Oakland running back Darren McFadden so far this season is without many holes to run through. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Sometimes as a football fan, you wonder what coaches and analysts are talking about.
Sometimes, you just don’t see the things they’re seeing, and you wonder, “Is it me, or is it them?”
Such a moment occurred Wednesday when Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp told reporters “I thought we made good strides last week” with the running game.
This was after the Raiders rushed for all of 56 yards on the Denver defense in a 37-6 wipeout loss in Colorado, their third loss in four games this season.
So far, the Raiders – who expected to build their offense this year around Darren McFadden, one of the NFL’s best backs – are exactly No. 32 in a 32-team league in rushing, averaging just 60.8 yards per game after being No. 7 in the NFL last season and No. 2 in the league in 2010.
The Raiders are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and that is inflated by the one good game McFadden had against the Steelers, when he rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries – with much of that coming on one, breakaway 64-yard touchdown run.
Yet Knapp, who has come under fire from Raiders fans this season for the team’s ineffective offense, is still committed to his zone-blocking scheme and believes the team is showing improvement in running the ball – even if Raiders fans are having trouble seeing it.
After studying film of the Denver game, Knapp was encouraged.
“We just didn’t have any breakout runs, but we did have more consistency,” Knapp told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. Knapp told Tafur that offensive linemen did a better job communicating with one another in their blocking assignments .
“Unfortunately for us, we got into a game where we had to start playing catch-up, and had to throw the ball more in the last quarter and a half,” Knapp told the Chronicle. “The improvements that we had made in the first 2½ quarters, we weren’t able to us as much in the last quarter and a half because we had to start throwing the ball.”
After Sunday’s loss, McFadden said it was “just one of those deals like we never stayed in sync on offense.” And quarterback Carson Palmer said it was the offense’s fault for not executing – especially on first downs -- not Knapp’s fault. The first-down failures put the offense in a difficult spot, Palmer said.
“We’re putting our coach, Coach Knapp, in a tough situation,” Palmer told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “There’s not many good calls on third-and-long when you repeatedly have it.”
Under head coach Hue Jackson’s offense last season, which was a run-oriented, power-blocking scheme, McFadden had 468 yards rushing through the first four games of 2011. This season, McFadden has 201 yards on the ground in four games.
So what did Knapp have to say about McFadden’s performance so far in 2012?
“Darren’s doing well,” he told Tafur. “He is running very hard and I have been very pleased with what I have seen so far. So, he is doing fine.”
That may be true. McFadden may be just fine so far. But the running game isn’t, and many are pointing the finger of blame at Knapp.
Wrote one Northern California columnist of the Raiders’ offense after the debacle in Denver: “Aptly named, Greg’s play-calling is all about Knapp-time. His offense will put you to sleep.”
Backup running back Mike Goodson says, however, that the zone-blocking scheme takes time to nurture. Once it gets going, the Raiders will be fine.
“I think you stick with it, man” Goodson told Yahoo Sports. “I think you stick with the scheme and you’ve got to get deeper into it. It’s big on execution. From the outside, you can’t see the small things. But there’s a lot of stuff where we’re one guy here, one miss there, if we execute, it will come around.”