By Sam McPherson
One of the big reasons the 2014 Oakland Raiders haven’t won a game yet is their distinct lack of a running attack, especially with a rookie quarterback at the helm.
This season, the Silver & Black have rushed for just 62.1 yards per game—dead last in the NFL by far. The team is on pace for 993.7 yards rushing this season, which would be the lowest total ever in NFL history for a 16-game season.
It’s that bad for Oakland this year.
The Raiders made some bad offseason decisions, of course, letting last season’s leading rusher leave via free agency and then bringing in a fading veteran to replace him. By the time Oakland decided to go with rookie Derek Carr at QB, it just set up a disaster waiting to happen on offense.
Rashad Jenning’s 4.5 yards-per-carry average last year looks absolutely stellar compared to the team’s overall 3.4 mark this season. Veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have been terrible this year, and the team should have known better than to come into this year relying on these non-productive players.
McFadden has averaged just 3.35 yards per carry over this last 435 carries—dating back to the start of the 2012 season. The diminutive Jones-Drew peaked in 2011 when he carried the ball 343 times for 1,606 yards for Jacksonville, but he hasn’t been the same back since: in 349 carries since, MJD has averaged just 3.7 yards per rush.
The signs were there, but General Manager Reggie McKenzie ignored the stats … and that’s why the Raiders are so bad running the ball this team. Combined with the rookie QB situation, defenses just have had no issues whatsoever putting together defensive game plans to smother the Raiders offense.
Oakland is 30th in the league in scoring at 16.2 points per game, which is actually surprising considering the running game woes—and it’s a testament to the quality and potential of Derek Carr’s play at QB under the circumstances.
How can the Raiders fix this midseason?
They probably cannot, in truth. But what the Oakland organization can do is see what they have going forward—so McKenzie (or the next GM if he’s fired) can plan in the offseason to remedy the problems.
The obvious first step is to see if running back Latavius Murray can be successful at the NFL level. The 2013, sixth-round draft pick has just six carries this year, and he hasn’t done much with those carries. But Murray needs a chance to show what he can do with 20+ carries a game, and there’s nothing to lose here on an 0-9 team headed nowhere fast in 2014.
Carr has been carrying the load admirable for this team all season, but he needs help. There’s no reason to bring back McFadden or MJD for 2015, and if Murray can’t show some promise in the final seven games, Oakland will need to address the running back position in the offseason.
The Raiders would be wise to not slip into old habits and throw too much money at Marshawn Lynch in the offseason: First, he’s going to be 29 years old next season, and that’s not a good age for NFL running backs, historically. Second, Oakland needs to get younger—not older. Third, Lynch’s personal history probably is something the Raiders don’t need to deal with as they try to rebuild.
As the Silver & Black head to 2015 with the No. 1 overall pick in their sights, it’s time to start thinking about how they can leverage that opportunity for the best possible outcome next year—and beyond. If there’s no clear No. 1 pick in the draft that can help the Raiders, the team can consider trading the pick away for a slew of picks and players in return.
After all, it’s not just the running game that’s held the Raiders back in 2014.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.