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The Raiders run game is broken. A perceived strength at season’s start has deteriorated into a glaring weakness, on track to reach historic lows.
The Raiders rank dead last with 65.5 rushing yards per game. If that average holds, it will be the worst in franchise history and the NFL's lowest in 68 years. The 1946 Detroit Lions rushed for 42.5 yards per game and went 1-10.
The Raiders have eight games to avoid notoriety.
In order to do so, interim head coach Tony Sparano believed the Raiders must do better up front. That’s a tough pill for a longtime offensive line coach to choke down. Sparano ran the line when Dennis Allen was head coach and retained the responsibility after his firing.
The line was particularly shoddy during Sunday’s 30-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, when the Raiders averaged 2.1 yards on 22 carries.
“We’ve got to block better,” Sparano said. “…They beat us at the point of attack. That’s a hard thing for me to say, but they did. You’re watching the game, you’ll see it on the film. The green jerseys were, they were in our backfield and that means you’re losing at the point of attack.”
That hasn’t been the case in every game. The Raiders ran well against San Diego and times against Cleveland, they’re behind so often that the running game ends up getting abandoned in the interest of saving time and scoring fast.
The Raiders run a league-low 18.9 times per game, nearly half the attempts that Dallas uses to operate the NFL’s best rushing attack. That stat bothers Sparano has much as the bottom line. He has a long history of running the ball well, especially when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
He promised to run more and run better after being promoted to interim head coach after a Week 4 loss to Miami. That hasn’t happened.
“I’m just not used to that, the number of attempts being what they are right now,” Sparano said. “We put ourselves there. You’re down on the road, in that kind of situation, and we put ourselves in that position a little bit on several occasions. Normally, I’m more used to being in the 30 range, somewhere around there, and I think that produces better numbers.”
Backs and coordinators talk about commitment to the running game, the need for more carries to get on track and produce big plays. That hasn’t happened much. Maurice Jones-Drew has been ineffective in an extremely limited capacity. Darren McFadden has exceeded 14 carries only once this season and is averaging 3.7 yards per rush.
“As a running back, you want to get 20 carries and get into a solid rhythm,” McFadden said last week, before the Seattle loss. “That hasn’t happened for us because we’ve been behind so much. But I feel healthy and strong and I know I could handle that type of workload.”
Sparano points out that a lack of attempts hinders an ability to find out what works.
“Right now, you’re running one play and then you’re going to the next run, that maybe you had in your game plan or your script, or whatever it is, and by the time you get around to running that one play again, you’re almost out of bullets,” Sparano said. “We had 16 runs in the game yesterday and I think we had 62 gradable plays. We carried maybe 17 runs in the game, different runs, going into the game, which is a low number for us. We’ve cut back on that number just because of the volume. So, that’s something that we did during the bye week. It started out being good, but as of late, we haven’t done a good enough job. I haven’t done a good enough job.”