After 11 games, it’s time for Raiders head coach Tony Sparano to put running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew on the back burner.
Though the two veterans have had great seasons in their careers, their time has come and gone. No longer do they have the quickness and bursts of speed that made them so dangerous.
Oakland’s top two running backs entering this season have done very little, and without a running game, the Raiders have had to rely on rookie quarterback Derek Carr to just about carry the offense on his own – a tough task for even a veteran.
At 1-10, the Raiders are dead last in the NFL in rushing with just 809 yards – a paltry 73.5 yards per game. McFadden leads the team with 422 yards, but he’s gaining just 3.4 yards per attempt and his longest run of 2014 is 17 yards. Jones-Drew has carried 36 times for only 69 yards – a horrible 1.9 average – with a long of 12 yards.
But in picking up their first victory of the season last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders were able to run the ball early (with Latavius Murray) and late (with fullback Marcel Reece). Together, those two carried 12 times vs. the Chiefs for 149 yards.
Early in the game, Murray picked up 112 yards on four carries, including a 90-yard TD burst. Then, after Murray departed with a reported concussion, Reece came up big on the Raiders’ last scoring drive, carrying seven times for 34 yards.
Now, with the Raiders getting ready to face the Rams in St. Louis this Sunday, it’s time for Murray and Reece to get the bulk of the rushing load. McFaden and MJD have proven they can’t do it. Time to see what Murray and Reece can do.
Sparano, however, told the media the day after Thursday night’s victory that he wasn’t yet ready to make Murray his No. 1 back – if he passes all concussion protocols this week.
While he lauded Murray for what he did, he also pointed to Murray losing his grip on the ball on one carry and said he needs to continue to practice well in order to make the starting lineup.
Reece, meanwhile, has been a playmaker whenever coaches have called his number. He’s a Pro Bowl fullback who can run like a tailback and catch passes like a wide receiver, yet he’s often disappeared in the offensive scheme of a team that desperately needs playmakers.
This season Reece has just 14 carries through 11 games (for 60 yards and a 4.3 average) and 19 catches. Thirty-three touches in 10 games (he missed one) is not nearly enough.
Yet when Sparano believed the game was on the line vs. Kansas City and he wanted production, he gave the ball to Reece.
“I felt it was an opportunity for a big back,” Sparano said. “The runs we were going to make (Thursday) night were downhill, unpopular between-the-tackle runs. I felt Marcel could give us something there.”
And, he did. On the final scoring drive, Reece had runs of 9, 7, 4, 4, 1, 5 and 4 yards as Oakland marched 80 yards on 17 plays.
This Sunday, it’s time for Reece and Murray again to get the bulk of the carries. Unfortunately for McFadden and MJD, their time has come … and gone.