Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs with the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers
All this week, the Raiders have had to answer questions about what's wrong with this Raiders rushing attack. There have been several prevailing theories as to what is happening and they all surround whether this team is built for a zone blocking scheme.
Darren McFadden has said he feel comfortable in the zone but there was no evidence to suggest that was the case. The offensive line has not been opening up the kind of holes expected in a zone scheme despite having three linemen with experience in it and two others who have all the traits one looks for in a zone lineman.
The Raiders and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp have pleaded for patience. He said it takes time for a unit to find their footing in the complicated scheme. It requires not just experience in the scheme but experience working together as a unit.
Today, they started to show that cohesiveness which Knapp and Dennis Allen have been assuring us they would find. They opened up several good sized holes including one that had had McFadden shooting through it and running for a 64 yard touchdown.
"It was a great hole that got opened up for me, and I just hit it running. I saw the end zone and had to make one move on the guy. Just hit it running, and I was glad to get there."
"When I'm running the ball I expect to hit it every time. It was one of those things when I saw the hole I hit it, and the safety came down. I made him miss and just took off and used my speed."
A play like that brings up the confidence of the entire team but the offensive line most of all. Stefen Wisniewski laid a key block on the run and a play like that went a long way (so to speak) with him.
"Oh, that was exciting," said Wisniewski. "We knew he was capable of that. All year it hasn't happened. First time, we get him up clean to the safety, he makes the safety miss, as soon as he made the safety miss, I was like, he's scoring. No one's catching that guy. That's a great feeling as an O-lineman to see him running for a long touchdown."
Along with that 64 yard run, McFadden ran for a total of 113 yards on the day. And those kind of number couldn't have come a moment too soon.
From the outside looking in, the play of the offensive line and McFadden would validate the zone blocking scheme and each player's role in it. But Dennis Allen has maintained he never faltered in his belief in the zone scheme.
"I've always had confidence in the zone running scheme," said Allen. "Like you saw today it really just takes one crease for Darren to get an opportunity to break a big run. We have confidence in it. I thought our offense played outstanding today. I was very pleased with the way that they played. We have confidence in what we're doing on offense."
The Steelers run defense is not top notch these days. They had given up 4.1 yards per carry over the first two weeks. But in most cases, if the zone blocking is sound, even a great defense can't shut it down altogether. It is more about the execution than anything. Therefore, a performance like this should be repeatable as well as built upon.
The Raiders face the Broncos in Denver next week. The Broncos long ran the zone blocking scheme while Mike Shanahan coached there but it has been a few seasons since Shanahan was removed as head coach. Their run defense is slightly better than the Steelers' so it will be a good test to see if this game was a fluke or indeed the beginning of solid play from the Raiders' offensive line, the zone blocking scheme, and McFadden along with it.