the season progresses.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is another factor in Oakland’s run game that must have looked to improve over the bye week, for his, what some would consider, predictable play calling has had it’s negative effects on Oakland’s running game. If Musgrave can start to balance out his play calls between runs inside the tackles and plays designated to go outside the tackle box, it should keep opposing defenses a bit more honest when it comes to attacking specific gaps and loading the line of scrimmage.

Given that it was an obvious focus over the bye week, it’s fair to expect that Musgrave has conformed the offense more to Murray’s strengths, and he has more importantly, created a game plan that will effectively exploit the flaws in San Diego’s run defense.

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