The Oakland Raiders haven’t been a bad rushing team this season.
After six games, in fact, Oakland is among the top 10 teams in the NFL in running the football (No. 9), averaging 129.2 yards per game. And, the Raiders are getting an average of 4.7 yards every time they keep it on the ground.
But as head coach Dennis Allen and his coaching staff evaluated the team over some extra days that came with the bye week, they came to a conclusion:
The running game needs to get better.
“Yeah, listen, we want to improve our running game,” Allen said Monday in a get-together with Bay Area reporters, as Oakland (2-4) begins preparations for its game Sunday at O.co Coliseum vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4). “We want to improve some of our, kind of our base, core runs – more or less conventional runs, I’ll call them. That’s an area over the bye week that we identified that we’ve got to continue to get better at, and we will.”
The translation for “base, core runs,” of course, is the yardage gained by running backs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings (as well as fullback Marcel Reece).
The Raiders’ rushing stats look much more gaudy than they actually are, because quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been so good picking up yards on scrambles and designed runs.
Pryor ranks No. 3 in the NFL in rushing yards by a quarterback, picking up 289 on 43 tries, a 6.7-yard average. Only Seattle’s Russell Wilson (323 yards) and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (292) have more.
But McFadden, Jennings and Reece haven’t been consistently picking up yards on the ground (though the offensive line’s constant injury shuffling hasn’t helped, either).
McFadden has 267 yards and Jennings 132 in a backup role, and both are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Though McFadden had one big game against the Jaguars, when he rushed for 129 yards, he gained just 52 against the Chiefs in the Raiders’ last game on Oct. 13, picked up just 29 against the Redskins, 9 vs. Denver and 48 against the Colts in the season opener – hardly the numbers the Raiders were hoping for before the season.
Reece, meanwhile, has been almost absent from the Oakland game plans. The Pro Bowl fullback has only nine carries and 10 catches. That's 19 touches over six games, or just over three per game.
Getting Reece more involved over the final 10 games of the season could be a key to unlocking the running game. Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson recently told ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez that they’re aware of Reece’s absence from the game plans, and are working on getting him more involved, but it’s more difficult now that Pryor is at quarterback and the offense has incorporated more read-option plays.
“Every game or every week when we finish a game, we go back through a stat sheet and look at how many times the guys were targeted and how many times they actually touched the ball,” Olson told Gutierrez. “We’re aware of that with Marcel. We’re constantly aware of it throughout the game.”