Oakland Raiders: Getting Even More Out of Darren McFadden in the 2011 NFL Season
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"D-Mac's" first two seasons were marred by subpar performances due to many contributing factors.
Injuries, poor talent around him, horrific quarterback play and an unfamiliar zone blocking scheme were just some of the factors that led to McFadden's perceived failures.
When Hue Jackson took over the Raider offense, he brought back the power blocking scheme in which McFadden is much more experienced.
The results were the second most prolific rushing attack in the NFL and D-Mac finishing fourth in the league in total yards from scrimmage.
So, how can Jackson, McFadden and new offensive coordinator Al Saunders get even more from this electrifying running back?
There are many ways to bring out the very best in the two-time Heisman runner-up and Doak Walker Award winner. This article will explore only a few of them.
Improved Quarterback Play
Jason Campbell stands ready to have his best year ever. Improving the passing game will open up the run.
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Much has been said, both positive and negative, about Jason Campbell. The fact is, Campbell is the best quarterback the Raiders have had since Rich Gannon.
Having a legitimate threat under center will work wonders for the Raiders' rushing attack.
In the recent past, defenses didn't feel threatened by the passing attack, so they simply stacked "the box" with eight or nine defenders to stop the run and made the quarterback beat them. JaMarcus Russell couldn't do that, so the running game floundered.
This will most certainly not be the case with Campbell under center.
Essentially, it's an "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" situation. The better Campbell does, the better D-Mac will do. The better D-mac does, the better Campbell will be.
That's a nice cycle for an offense.
Get Him More Involved in the Passing Game.
Darren McFadden has the potential to be "The New Marshall Faulk."
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Darren McFadden with the ball in the open field and two or three blockers in front of him is a nightmare for secondaries.
McFadden's speed and change-of-direction abilities make him the perfect back to use as receiver on screens, swing passes and circle routes.
Ninety-eight percent of linebackers in the league have no chance to stay with D-Mac in coverage, and most defensive backs are too small to effectively tackle him in the open field.
D-Mac is averaging 10.7 yards per reception for his career. It seems to me that if he's getting a first down every time he catches the ball, that he should get more opportunities to run routes.
Using Two Halfback Sets
Michael Bush is the "Thunder" to McFadden's "lightening."
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Every time Michael Bush played in 2010, he played very well.
Bush is a better blocker and a more bruising type of running back than McFadden. The contrast in their styles makes the McFadden-Bush crew a solid tandem.
Putting these two in the back field at the same time will cause confusion and indecision in the defense.
Will the ball be pounded up the gut with Bush or tossed wide to D-Mac? Will Bush lead block for McFadden, or will D-mac give the reverse to Jacoby Ford with Bush lead blocking?
All questions the defense will be forced to answer before the snap.
The more you make a defense have to think about and worry about, the less effective they'll be, thereby improving the production of both D-Mac and Bush, and thus, the Raider offense as a whole.
Spread the Defense Out With Four Wide Receiver Sets
This may be the most maligned group of receivers in the league.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about the Raider wide receivers. Most "experts" think they are too young and inexperienced to be legitimate weapons.
Some in Raider Nation, (including this writer) feel that the talent is the but hasn't been unlocked as yet. The hiring of former wide receiver coach, Al Saunders, as offensive coordinator should see a drastic improvement in this squad.
All that having been said, improvement means nothing if the players don't see the field.
By putting multiple combinations of four wide receivers on the field will force the defense into one or more of several things.
The defense's first option is to use a "Dime" package whereby two linebackers are removed and replaced with defensive backs. Fewer linebackers means smaller, less effective tacklers on the field. This also moves those substituted players out of "the box."
Another option is for the linebackers to play a zone scheme in the middle of the field. This means they are not able to play aggressively against the run and forces them into a "read and react" mode.
Either way, there are fewer players close to the line of scrimmage and fewer defenders in "the box." A draw play against this front can bring huge gains.
Both situations are a position of advantage for D-Mac and the Raiders.
Send Him in Motion and Split Him Out Wide
Getting D-Mac a free release with motion will allow him to be more productive in the passing game.
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I know. He's a running back, not a receiver. But, he's a great receiver as far as running backs go.
Using motion to get him out of the back field and lined up outside will do more than get him a free release; it will force the defense to think and adjust.
McFadden is too fast for most linebackers and too big for defensive backs to cover. Therefore, regardless of whether the defense sends a linebacker with him, or makes the safety or cornerback cover him, it's still a win for D-Mac.
Being in motion at the snap will make it impossible for defenders to jam him. Eliminating the possibility of a jam eliminates the possibility of McFadden being covered on that particular play.
Run at Least a Limited Wildcat Package
McFadden was one of the best at running the spread offense in college.
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That's right! I said it.
A wildcat play thrown in here and there could really mess with a defense's mind.
Yes, it's just a gimmick. No, I'm not suggesting the Raiders begin to look like Boise State! Just use it when the defense least expects it.
I'd really like to see the Raiders come out in a standard three wide receiver, one tight end, one back set. Then, before the snap, shift into the spread with McFadden behind center, Zach Miller in the back field and Jason Campbell in the slot.
That could create a lot of mismatches and confusion in the defense, and that is how football games are won.
As my old college coach used to say, "Run it and see what happens."
Keep Him Fresh
All players need a rest from time to time.
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D-Mac is not Superman or invincible. He's human and gets tired like the rest of us.
Michael Bush has proven he can carry the load if needed and the Raiders have drafted the speedy Taiwan Jones from Eastern Washington University.
Assuming Bush can be re-signed, he and Jones will need to see the field to give McFadden a chance to rest and hydrate.
Twenty carries and 10 pass routes is just about right for D-mac. Add to that, 10 or so plays in which he is used as a decoy or blocker, and you're looking at between 30 and 40 plays for McFadden.
The rest need to go to someone else.
D-Mac has a great chance to be what all Raider fans expected from him!
There are a whole slew of ways to get the most out of McFadden. Unfortunately, I don't have a tele-strator to show you specifics!
Ultimately, Hue Jackson and Al Saunders need to be creative, find his limits and push him to those limits and beyond.
Play to his strengths and avoid his weaknesses.
Maybe the most important thing is for the offensive line to continue it's dominance in the rushing attack, and vastly improve its pass protection.
Getting McFadden in favorable matchups with motion and formation will help give this guy some more opportunities as well.
So, what else can Oakland do to get this great player the ball? Who are the key players that must perform for D-Mac to excel? Let me hear you in the comments.
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