26. 54. 2.1
That's 26 rushes for 54 yards and a 2.1 average. Those rushing numbers are not good. They are not average. They are bad. And the blame goes to McFadden, the offensive line, the Offensive Coordinator, the Head Coach, and the General Manager.
What is happening here?
The Raiders have one of the few premier all-around running backs in the League with an elite combination of power, speed, and elusiveness. This is a fantastic talent whose only issue in the last couple of years has been injury, but never on-field production.
But these statistic indicate that the running game is failing terribly and with that, putting pressure on the passing game, a passing game that is predicated on play-action.
In the Week 2 Miami Dolphins' game, McFaddens' stats are even worse : 11/22, 2.0 avg, long of 4 yards.
So is it insane to say that the Raiders' run game is actually better than that?
The Raiders running attack is still a work in progress. No one likes to hear that, but it is clearly true.
The run game is not effective. This is not debatable.
But it is not as bad as it seems, either.
In the NFL, the saying goes, "You are what your record says you are." We might also say that "You are what your rushing numbers says you are."
In this case, McFadden is a 2.1 yards per carry running back. The Raiders' offensive line is blocking for 2.1 ypc. And Greg Knapp is running a 2.1 ypc offense.
But the Raiders are close--VERY CLOSE--to being much better than that.
The plays are working. There are many successful block at multiple levels of the defense. Offensive linemen are getting on their men and creating creases and holes. Backside cutblocks are putting defenders on the ground. Linemen are releasing and getting onto 2nd level defenders and there are some running lanes.
But the problem right now is that each play is not a full complete "win." There is a missed assignment on one play that lets a defender crash the play. On another, there's a missed backside block by a wide receiver and that player makes the tackle. On another, the fullback gets destroyed and the defender makes the play. On another, a Raider trips over the feet of another Raider, gets thrown to the ground, and the defender makes the play. On another, McFadden makes a bad choice misses the cutback.
Not every play is going to be perfect, but in the running plays against Miami, there were many instances of plays that were one mistake away from a the potential of a big play (by this I mean that the play would put DMC in open space with a good chance to make a big play). More importantly, these are correctable mistakes, in fact, most are indicative of an offense that is still a work in progress.
No, these are not meant as excuses, but rather as an assessment and a reason to look forward to the evolution of this offense
So here are some notes and some things to keep an eye on and look for when evaluating this offense and looking at where this unit is headed.
(1) Cut Blocks
The Raiders are doing a very good job cutting defensive backside defenders. This is extremely important to this offense but the dividends have not yet shown up. Why? Typically, these backside cuts take their toll on the defenders so that by the 4th quarter, their legs are gone and the defenders are slowed up for both pursuit and contain. But in the Dolphins game, with the Raiders' overall offense ineffective and the Dolphins able to take a substantial lead, the Raiders only had 12 rush attempts. That's not enough to take the legs out of defenders.
Side note : Jared Veldheer is a surprisingly effective cut blocker. at 6'8", you might think it hard for him to get low enough to cut a man. This may be true in close-line play, but out in space, his length is an asset. Because of his athleticism and agility, Big Jared is able to extend his full length to cut a defender. Yes, this means he can block a man from nearly 2 yards AWAY!
(2) DMC Backside cut
Of DMC's 11 carries, he had one backside cut and that one was the broken play, reverse field run and not the typical Zone Backside cut. The Dolphins began to aggressively overplay the playside on the running plays, abandoning backside contain. This allowed them to clog the playside and since DMC gave them no reason to protect against the backside cut. Defenses will see this and if the Raiders offense does not give defenses a reason to honor that side, it will grow increasingly difficult on the playside.
McFadden seems to primarily target one of two gaps, the initial hole and the cutback 1 gap off; at times, he also seems to make his decision a little bit early.
Greg Knapp may be able to help DMC with the backside by designing an intentional backside counter play, perhaps similar to the Dolphins' bootleg TD play on their initial drive (handing the ball off instead of the QB keeper, naturally).
Once McFadden gets a feel for that backside, he may have a few big plays to make. Once he gets confident in that, we may see him blossom. Because of the way the RB reads the line during zone blocking, he might not be progressing his reads as far or as much as he could. In a sense, this would be like having a QB that has only a half-field read and 2 progressions.
Many of Arian Foster's biggest runs have come on backside cutbacks. This is the Big Play weapon in the arsenal of the zone blocking.
(3) Fullback Lead Failure
Owen Schmitt is 6'2", 250 lbs and is notable for being a bruiser-type. In the Dolphins' game, he was an unmitigated disaster. Each and every time that he was tasked to lead block, he was dominated (or whiffed). His failure when the Raiders were backed up to their own goalline resulted in a broken run for DMC and when you watch closer, you can see that he had both arms wrapped around the run-blitzing LBer and was holding on for dear life. That very well could have been called a holding penalty, which would have resulted in a safety since DMC was still in the backfield.
This position needs to be fixed. There were plays to be had, but the FB has to make the block on the LB. If Schmitt cannot do this, Raiders need to find someone that can.
On a side note : In retrospect, Lawrence Vickers would have been an ideal pickup this past offseason. If the Raiders could have afforded it, getting Vickers and Joel Dreesen would have really helped the learning curve of this offense.
The Raiders line has generally been very good in getting their assignments, particularly in releasing downfield. On many of the plays, all the defenders are accounted for and many are picked off nicely. There were a couple of notable failures by Richard Gordon that released key Dolphin defenders into the play.
(5) Wide receivers
DHB is our best blocking WR. Rod Streater is a very active blocker and puts in some very good efforts. Hagan seems solid, despite his one failed, missed block. D. Moore does not seem very willing to block; when Moore blocks, it is like DVD trying to run support.
We may see some increased value in Criner and Ausberry in the running game.
As much as everyone is frustrated with the team and particularly the offense, there are some things that are being done well. DMC is very close to some big runs and once those start to happen, we might see some offensive momentum. The Wide Receivers' ability to get open downfield depends significantly on the effectiveness of the running game. So once the run game gets on track, watch for Palmer to be much more effective in getting those Lightning Strikes that we are all waiting for.
Until then, defensive secondaries can play soft and force underneath routes with multiple defenders closing.
Stay Positive, Raider Nation. It's getting close. it would be fantastic to start hitting a few of these against Pittsburgh and get on the winning track in this game that everyone has already discounted.
For additional views and details on the Dolphins game, see my blog posts here : [link]