Oakland Raiders Offensive Artillery: Darren McFadden Running Lower, Harder
Watching Monday night's game against Denver McFadden made Raider fans proud with his speed and power. He slashes through openings and uses his vision to exploit lanes at full speed. If there is someone in position to tackle him? Well that's the best part, he just lowers his shoulder and drops a ton of bricks on them.
Let that be a lesson to you and your teammates the next time you want to try to go heads up.
McFadden struggled with injuries his first couple of years in Oakland before exploding last year for 1,157 yards, a 5.2 YPC average, and 7 TD's. He also added to that with 507 yards receiving and another 3 TD's.
This was the breakout year the Raiders and their fans had been waiting for. He appeared to note the criticism of him being a runner too vertical to be a dynamic back. He lowered his center of gravity, and it allowed him to cut and accelerate through holes in the line and into lanes in the secondary at full speed.
He was also criticized for going down too easily after contact. This was another issue he addressed and dismissed last year, as he consistently broke tackles on his way to bigger gains. This was on display again on Monday night for any of those watching the game.
McFadden did all of this in only 13 games as he missed three to injury last season. He hopes to kick the injury bug this year on his way to a Pro Bowl season. If he remains healthy, we could be looking at a very special year from the Oakland running back.
How many rushing yards do you think McFadden will have this season?
Last year McFadden led the NFL in rushes of 20 yards or more with 14. Monday night he had three such carries. The next closest running backs are all tied with one such carry. He ranks first after week one with his 150 yards rushing. Last year McFadden and Michael Bush pushed the Raiders to ranking second in the league in rushing.
This year the formula may be just right for him to back up his stellar year last year with an MVP-like campaign.
The offensive line is improved even with the loss of Robert Gallery. The emergence of rookie Stefen Wisniewski at left guard fills the void that Gallery left behind when he took his long hair to Seattle to play in a band with the Seahawks. Jared Veldheer has improved his pass-blocking to become a more complete left tackle. The rest of the offensive line plays out with Samson Satele at center, Cooper Carlisle at right guard and Khalif Barnes rotating with Stephon Heyer and potentially Joseph Barksdale when the Raiders go with big packages and use him as an extra blocker.
The offensive line may have benefited most from a change in coaching and scheme. Offensive line coach Bob Wylie and assistant Steve Wisniewski have pulled more out of this group than Tom Cable and any of his coaches were able to. They have gone with a mix of power and zone-blocking adding to their versatility and it has paid dividends.
When Kevin Boss returns the Raiders run game should improve once again as he is a skilled blocker much the superior of Brandon Myers. If he can help to seal the edge of the line for McFadden with Marcel Reece leading the way it could lead to some big gains right away.
Speaking of Marcel Reece. I know that I have been impressed by his development with each new season. He is entering his fourth year in the league, after being drafted from the University of Washington where he played wide receiver. He is tall for a fullback at 6'3" but his agility and speed at 240 pounds made him a weapon last year in the passing game.
This year Reece looks to have a better understanding and willingness as a blocker, and it will only help McFadden achieve the lofty numbers he is so capable of putting up. In Monday night's game Reece took a key defender out of the play on more than one occasion springing McFadden for a sizable gain.
McFadden's profile on the Raiders roster shows him at 210 pounds which is what he weighed when he entered the league. When you watch him run he looks closer to 225 pounds of muscle and attitude. His acceleration and top-end speed allow him to cut at full-speed and run away from defenders, or lower his shoulder and bring the pain with an impressive amount of force.
Darren McFadden is the most complete running back in the NFL and he will show that this year barring injury. He is the Raiders No. 1 offensive weapon and will be used as such.
I'm not the first to say it, but I will reiterate that Darren McFadden has an outside shot to be the NFL's MVP in 2011.
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