The Litmus Test in Oakland: Can the Running Game Rise to The Next Level?

Raider Card Addict@RaidercardadictSenior Writer IMay 26, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  Michael Bush #29 of the Oakland Raiders runs against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 15, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If the phrase "running game" means anything to you, you have to look at Oakland and take a deep breath.

The presence is there for Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to rise to the next level.

The question is, can they?

The Raiders have had some had some truly great backs over the years. Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Kenny King, Mark Van Eeghan, Clem Daniels; all known for being punishing runners, although some are more notable than others.

Few can forget Bo's Kingdome show, or Marcus Allen pulling the plug on the Redskins in the Super Bowl.

In more recent years, tandem play has had some nice effects, with the Raiders relying on three styles of backs. You have a punishing back, who slowly wears down the defensive line. You have a shifty, finesse back who specializes on manipulating the gaps in the line. Lastly you have the goal line threat, who finds paydirt if all that is needed is three yards or less.

The most recent use of this as an effective tool was the triumvirate of Tyrone Wheatley, Charlie Garner, and Zack Crockett. While all three players spent little time in the silver and black, the three helped to move Oakland into the position of contenders.

Since the 2002 season,  rushing has been a mix of rookie experiments, veteran players brought in for the short term, and questionable coaching choices.

Justin Fargas was brought in as a draft pick, dating back to 2003. His best moments seemed to come as a last option for the Raiders, leading the team in rushing in 2006-08. Time and again, Fargas would leave it out on the field, while the team would bring in other players, such as LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

How was Justin Fargas rewarded?

In two years, the Raiders picked up Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, in back-to-back drafts.

Granted, Justin was getting up there in years and in the NFL, as 30 seems to be a cutoff age for the running games. Oakland kept Fargas around for another season, but he was finally released this offseason.

Now, for our two key cogs.

Michael Bush, was picked by the Raiders in the same draft as JaMarcus Russell and Zach Miller. Due to an injury his last year of college (broken leg), teams were leery of his transition, so the Raiders were able to pick him up in the fourth round. After sitting for the entire 2007 season, Bush had some growing pains, as the Raiders also picked up Darren McFadden in the 2008 draft. Problems with injuries at the Fullback position also forced the Raiders to contemplate using Bush as a Fullback, something he was not thrilled at doing, either.

For Bush though, when he has had his chance to show off, he's done well.

In 2008, Michael Bush ran up 90 yards against Kansas City...he saw light activity in games against Buffalo and the Chargers, then was not seen much, aside from 30 yards against the Panthers.

Then the game everyone remembers....against the Bucs in Tampa Bay.

Bush mauled a Tampa team trying to get into the playoffs, for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

How did the Raiders reward his play in 2009?

He was given 123 carries, which was turned into 589 yards and three touchdowns.

How did his recent addition fair?

Darren McFadden's arrival came with great fanfare, as people believed that McFadden would give the Raiders a good balancing act for the running/passing tandem that helps win games. If a team is stopped from passing, the running game has to take over. Likewise if the box is stuffed with linebackers, the WRs need to step up.

McFadden's first season saw a great game against Kansas City, likewise the same game that saw Michael Bush do well also. However, his season started to slow down, finishing with 113 carries and 499 yards, four touchdowns.

The next season, McFadden was dealing with an increased injury bug. While turf toe limited him in 2008, in 2009 he was down to 104 carries, his yards per carry was down to 3.4 from 4.4 the previous year and his yards was 357 yards. Several games he was missed and was held to negative yards against the Texans.

So, how do these two play for the next season?

First and foremost will come from other changes in the club. Quite often, Oakland would have to resort to throwing the ball when the team was down by two touchdowns in an effort to get back in the game. Controlling the clock on occasion would present itself, as a way to keep the Defense from getting tired, but if the conditions did not allow it, the running game would be shelved.

With JaMarcus Russell gone, the questionable WR corps should be able to be a good equal to the running game...again, each side has to bail the other out.

Secondly, even if it is impossible to stop, is the injury issue. There is questions, what happens if McFadden goes down and Bush is ineffective? The Raiders do have a few random players, presently on the roster, but it will depend on if these players can make the team through training camp.

Players such as Michael Bennett, Rock Cartwright, or Luke Lawton(fullback), could see activity, should things go south.

If anything could be added, better ball protection, making the key adjustments to play, and above all, staying on their feet, should help these two move the team back into respectability in the NFL.