The Raiders' entire run game is off track: 'We’re not that far away'


The Raiders' entire run game is off track: 'We’re not that far away'

ALAMEDA – Donald Penn and Rodney Hudson had eyes fixed on an iPad Sunday night, analyzing film from a 16-10 loss on the way home from Denver.

This is standard practice on return flights, regardless of result. This time, they were searching for what went wrong.

They had a visitor Sunday night. Running back Marshawn Lynch kept hopping in, asking for insight on particular plays. Lynch had just finished a second straight lackluster performance and wants to avoid a third Sunday versus Baltimore.

He’s diving into work, trying to increase efficiency in a new scheme.

“He’s definitely still learning, still adjusting to what we’re doing,” Penn said Thursday. “We run a totally different scheme than what he did in Seattle. He’s getting better all the time. This week in particular, he’s spending a lot of extra time with (offensive line coach Mike Tice) and working on his own to get stuff flowing.”

Lynch isn’t used to struggles. He was downright dominant most of his career, including his Raiders debut in Tennessee. Things have slowed down in recent weeks, especially this current two-game running streak. Lynch has 30 yards on 15 carries over the last two games. Also, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, 80 percent of his 151 rushing yards have come after contact.

Lynch isn’t producing steadily, the line isn’t always helpful and play calls have been predictable enough teams can bring extra run defenders.

Those things all signify the entire run game is off track.

“All different factors add up,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I know we have big, powerful guys up front. We’ve got backs that are all very capable. We have a really good staff. We have to put it together to make it work. That’s the bottom line. For two weeks now, we’ve stubbed our toe. Maybe more than just a toe. We’ve struggled. It’s really obvious to everybody that follows us. It’s obvious to me. We’re working hard to get it right.”

There’s no finger pointing here, just a drive to get it fixed. Penn was pretty upset about the loss and the run game in particular, but channeled his anger into analysis on the plane. He has seen game film and the stats. He entered this workweek with contrasting emotions toward the run game.

“We’re close. That’s what makes it so frustrating,” Penn said. “Close doesn’t get you anywhere in the NFL. We’ve been working to get everybody on the same page on one complete play. You can have nine great blocks and one that hurts you. It’s a good thing to know we’re not that far away.”

The Raiders believe they’re close to old form. The Raiders ranked sixth in rushing offense last year, yet are currently mired in 24th with 86.2 yards per game.

Stats were strong after two weeks. Then the Raider averaged 2.46 yards per carry in Week 3 at Washington, and 1.6 against Denver’s top-ranking run defense.

There’s a real chance to get right versus Baltimore’s No. 26 run defense, which gives up 127.2 yards per game.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing is receiving lots of advice on talk radio and social media, that he should be more creative and less predictable. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington should run more. Marshawn should be more efficient. P.S. he needs a lead blocker.

Downing, for one, strives for offensive balance. He’d like to run better, but hasn’t been able to commit to the effort. The Raiders have been behind and terrible on third down during a two-game losing streak that sends attempts through the floor.

“You’re not able to get to all your run game plans when you get into the game situations that we have,” Downing said. “When you get into the downs and distances that we have. Marshawn is doing well with the things that we’re asking him to do, we just haven’t hit it with the same sense of efficiency that we did the first couple of weeks. We look forward to seeing what Marshawn can do this week and to watch our offensive line be physical.”

Four running backs the Raiders could target during 2018 NFL Draft

Four running backs the Raiders could target during 2018 NFL Draft

The Raiders have running backs aplenty.

Marshawn Lynch is the feature player, with Doug Martin set to be the primary backup. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard offer changes of pace. Keith Smith is the prototypical fullback new head coach Jon Gruden prefers. Elijah Hood is also on the roster.

While the stable seems full, there’s a real possibility another back comes in this week’s NFL draft.

Lynch and Martin are only under contract for 2018. A primary rusher is needed down the line, and a young contributor would be useful right away. That means a name you know, likely Washington or Richard or Martin if he doesn’t prove himself this offseason, might hit the unemployment line should to make way for the new guy.

Analysts consider this running back draft class incredibly deep, with quality available as rounds progress. Let’s take a look at some options should the Raiders look for another rusher.

Sony Michel, Georgia
The former Bulldog’s a top talent, but could get pushed down by others in his position group ranking above. That might be create a conundrum for the Raiders if he’s available at No. 41 overall. Do they go with a position of greater need, or a disciplined, elusive, yet powerful runner. Analysts say he has good vision, finds the right spots in a zone and has good leadership traits. He’s also a good pass protector, something vital in Jon Gruden’s offense. He could prove an excellent fit running the ball behind a respected offensive line.
Projected round (per 2

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Penny has solid speed at 220 pounds, and can be a powerful downhill runner and steady producer. He’s a slasher who can absorb punishment and handle a high carry volume and wear down a run defense. Analysts say he isn’t a home-run hitter and doesn’t always choose the most efficient path. He also has experience as a returner, who gives maximum effort on offense and special teams.
Projected round (per 2

Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
The former Tiger’s a true three-down back who can do it all. He has a solid combination of burst and physicality to gain initial yards and can be a punisher downfield. He’s a capable receiver and someone who can bounce off tacklers. Analysts say he can be slow finding proper rushing lanes and runs upright. That leads to greater punishment at the professional level. He would be an intriguing option if he somehow makes it into the third round.
Projected rounds (per 2-3

Justin Jackson, Northwestern
-- Jackson has been a steady production during his Northwestern career, relied upon heavily to churn out yards. He has proven durable, with elusiveness and burst to avoid getting caught in the backfield. Analysts say he has solid hands and route running, and could be effective as a third-down receiver. He has some technical issues that must be worked out, and might wear down against NFL tacklers.
Projected round (per 6-7

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per 6-7