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Raiders running back Darren McFadden has been healthy and running hard all season long, but his production didn’t match his effort through the first four games. He averaged 3.35 yards per carry in that span, a similar total to two dismal seasons passed.
He busted free last week, with 5.7 yards per carry over 14 rushes, an 80-yard total that was his best since early last season.
“The coaches challenged the offensive line and running backs to be better,” McFadden said. “It was good to see they responded well. That production is something we want to try and carry over week after week.”
McFadden used the term “we” effectively. Maurice Jones-Drew made an impact as well, with 40 yards on five touches. That total’s lower than originally expected from Jones-Drew, who entered the season as the starting tailback.
McFadden took over while Jones-Drew recovered from hand surgery, but those roles won’t revert now that Jones-Drew is fully healthy.
“Roles have flipped a little bit in that Darren came in and did a really good job when (Jones-Drew) was out, but there’s still very much a need to have both players out there,” interim head coach Tony Sparano said. “…We need both of them and getting Maurice back and getting Maurice involved last week, and he being productive, was a really good step for our team.”
Running hard and running healthy has been a rarity for McFadden. He’s been injured so often in recent seasons that his production declined, as did fan confidence that he’d return to old form.
“Some people like to say that I don’t have it anymore,” McFadden said. “I feel as good as I have since I entered the league. I still feel like I have the same speed. Whether it’s going up the middle, initiating contact and breaking tackles or running outside and using my quickness, I feel like I still have the capability of doing it.”
McFadden’s confidence has never left, and his struggles did not change his demeanor or his motivation.
“So I don’t see any difference in Darren from the time that I’ve gotten here until now, [attitude-wise],” Sparano said. “He’s always been really positive, upbeat about what we’re doing. I think he likes what we’re doing in the run game and what we’re asking him to do that way. He just, right now, he’s got a lot of juice to him right now and that’s been really good.”
That’s evident in how he’s running. McFadden is running without fear of injury, initiating contact in a fight for extra yards. He’s running with something to prove – an incentive-laden one-year deal will do that – to himself, his fans and, most importantly, his teammates.
“It gives a spark to the team when they see a guy lower their shoulder and hit somebody,” McFadden said. “My goal is to ignite the offense in any way that I can.”