The result was a thriving rush offense thanks in large part to Tom Cable’s implementation of the zone blocking scheme in Oakland. Cable’s offensive line paved the way for the Raiders rush offense as they went from ranking 29th in 2006 to rush rankings of fourth and 10th in the two seasons that followed.
While the rushing game prospered the passing offense was nothing short of deplorable. In terms of passing yards, the Raiders offense ranked 31st in 2007 and dead last in 2008.
Tom Cable took over play calling duties after Greg Knapp who replaced Kiffin as the play caller after Kiffin was fired for cause. Knapp was relieved of the responsibility following an atrocious offensive performance against the Atlanta Falcons in week eight.
Knapp’s offense managed only 77 total yards, only 10 yards coming through the air and the Raiders did not achieve a first down until the latter half of the third quarter.
Tom Cable, now entering his first full season as Raiders head coach, has his chance to put his stamp on the offense. In a recent interview with ESPN, Suzy Kolber asked Cable what the Raiders offensive philosophy was going to be. Tom's response seems simple enough.
“We’re going to run the ball and we’re going to throw it over your head.”
Part A of the equation is clearly the strength of this team. Oakland features one of the NFL’s premier stables of running backs. It is crucial for Cable to properly utilize the skills of all three of his talented backs.
Justin Fargas is a strong player who runs with a great amount of heart and displays an uncanny ability to bounce of the first tackler for extra yards. He is a slash artist who is best utilized running between the tackles. Fargas was the feature back last season but Cable should look to shift the majority of touches to the younger backs in 2009.
Darren McFadden possesses the complete package of top end speed, agility and strength. On top of his elite physical skills he also has a pair of very dependable hands.
He can run between the tackles but look for Cable to take advantage of his talents with a considerably larger number of sweeps and quick screen passes, plays that will get McFadden into the open field where he is a major threat.
Michael Bush is a big bruiser back who has fluid open field moves and can run by defenders if when he gets to the second level. Bush also has an exceptional ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
His size and power make Bush a big asset in goalline situations. Cable could utilize Bush as a power back to wear down defenses in early quarters, allowing McFadden to dance by defenders on fresh legs later in the game.
The Raiders bolstered their rush attack with the addition of FB Lorenzo Neil who is considered by many to be the best lead blocker in the game today.
Cable also added OT Khalif Barnes, OT Erik Pears, and C Samson Satele in an effort to solidify the offensive line. All three players have ample experience as starters and possess the athleticism required for Cable’s zone blocking system.
The Raiders will be able to run the ball in 2009, but what about part B of Cable’s equation? According to Cable, Oakland drafted the answer this past month. He said this in reference to his new speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey:
“…he’s the one guy who made everyone better around him…we needed the ability to throw the ball over people’s heads and JaMarcus Russell has obviously shown that he can out throw most everything and this is a guy who now can go run that down and catch it.”
It may sound like the Raiders offensive success in 2009 hinges on DHB doing his best impersonation of Cliff Branch, but it is likely that his impact will be felt even when the ball is not being thrown his way.
DHB’s blistering speed will allow him to stretch the field. Opposing defenses will have to account for him deep in the secondary. This should open up passing lanes in the middle of the field for the other young WRs on the roster.
The threat of the deep ball will allow players like Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens, and Zach Miller. DHB will likely command double coverage as most corners will need help from a safety to keep DHB from getting behind them on deep post routes and streaks.
This scenario opens up a considerable portion of the field for Higgins to take advantage of out of the slot. I expect to see Higgins targeted on more plays similar to the seam route that he took 84 yards for a score against Buffalo in week three.
According to reports from organized team activities, Chaz Schilens apparently looks like the most polished WR on the roster. He has the size and skill set to lead the WR corps regardless of DHB’s impact.
TE Zach Miller has become a favorite target for JaMarcus Russell, usually on routes between 5-10 yards. With the WRs pushing downfield it will open up a lot of space for Miller to make plays moderately deeper down field.
It is clear that Cable wants to implement deeper routes into the offense. When asked about the impact of new quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and new passing game coordinator Paul Hackett on the offense, Cable had this to say:
“Well I wanted to put together a passing game that I was comfortable with and that was something more 10 to 20 to 30 yards down the field. I think you’re seeing some big plays every day as we keep throwing the ball down the field with much greater numbers.”
Not only will Cable look to stretch the field, do not be surprised to see some trickery thrown into the mix. Cable is the man who called the fake punt to Jon Alston for a 22 yard gain, a pivotal play in the Raiders overtime victory over the Jets. He also called the bizarre fake field goal pitch to Janikowski, a crucial play in their loss to the Chiefs.
In terms of offensive trickery, look for the Raiders to employ the wildcat formation in more situations with more variations. Last season they lined up in the wildcat, but not that frequently and neither Bush nor McFadden threw a pass out of the formation.
Bush did however throw a couple passes off of the pitch. He completed one ball to Miller for a first down and the other led to a defensive pass interference penalty that resulted in a significant gain for the Raiders. Bush is a former high school quarterback and has demonstrated the ability to throw the ball.
McFadden successfully spearheaded the wildcat formation during his time at Arkansas. He was 14-22 for 205 yards with 7 TDs and 1 INT when passing out of the wildcat. Expect to see both backs get a few chances to throw the pigskin in 2009
Cable has a solid core of youthful talent at his disposal. Only time will tell if his philosophy can lead them to the promise land.