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.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

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Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

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Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”