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Much has been made of the Raiders struggles in the run game this season. Even with arguably one of the best running backs in the league in Darren McFadden, his feet are stuck in cement. The Raiders are focusing on this week's game in Atlanta to shake out of their running funk.
Facing a 5-0 team like the Falcons would appear to be an odd matchup to target a resurgence. But protecting against the run game is one of the few weak spots on this Falcons team and therefore would be a point of emphasis for any opposing team looking to find the chink in their armor.
The Raiders in particular just came off their bye week so they have had two weeks to try and seek out all avenues that will give them some kind of advantage over the Falcons. While the Falcons allow 5.4 yards per carry to their opponents, the Raiders are dead least in the NFL in rushing yards at 60.8 yards per game.
Darren McFadden himself averages just 50.3 yards per game (3.5 yards per carry) and if you take away that one 60-yard run against the Steelers in week 3, he averages 2.5 yards per carry. And outside of the game against the Steelers, McFadden hasn't rushed for over 35 yards in any of the other three games.
Those numbers have not swayed the Raiders and their persistence in running the ball.
"We have to get more attempts," running backs coach Kelly Skipper told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. "You'll see a big change. The more reps you get, the better you get at it."
With those pathetic numbers, the Raiders should probably have been spending much of their practice time trying to get McFadden and the running game going anyway. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his zone blocking scheme has been under fire this season due to the lack of production. He has preached patience but there is really no such thing in today's "Win now" NFL.
No doubt while the Raiders are putting their efforts into improving their run game on offense as one of their biggest weaknesses, the Falcons have been focusing on how they can improve their run defense. Something has got to give.
The clash of these two points of emphasis may actually favor the Raiders. No one knows better than those who follow the Raiders just how hard it can be to improve a run defense. This franchise have spent the better part of the last decade in a recurring state of futility in protecting against the run. Improvement doesn't happen overnight.
On the other hand, the Raiders run game does have a good chance of clicking at any given time. The right matchup could do it, as it did against the Steelers. The Falcons could be another matchup like that. Mostly, the steady improvement of this offensive line as they gel in the zone blocking scheme is what increases the likelihood of the run game getting on track.
That too may not happen overnight. But the Raiders have had four games and a week off to get acclimated to the ZBS so there is no reason we should not begin seeing positive results as early as Sunday.
It may not win them the game but it would certainly be an encouraging sign going forward.