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ALAMEDA –- Tony Sparano cares as much about efficient plays as explosive ones. He preached the importance of steady production, especially on the ground, heading into his first game as interim head coach. Running backs gave him the steady surge he was looking for.
The Raiders had “efficient” runs -– gains of 4-plus yards or a first-down conversion -– on 70 percent of their carries. That’s something that hadn’t happened during an 0-4 start where the offense lead the league in three-and-outs.
The 31-28 loss to San Diego result was still disappointing, but the game offering encouraging signs for the future of this offense. The Raiders converted 62 percent of their third downs last week, and production on earlier downs is a major reason why.
“It was our best game in terms of our third-down conversions,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “It was also our best game in terms of our first-down efficiency. Those things go hand in hand.”
Olson said the Raiders were efficient running in all types of sets, in spread formations and with heavy protections.
“There was a good mix for us,” Olson said.
The Raiders finished with 5.7 yards per carry, a huge increase over a league worst 3.4-yards per carry over the season’s first four games.
“If I were to say one other thing that we did well, besides the way that Darren [McFadden] and Maurice [Jones-Drew] ran, because I thought they ran hard, but I would say that our double-teams were pretty good in this game,” Sparano said. “I would think that when they’re watching the film, they would agree with that too.”
The real issue, it seems, is sustaining efficient production against different defenses. It could be difficult against Arizona, which ranks No. 3 run defense with 75.8 yards per game. The Cardinals are dead last in pass defense, so rookie quarterback Derek Carr might be required to maintain offensive efficiency.
“You’ve always got to be aware of your quarterback and what he does best and what can we do to make sure that he’s developing and how he’s going to help the rest of the offense develop,” Olson said. “We’ve looked at a lot of different things that Derek’s comfortable with, whether it be shotgun runs or shotgun passes or the quick passing game, deep-vertical game. What are the concepts that he’s very comfortable with? I think that tied into it and could help us stay efficient as well.”
The Raiders will still try and stay balanced even if Carr’s locked in. McFadden enters this game confident after his best game in a year. He had 80 yards on 14 carries and a few that could’ve been gone from efficient to explosive with a broken tackle or two.
“I just think there was a couple of opportunities in the game the other day when Darren got to the second level and just got nicked and was upset that he didn’t kick out of it and make the big, long run,” Sparano said. “But that will come, there’s no question about it. It will come. Every time he gets a ball, there’s the threat of that big, long run happening, when he gets the ball in his hands.”