ALAMEDA – Raiders running back Darren McFadden has exceeded 52 rushing yards once this season. The outlier came in Week 2, when he had 129 yards on 19 carries.
His high output came against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the bingo equivalent of a free space.
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He has 267 yards and two touchdowns over 69 carries, a lackluster sum due to injury or ineffectiveness. Neither has helped what McFadden hoped to be a resurgent season.
He had 113 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers last season, as part of an uneven campaign. This time around, McFadden views Sunday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as a chance to get on track and stay there. He’s fully recovered from a hamstring strain that cut the Washington game short, kept him out against San Diego and gave the Chiefs a shadow of himself.
“I’m feeling as good as you can this time of year,” McFadden said after Friday’s practice. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and getting loose on Sunday.”
Doing so against the Pittsburgh Steelers is traditionally a fool’s errand. The vaunted Steelers defense isn’t as productive as year’s past, especially against the run. The Steelers rank No. 19 against the run, allowing 109.3 yards per game.
Their pass defense is far better, leaving the most efficient means of production on McFadden’s shoulders.
“You always know Pittsburgh is going to play hard-nosed defense,” McFadden said. “That’ll be the case on Sunday, but we have some things that we want to go out there and try and hopefully make some big plays against them.”
That would make the Raiders proud. They focused on core runs (i.e. standard handoffs, not broken plays or quarterback jaunts) during the bye week in hopes of staying on schedule.
That’s a term Dennis Allen uses for first-and-second-down production designed to create manageable third-downs.
“They’re a really good third-down defense,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. This week, 3rd-and-7 or longer is going to be really difficult. They’re number one in the National Football League in that area. We’ll try to stay manageable on third downs by running the football well, and when we do get in those situations, we’ve got to be great with our communication.”
A steady dose of McFadden, and the solid interior blocking he requires, is the best way to stay productive and avoid adverse third downs where the Steelers thrive.
While Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t what it has been, it will make McFadden fight for every yard. The sixth-year veteran loves physical matchups where power wins out.
It reminds him of his father’s advice year’s ago, which sticks with him to this day.
“My dad always told me to go out and punch the tackler,” McFadden said. “He wanted me to be the aggressor. It’s something that always sticks in my mind when I’m running.
“They’ll play physical, but a physical game fits my style. It’s always good. I love running in these games. You want to be able to go out and show what you can do.”