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NFL Playbook: What Is Wrong With Oakland's Running Game?

by Photo of Taylor Armosino

The Raiders ran for just 23 yards on Sunday against the Dolphins. Find out what is wrong with Oakland’s rushing attack.

NFL Playbook: What Is Wrong With Oakland's Running Game?

In this article…

Through the first two weeks of this NFL season, the new look Oakland Raiders have not looked so hot. En route to an 0-2 start, Oakland has failed to generate any sort of running game. As a team, Oakland has run for 68 yards in two games. They are averaging 2.0 yards per carry and have not scored a rushing touchdown. Running back Darren McFadden has been highly unproductive, rushing for 54 total yards on 16 carries. Both Raider fans and McFadden fantasy owners, and unfortunately I am both, have been livid with new offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp.

Contrary to the power blocking scheme of former coach Hue Jackson, the Raiders new offensive coordinator has employed a new zone blocking scheme. The basis of power blocking scheme is getting the running back moving downhill through a designated gap in the offensive line. Knapp's zone blocking scheme greatly differs from that. In a zone blocking scheme, the offensive linemen create movement among the defensive line. Rather than head-on try to muscle the defender out of the way, the linemen use angles and mobility to create multiple holes for the running back. You'll see what I mean later in the post. It is the responsibility of the runner to pick and choose the holes he runs through.

This has been a successful scheme for many teams in the league, most notably all of Mike Shannahan's teams and the Houston Texans, but it has been a disaster for the Raiders so far. Against the Dolphins, Oakland ran for just 23 yards on 14 carries. After reviewing the coach's tape of the game, I think the Raider running game is even worse than I originally thought it was. The scheme doesn't fit the personnel, as the Raiders have almost the exact same personnel as they did last season running Hue Jackson's power running scheme. I think Greg Knapp's playcalling has been extremely poor and has not been putting the offense in positions where it can succeed. McFadden has had a few runs where he could have made better reads, but to be fair he has had literally no blocking help. I'll show you what I'm talking about. I picked out 4 running plays from the game that show the different ways the Raiders have been inept in the running game. I'm going to point out why these runs are failing. 

First run: 2nd and 10 with 8:31 to go in the first quarter. Result: gain of 2 yards. 

This is your basic inside zone scheme. Everything looks good scheme wise, except for what I highlighted in blue. For some reason, Knapp has receiver Derek Hagan, number 10, blocking a defensive end. Jared Odrick, who blows up this play, is 6'5 308 pounds. Hagan is a 210 pound receiver. 

As you can see on this run, the Raiders actually do a decent job of blocking on the front side. I marked (in yellow) two potential lanes for McFadden to potentially pick up some yards. Unfortunately, but predictably, Hagan is unable to block Odrick and the play is ruined. Odrick (red arrow) takes down McFadden for just a 2 yard gain. 

Second run: 2nd and 10 with 8:38 remaining in the 2nd quarter. Result: gain of 3 yards. 

This is what the play is supposed to look like. Because Miami's defensive end and tackle are playing an outside shade on the Raider lineman, these are not easy blocks for the Raider lineman. However, that is no excuse and the Raiders have to find a way to get this blocked. The entire offensive line does a poor job on this play. 

Left guard Cooper Carlisle gets beat badly, circled in blue, thus taking a way a cutback lane for McFadden. Right tackle Khalif Barnes gets beaten and fails to seal off the outside of Miami's defense, shown with the yellow X. 

Miami collapses the entire Raider line and as you can see, McFadden has absolutely nowhere to go. Also notice how the Raiders have most of their offensive line on the turf. They literally don't block anybody and McFadden makes a spectacular run all the way across the field and gains 3 yards. 

Third run: 2nd and 10 with 14:54 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Result: no gain. 

Here is what Oakland's outside zone run is supposed to look like. 

Highlighted in blue, tight end Brandon Myers and tackle Jared Veldheer fail to seal off the outside. McFadden, highlighted in red, has a potential cut back lane. However, his eyes are following fullback Marcel Reece who continues to try and get outside to make a block, highlighted in yellow. 

Because the Raiders don't seal off the outside, Miami is able to spill the play and McFadden gets stuck with nowhere to go. There are no cutback lanes, there is no space to get outside and there is no way to gain yards. McFadden gets tackled for no gain. 

Fourth run: 2nd and 10 with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter. Result: no gain.

The Raiders are running an inside zone with fullback Marcel Reece blocking across the formation, highlighted in blue. Oakland is going to leave the defensive end unblocked and they bank on the fact that Reece will be able to seal off the end long enough for McFadden to get up the field untouched. Unfortunately for the Raiders, like most of their running plays this season, the play doesn't work. 

The Raiders miss the three most important blocks on the play. Reece misses his cross block on the defensive end while number 79 Willie Smith, laying on the turf highlighted in yellow, misses his block on number 97. Center Stefen Wisniewski also misses his block on number 96. All three players end up on the ground and as a result of the play, McFadden getting stopped for no gain by three different Miami defenders. 

Overall, this is an offense in transition. Rather than baby the offense slowly into a new scheme, Greg Knapp and the new coaching staff are implementing this system in full and taking whatever growing pains come with the transition. Through the first two weeks of the season, the growing pains have been quite prevalent, especially in the running game. The offensive line has struggled to adjust to the new scheme and the backs aren't as sharp at hitting the running lanes as they need to be. Right now this offense is in transition, but there is room to improve. In time, I think more practice time and comfortability in the system will help. While the lineman, especially the tackles, aren't a great fit in the scheme, there is no reason why they cannot improve within it. It is hard for me to see the Raiders continuing to run for 23 yards a game. I think they'll get better. They can't really get much worse. 

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Oakland Raiders this season.

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