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.
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.”