ALAMEDA -- Coming into the season, the obvious question to incoming coach Dennis Allen was this: Why change the offense when it was the team's strength a year ago?
And when the offense struggled early in the year under new and returning offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the howls only intensified, especially with running back Darren McFadden going from league MVP candidate (when healthy) to, well, a guy averaging a career low in yards per carry.
Staring at a 3-10 record with only one home home game to play, and the very real chance of finishing 3-13 after consecutive 8-8 finishes, Allen is still sold on Knapp's version of the West Coast offense and the accompanying zone-blocking scheme and, truthfully, there has been some improvement recently.
"Yeah, absolutely," Allen said when asked if he still had faith in the system. "Absolutely. There's been a lot of change, and when there is a lot of change, sometimes you don't get the results that you're looking for right away. But when you believe in something, and you stick to it and you know it's the right plan, it ends up working out."
Of course, Knapp is a believer. He was hired to incorporate it by Allen.
"I’ve been to too many places and had too much experience to know it’s a very productive scheme," Knapp said. "Like it is for anywhere you go, when coaching changes occur you want the coaches who are the teachers to teach what they know best. If you do that with the coaches, they’re going to have answers for the issues that come up in the system."
The Raiders last season had the No. 9-ranked offense overall, No. 7 rushing and No. 11 passing. This season's rankings through 13 games? No. 13 overall, No. 30 rushing and No. 7 passing.
"Early on, we couldn’t run the ball worth a lick. Then about middle of the year, we had improvement in the run game. In the passing game we’ve had inconsistency when it comes to protection and catching the ball consistently. But we’ve had some high moments too. There’s been growing pains but it’s a part of the transition, You’d much rather have a coach come in and teach what he knows best then have to try to teach a system he doesn’t know at all. That’s going to take time."
And there it is: Allen wanted Knapp to teach his system to the personnel, to have the players adapt to scheme, rather than adapt scheme to the strengths of the players. So of course there was going to be growing pains. But did anyone expect the cramps to be so painful at times?
"Every place I’ve been to it’s usually going to take at least a year’s transition time to get everything taught and the parts we’ve changed," Knapp said. "You have to remember now, we’ve changed both linemen. We talked about the center and the tackle earlier that played quite a bit. Our top two running backs went down in the same game so then we converted a fullback to running back. Then you have some young receivers who are learning how to play the game at this level as well as learning a new system.
"If you take a business structure and you make those changes it’s going to take a year’s time to process everything and learn it. Once they master it, you can add to it. Right now, it’s taking some time."
So while so many fans are screaming for regime change, so to speak, the Raiders are again preaching patience and perspective.
"It just takes some time to be more efficient," Knapp said. "We made some progress. I’m very pleased with the fact that we’re the top 10 in passing and we’ve improved in the running game the last six weeks. We’re not where we need to be in scoring points. That’s what I’d like to get better at, finishing drives and getting more big plays for touchdowns."
The Raiders are averaging 19.1 points in 2012, after scoring 22.4 points a year ago. And while that is considered a "team" stat -- you can score on special teams as well as on defense -- the point is clear.
More time together in the system should remedy things, Knapp said.
"Hopefully, more consistency and higher scoring points, because we’re not able to keep those drives long enough right now to get the points on the board, so by keeping the system in place and keeping the bulk of the players here, now we keep the drives alive and we get our point total up into the mid-20s, and that’s what we want to be," he said.
"If you’re in the mid-20s to high 20s, you’re going to be in the top 10 of the league in scoring, and that’s ultimately what has to happen because to get 11 guys on the same page you need some reps and experience together and with a year’s offseason work of that and a better offseason system, the performance level usually goes up the next season."
According to the Associated Press, though, in his three previous stops as an offensive coordinator, in San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland, Knapp's teams' scoring went down in Year 2 by 1.1 points per game and yards gained have also went down by 4.5 yards per game.
Still, Oakland is a different animal, and he even compared it to a "start-up" in the business model in training camp. Many saw this year's Raiders team as an expansion franchise, of sorts, with so many new and moving parts.
Asked if he thought the pieces were in place for the offensive scheme to work well next year, Knapp was sure of it.
"But I think there’s still going to have to be pieces added," Knapp said. "It’s always an evolving process. I was at Houston, right, the last two years, so my first year in Houston we finished, I believe it was 6-10. That was the fifth year in the system. They had just finished, I think, 30th or 32nd in running. Then, all of a sudden, a guy named Arian Foster showed up, undrafted.
"You don’t know who’s going to add, that’s a part of this profession. The system is going to be in place but you’re going to change the pieces because of the salary cap, because of the draft and free agency, and sometimes that guy that comes in fits the system so well it takes off in itself and so there’s always going to be change. We look to help add to the system next year as well."