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.”