Oakland Raiders Offense Limited by Lack of Running Back Depth

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2015

Oakland Raiders running back Taiwan Jones (22) runs toward the end zone to score on a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

Who knew the absence of a solid No. 2 running back would drop the Oakland Raiders offense from great to good?

The Raiders’ inability to supplement the passing attack with a pair of running backs hurts their chances at challenging top-notch defenses consistently. 

Detractors of this theory will bring up the New York Jets as an outlier, but Latavius Murray rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries, and Taiwan Jones took a reception 59 yards downfield for a score. 

Can you depend on Murray accumulating 100-plus yards on 20 carries week-to-week? How about Jones juking four defenders for a long touchdown every Sunday? Murray has eclipsed 100 rushing yards twice this season. He’s a solid featured back, but he’s not a 20-plus carries workhorse back. 

In some shape or form, the Raiders need a second running back to keep their offense balanced. Midway through the season, Oakland’s coaching staff hasn’t committed to any of its backup candidates.

Who's the No. 2 Running Back in Oakland?
PlayersCarriesRushing YardsReceptionsReceiving Yards
Roy Helu Jr.1231637
Taiwan Jones14706101
Marcel Reece52821203
Jamize Olawale1665654
Pro Football Focus

Murray ranks fifth in rushing yards, but the team sits 20th in total rushing yards as a mediocre rushing offense. That observation indicates the paradigm shift in a typical NFL backfield. Now, two solid talents combine for a stronger ground attack as opposed to one starting back taking 25-plus carries in years past.

Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, stands as the only player averaging 20 or more rushing attempts per game. He’s a generational talent who performs well above the top rushers in the game. Without an exceptional talent, an offense needs a complementary pair in the backfield.

On Sunday, the Vikings challenged the Raiders with zone defense. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t have a solution to exploit pockets within the defensive scheme.

Inexplicably, running back Roy Helu Jr. remained a healthy inactive. Marcel Reece recorded one catch for zero yards. Fullback Jamize Olawale became the supplemental factor within the offense.

The Vikings tolerated nearly five yards per carry from a short-yardage ball-carrier incapable of outrunning the front seven. Olawale’s numbers look solid in the box score, but had very little effect on the game. 

With Murray struggling, the Vikings sat comfortably in the zone, which forced the passing offense to make tough throws against a talented secondary.

The Raiders, almost reluctantly, avoided testing the edges of the Vikings run defense. The offensive line performed well on the outside to open space for willing ball-carriers: 

Oakland Raiders Run Blocking on the Outside
PlayersPositionPFF Run-Blocking Grade
Donald Penn*Offensive Tackle1.8
Austin Howard*Offensive Tackle2.4
Pro Football Focus

*Note: Both players ranked as top-10 run-blockers among offensive tackles in Week 10, per Pro Football Focus.

Oakland missed Rodney Hudson as an exceptional run-blocker on the inside, but there were opportunities in other areas. On a couple of plays, the Raiders chose the wrong lane, per Scout.com writer Chris McClain and Bay Area News Group columnist Marcus Thompson:

Therefore, we cannot simply blame backup center Tony Bergstrom for an ineffective ground attack against the Vikings.

Jones, whose speed accommodates kick-out run designs, didn’t factor into this week’s game plan. He failed to record a carry or a catch for the first time this season. That’s a huge miss on Musgrave’s behalf.

Ultimately, the Raiders haven’t instilled adequate confidence in their backup running backs, which leaves talent either on the sideline or underutilized within the offensive game plan. 

Oakland’s passing offense has become its unquestioned strength, but what’s the counter option when opposing defenses find success in taking away long receptions?

What’s Musgrave’s response when Murray cannot find room between the guards or reaches his workload threshold? At 16 carries per game, he’s averaging four carries per quarter, placing immense pressure on quarterback Derek Carr to deliver victories down the stretch. 

The backup running back position doesn’t receive widespread attention. Nonetheless, in today’s NFL, when starting running backs average 14-18 carries per game, the No. 2 ball-carrier holds a significant role as a rusher and receiver. 

Right now, the Raiders use an antiquated approach when utilizing their running backs: Heavy emphasis on the starter without solid depth.

As the game progresses with adjustments, the offense becomes one-dimensional late in games due to the inability to move the ball on ground. This explains why it's difficult for the Raiders to limit the opposition's possessions when attempting to put teams away.

Oakland Raiders Scoring Breakdown by Quarter
QuarterAverage Points Scored in QuarterRanking Among Other Teams
1st Quarter4.117th
2nd Quarter11.12nd
3rd Quarter4.419th
4th Quarter5.626th
Team Rankings

The above table shows the Raiders scoring breakdown by quarter. Typically, the offense explodes in the second quarter and tapers off late in games as other teams continue to push the ball in the clutch.

Oakland found its nucleus on the offensive side of the ball. Now, it's time to establish reinforcements to maintain consistency through 60 minutes.

Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for news, updates and intriguing discussion about the Oakland Raiders.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus and Team Rankings unless otherwise noted. 

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