There’s a movie out right now called “Silver Linings Playbook” that has a little to do with football and a lot to do with looking for the bright side of things on a dark day.
The title might also be applied to a Raiders team that is 4-10 and looking for positive signs it can carry into next season.
As the Raiders get ready to play the Panthers in Carolina this Sunday, the coaching staff and players know their record is what they’ve earned. The team has been abysmal on defense and hugely inconsistent on offense. The Raiders have four wins, three of which are against the only teams in the NFL with more problems than they have (the Chiefs and Jaguars), and Oakland’s perceived strength coming into the season – its running game – has been disappointing.
With just two games remaining, against Carolina and San Diego, the Raiders rank 29th in the NFL in rushing, with just 89.9 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.
But over the past five games, the Raiders have started to show some life in the blocking of their offensive line and production in the running game. Oakland rushed for 203 yards in the 15-0 win over Kansas City last week and, over the past five games, the Raiders are averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said this week that the Raiders knew it would take some time for the new zone blocking scheme instituted by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and head coach Dennis Allen to take hold.
Palmer told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that Knapp told the team early this year that switching to the new system (from the power-blocking scheme it used in recent seasons) would be a slow, painful process.
“We’re not going to come out and understand all the zone cuts and all the reads and have a real continuity with it up front with the five guys working together,” Palmer told the Chronicle’s Vic Tafur. “He (Knapp) said it was going to take some time and these last couple of week, we’ve seen that progress come together and make consistent plays in the running game.”
Looking forward, Palmer sees better times in 2013.
“A second year will do wonders, obviously,” he said. “And with free agency and the draft and adding players here and there, you’re only going to get better.”
Part of the reason for Oakland’s evolution toward a more effective running attack in the latter stages of this season has something to do with incorporating more power-blocking plays into the offense.
In November, center Stefen Wisniewski lauded Knapp for adapting and instituting some of the blocking schemes Wisniewski and his line mates ran so well last season.
“It is nice,” Wisniewski told Comcast SportsNet. “You know, (the power-gap), that’s more the stuff we ran last year, so most of us have a lot of experience in that, where we’re still learning the zone scheme, so it helps us because we’re familiar with it and also it’s a nice change-up. Teams aren’t sure what’s coming at them and it makes us more likely to be successful.”
Added Wisniewski: “Coming in (to the season), it was ‘zone, zone, zone, zone.’ But I think they (coaches) are starting to get to know us better and we’re getting to know them and so they’re seeing we can be successful doing both.”
This past week in the victory over the Chiefs, Darren McFadden carried 30 times for 110 yards and Mike Goodson had 89 yards on just 13 carries, a 6.8-yard average.
Getting those two backs back – they missed about a month at the same time with injuries – also has added juice to the running attack.
With more confidence in the blocking and the production of McFadden and Goodson, Allen is more positive about the future.
Goodson, says Allen, has now shown very well what he can do in his first season in Oakland.
“He’s added an element of explosiveness,” Allen told the Bay Area News Group this week. “He’s done a nice job in the screen game. He’s had a couple of games where he ran the ball pretty well. I’ve been pleased with him in conjunction with Darren and Marcel (Reece) and some of the other guys we’ve used.”
If the Raiders can run the ball well over their next two games, it certainly will provide a silver lining to a very dark season.