If the Oakland Raiders are ever to become a more effective offense, they have to get more out of the running game. That might sound ludicrous, considering Dennis Allen’s team possesses the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, yet, in this case, the statistics are incredibly misleading.
Running back Darren McFadden is halfway through another disappointing, injury-filled campaign in which he has topped the 100-yard barrier just once. He has already missed one game with a hamstring injury and possibly will sit out Oakland’s Week 9 game in New York because of the same injury.
Rashad Jennings has actually been a more effective runner than McFadden this season, as he proved in the Raiders’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Jennings has also given the offense a lift with his receiving skills.
Yet, truth be told, the Raiders would probably be ranked at or near the bottom for running the ball were it not for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor has accounted for 41 percent of Oakland’s rushing yardage. His 485 yards on the ground not only lead the Raiders, but they also place the young quarterback 15th in rushing among all NFL players. He’s got more yards running than such backs as Baltimore’s Ray Rice, Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Dallas’ DeMarco Murray.
Oakland’s quarterback has a pair of 100-yard games this season and fell six yards shy of a third. McFadden and Jennings have two between them.
Allen has said all season that it doesn’t matter where the rushing yards come from, just as long as they come. He couldn’t have been more misguided.
|Terrelle Pryor||Darren McFadden||Rashad Jennings|
|Indianapolis||13 carries, 112 yards||17 carries, 48 yards||2 carries, 2 yards|
A large chunk of Pryor’s rushing totals have come as a result of him scrambling out of the pocket on a pass play and taking off downfield. It’s one of the aspects to Pryor’s game that has made him as effective as he’s been this season.
However, Pryor probably wouldn’t face the type of pressure from opposing defenses that he’s seen so far if McFadden and Jennings were producing more consistently.
Because defenses aren’t worried so much about getting beat by Pryor and the passing game, the Raiders tend to face a lot of teams that load the box with eight defenders. That’s caused a lot of issues for McFadden, whose breakaway speed in the open field has been muted by his penchant for getting knocked down after a two-yard gain.
Jennings has actually proved to be a better fit for the Raiders offense and might be a better call going forward in 2013 than the more fragile McFadden.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson tried a variety of ways to try and spring McFadden. The Raiders used two tight end formations, tried to spread the field with three wide receivers, and they went to a full backfield with a fullback and tight end leading the way.
Yet, McFadden had only one run of note, a five-yard gain that wound up being his final play of the day. His tendency to tip-toe near the line of scrimmage has enabled defenders to bring him down with little or no problem.
Jennings ran much harder without as much blocking and got much better results.
With McFadden out and the team trailing, Olson called several plays that left Jennings as the only back lined up behind Pryor. Jennings didn’t have much problem and ripped off big chunks of yardage on his way to a 102-yard day.
Jennings has also emerged as the team’s most sure-handed receiver. He is third on the team in total receptions behind wide receivers Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, yet he’s the only one of the three to catch seven passes or more in a game this season (Jennings has done it twice, against Washington and Philadelphia).
Who should be the focal point of the running game?
Is Jennings the long-term solution? Probably not. For this season, however, he can be the spark that the running game has been lacking.
McFadden? The Raiders rolled the dice when they opted not to trade him before the deadline, and now they’re paying the price.
Until he or Jennings jumpstart the running game, Oakland’s offense will also pay the price.
* Any and all information and quotes used in this and all reports by Michael Wagaman were obtained first-hand.