With running back Darren McFadden still nursing a sore hamstring, the Oakland Raiders will look to Rashad Jennings to fill the absence in the backfield for their Week 5 game against San Diego if McFadden is unable to play.
Jennings filled in after McFadden was sidelined early in the first half of the Raiders’ 24-14 loss to the Washington Redskins last week. Although the running game went mostly silent in the second half, Jennings had 116 yards of total offense and led the team in receptions.
That pattern probably won’t change much versus the Chargers.
Whereas McFadden uses his breakaway speed to get the majority of his yardage on a handful of big plays, Jennings is more of a plodding, push-the-pile runner who is much more adept catching passes out of the backfield.
The contrast in styles between the two runners was evident early against the Redskins.
Although both gained the biggest chunk of their rushing yardage running between the two guards, McFadden had more success because he was able to find the open holes and get through them more quickly than Jennings.
On Oakland’s first play from scrimmage against Washington, for example, McFadden took a handoff from quarterback Matt Flynn and ran into the back of an offensive lineman before slipping through a gap on the left side for a 14-yard gain.
Conversely, the longest run Jennings had went for six yards. Most of his carries ended after two or three yards, and Oakland’s running game quickly dried up.
Part of that is because the Redskins were already stacking up to nine people in the box, essentially daring the Raiders to pass the ball. Once the early 14-point lead evaporated, the running game became less and less of a factor.
That doesn’t mean Jennings cannot be an effective runner. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jennings rushed for 45 yards in Week 4, but 34 of them came after he was initially hit.
Jennings is also limited in how he can be used.
The Raiders like to move McFadden around the field to create matchup problems. They’ll line him up in the slot, out wide or put him in motion. After coming in once McFadden went out, Jennings lined up almost exclusively behind Flynn.
Where Jennings excels is catching passes out of the backfield.
He caught eight passes for 71 yards against the Redskins, most of them on screens and plays where Flynn threw to him to avoid getting sacked. More often than not, Jennings simply floated into the flats on pass plays and waited for the ball.
What could also factor into how Jennings will be used is whether or not quarterback Terrelle Pryor starts. Pryor’s ability to run the read-option played a big role in some of the Raiders’ early success, and both he and the running game benefit greatly when the former Ohio State star is in the game.