If the Raiders hope to wipe the slate clean and start fresh under new head coach Tony Sparano, they’ll need to get back to basics Sunday.
They need to run the football.
It’s the only chance they have of keeping the high-powered San Diego offense off the field, and the restoration of the running game – lost since the start of the regular season – would set a positive theme for the remainder of the season.
Oakland is last in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing attempts. Veterans Darren McFadden (151 yards rushing) and Maurice Jones-Drew (12 yards) haven’t found any holes to run through.
Under former head coach Dennis Allen, the Raiders ran a league-low 31.6 percent of the time.
Sparano has long been a proponent of running the football as a coach in the NFL, so expect him to return to his roots this Sunday, when the 0-4 Raiders host the 4-1 Chargers at O.co Coliseum at 1:05 p.m.
Raiders guard Austin Howard, who also played for Sparano with the New York Jets, told a reporter this week that he believes Sparano will want to get the running game revved up again Sunday.
“Tony is very smart,” said Howard. “He knows when we need to run, he knows when w need to pass. He’s had a lot of success as an O-line coach and as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator. We have full trust in Tony.”
The Chargers, however, have been a tough defense against the run. San Diego ranks ninth in the NFL, allowing just 96 yards per game. Yet they also haven't been consistently tested. Teams have averaged just 21.4 carries per game against San Diego. Only the 49ers (19.8 per game) have a lower total.
Jone-Drew, who missed two games earlier this season but is now healthy, says it’s imperative for Oakland to run the ball, sustain drives, take the pressure off rookie quarterback Derek Carr and establish a physical personality.
Sunday against the Chargers will be the team's chance to start over again.
“We have to be in those games,” Drew told the Associated Press. “In order for us to be in those games, we have to execute our offense and stay on the field and stay on the field after third downs and continue to convert on third downs. Those are things we weren’t able to do those first four games.”
Offensive coodinator Greg Olson told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle this week that the offense under Sparano won’t be vastly different from the way it was under Allen. But expect more of a focus on fixing problems and, very likely, running the football better.
Said Olson: “It’s all about, really, correcting mistakes and trying to get better.”
NFL oddsmakers have made the Chargers 7-point favorites.