Raiders

Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress

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Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress

Miami had the Raiders run game figured out. The Dolphins held the ground game to six yards on eight carries so, when the Raiders lined up in the shotgun on 3rd-and-3 with three receivers on the left, there was little doubt Derek Carr would be charged with a conversion attempt.

Not so. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing stuck with the run. Carr gave it to Lynch, who cut right behind a Marshall Newhouse block for six yards and the first down.

Then the Raiders lined up heavy, with two receivers left and two tight ends on the line, suggesting Lynch would get the ball again.

Nope.

Carr faked the handoff, held on and launched a 44-yard strike to Johnny Holton. That’s some complimentary football, right there. The Raiders haven’t done that much this season.

Downing said the Raiders run game evolved in the first half. Melding Lynch’s rushing style and preferences with a hulking offensive line took some time. We’ll see if the attack’s hit a steadier stride as the season wears. There were signs of progress against the Dolphins, especially with Lynch in the backfield.

“Sunday was better than it has been,” right guard Gabe Jackson said. “I’m not sure about the stats, but you could see it just looking at the tape that it was better. We still thought some big plays and big opportunities were missed that we need to capitalize on in the future.”

Lynch had two yards on six carries prior to the aforementioned 3rd and 3. He had 55 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries after that.

Downing’s commitment to Lynch helped him get going, even after a rough start. The Raiders must do the same in the season’s second half. More balance is required of run game ranked last with 21.4 attempts per game – that stat’s a bit skewed because the Raiders’ total play count is shockingly low – to keep defenses honest and away from focusing on the pass game.

“We have to continue to get that going,” Carr said. “We have to continue to run the ball well and take pressure off of our wide receivers and tight ends in the pass game. It helps our offensive line. When you’re running the ball like that, the pass rush on the first and second downs is different. The calls coming in from the defensive coordinator are different. If we can continue to do that, it will only help us going forward.”

The Raiders ran pretty darn well last year. Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington paced an attack that earned 120 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

Numbers are down across the board this season, averaging 33 yards less per game on six fewer attempts.

Downing is a new play caller and Lynch is a new ball carrier, but the Raiders believe familiar fixtures are responsible for the lack of efficiency on the ground.

“I think they guys need to continue to sustain blocks,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “A runner is a runner, who is trying to get a feel for the guys in front of him. We have to block better. We have to run better. We have to get better all the way around. I don’t think getting used to people is that big an issue.”

The Raiders have the NFL’s biggest offensive line. They have the most expensive line in NFL history. The bar’s sky high for that group. The team expects more of the engine that makes this offense go, even with some schematic adjustments enacted to help Lynch feel comfortable. .

“It should be better,” McKenzie said. “That’s something we’re trying to improve on.”

The Raiders are looking for flow in the run game, something they definitely didn’t have a fortnight past in Buffalo. Lynch was suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct the week before, and the Raiders missed him dearly. Richard and Washington are quality compliments, but haven’t proven they can carry a full workload.

Raiders players and coaches said Lynch was supremely motivated upon return to the team, and it showed once he got going in the second quarter. Consistency is required in the run game, and Downing spent the bye looking for ways to put his backs and blockers in proper position to succeed.

“Each back has their own style,” Downing said. “One thing that we don’t want to do is get pigeon-holed into only doing certain runs with certain players. There are schemes that certain backs on our roster are a little bit more effective at. We want to be able to give them a chance to highlight their skill sets certainly, and Marshawn is comfortable in certain segment of schemes. So, we’re going to give him an opportunity to be as successful as possible for us. That’s my job as a coordinator to identify who we should have in and at what times.”

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”