Why the Oakland Raiders Must Commit to the Run

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2009

I remain patient with Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, because I don't fully understand the play-calling by the Raiders, as in why they insist on pass attempts.

I also believe that Russell has shown immunity to the idea that a team can destroy the quarterback's confidence if they rush him.  Despite the struggles, Russell has managed to focus under pressure, leading the Raiders to victory over the Chiefs on the final Oakland possession last Sunday.

A week earlier, Russell also threw the go-ahead touchdown on the final possession by the Raiders, only for the Chargers to respond with a touchdown on the final drive of the game.

Moreover, Russell has been sacked only twice this season by remaining poised in the pocket, even if he is still out of sync with rookie receivers and as his best receiver, Zach Miller, gets locked down by the opponent's defense.

Raider fans have grown increasingly impatient with Russell, because they look around the league and see quarterbacks succeed as rookies or sophomores and expect the same from Russell.

Raider fans however, must consider a few exigent circumstances, such as a former coach Lane Kiffin refusing to work with JaMarcus Russell. 

A coach that tried everything to undermine and usurp the authority of Al Davis over the Raiders, even colluding with Michael Lombardi to trade receiver Randy Moss (read my other articles for more details on that).

With that said, I don't understand why the Raiders have tried to lean on JaMarcus Russell for the majority of the plays.  Russell has been able to make critical plays, but not the majority of plays.

Committing to the running-game is, in fact, why rookie and sophomore quarterbacks succeed.  The Raiders have a trio of running backs to do just that with Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas.

(Note: In the following list, I only reference teams that earned postseason berths.)

In 1997, the Broncos committed to the run with Terrell Davis, which allowed John Elway to finally lead the Broncos to victory in the Super Bowl.

In 1998, the Broncos committed to run with Terrell Davis, which allowed John Elway to again win the Super Bowl

In 1999, the Titans committed to the run with Eddie George, which allowed then-much maligned quarterback, Steve McNair, to lead the Titans to the Super Bowl.

In 2000, the Raiders committed to the run with Napoleon Kaufman, Tyrone Wheatley, and even the runs of journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon, which allowed Gannon to make critical plays to veteran receivers such as Tim Brown and Andre Rison, and in 2001, Jerry Rice.

The Raiders would employ a modified running game in 2002 by making short passes to running back Charlie Garner to the sidelines.  They rode that offense to the Super Bowl and ventured away from power running, where they lost to a Tampa team that was weak against physical runners, like Tyrone Wheatley.

In 2000, the Ravens committed to the defense and the run with rookie Jamal Lewis, which allowed Trent Dilfer, the so-called "worst quarterback to win the Super Bowl," lead the Ravens to, as I said, win the Super Bowl.

In 2001, the Patriots of Bill Belichik committed to the run with cast-off runner Antowain Smith, which allowed practice-squad quarterback Tom Brady to make critical plays, not the majority.

In 2003, the Panthers committed to the defense and run with Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, which allowed Jake Delhomme to emerge from nowhere and lead the Panthers through late comebacks and ultimately to Carolina's first appearance in the Super Bowl.

In 2004, the Steelers committed to the defense and the running game with runners Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, (in succeeding years with Willie Parker), and allowed rookie Ben Roethlisberger to make critical plays.

In 2004, the Patriots would repeat as Super Bowl winners by committing to the run with former Bengal Corey Dillon.

In 2005, the Seahawks committed to the run with eventual MVP Shaun Alexander, which allowed Matt Hasselbeck to lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

In 2005, the long futile Bengals committed to the run with Rudi Johnson, and had Chad Ochocinco to account for a majority of yards and touchdowns for sophomore quarterback Carson Palmer.

In 2006, the Bears committed to defense and the run with Thomas Jones, which allowed Rex Grossman to make critical plays and lead the Bears to the Super Bowl, despite Grossman's erratic play, which should tell you that commitment to the run and defense and minimize the mistakes by the quarterback.

In 2006, the Chargers committed to the run with LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, which allowed Philip Rivers to make critical plays, in his first year as a starter.

In 2006, the Cowboys committed to the run with Julius Jones and Marion Barber, which allowed Tony Romo to start in midseason and lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.

In 2006, more importantly, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had what has been called his "worst" year statistically, when the Colts committed to the run in the postseason with rookie Joseph Addai and veteran Dominic Rhodes.  Rhodes would win the award for Super Bowl MVP.

In 2007, the New York Giants committed to the run with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, which allowed the uber-maligned Eli Manning to lead the Giants to upset the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.  That New England team, by the way, committed to the passing game.

In 2008, the Falcons, long mired in mediocrity, committed to the run with Michael Turner, which allowed rookie Matt Ryan to make critical plays.

In 2008, the Titans committed to the run with LenDale White plus Chris Johnson and defense, which allowed retread veteran Kerry Collins to make the critical plays.

In 2008, the Panthers committed to the run with Jonathan Stewart plus DeAngelo Williams, which allowed Jake Delhomme to make critical plays.

In 2008, a Ravens team that had long lacked a legitimate quarterback, committed to the run with Le'Ron McLain, which again allowed rookie Joe Flacco to make critical plays.

In 2009, the Jets have committed to the run with Thomas Jones and allowed rookie Mark Sanchez to make critical plays.

In 2009, the 49ers have committed to the run with Frank Gore, which has allowed journeyman Shaun Hill to make critical plays.

Terry Bradshaw had Franco Harris; Jim Plunkett had Mark van Eeghen plus Kenny King and later Marcus Allen; Jim Kelly had Thurman Thomas; Dan Fouts had Chuck Muncie; Troy Aikman had Emmit Smith.  Even Kurt Warner had Marshall Faulk in 1999, and Tim Hightower plus Edgerrin James in 2008.

I could keep going, and while I went this long in order to drill my point into your consciousness, I will end by saying that even Joe Namath relied on the running game to lead the Jets to victory in Super Bowl III.

I have eviscerated the illusion that it is "all" about the quarterback yet it is not "all" about the running back either, because the reality is that any team needs to have a balance between the two, and often times, a solid defense and running game will free up the quarterback to make the plays that fans dream and fantasize about.