The Oakland Raiders are ranked 32nd in the NFL in passing yards per game with an average of 128.0 per contest. So it's no wonder that they've also struggled on the ground. Going into their contest with the Chargers, they are ranked 26th in both yards per carry and yards per game on the ground.
That's not going to scare opposing defenses into taking the offense seriously--even though every team we've talked to says they do.
Possibly the most honest person in the NFL so far has been New York Giants' linebacker Antonio Pierce, who likened the Raiders' offense to their scout team in practice. That's not exactly the look that Tom Cable was going for when he took over the team from Lane Kiffin last season.
Throughout all of the struggles, the failures, and the bleak outlook of their latest game (a 38-0 drubbing against the New York Jets), you won't find anyone in silver and black calling 'uncle'. That may be the most surprising to anyone on the outside looking in--this team still hasn't quit.
"Yeah, definitely," said Mario Henderson earlier this week when asked if the team is still behind their head coach. What about the quarterback? According to Henderson, it doesn't matter who is throwing the football around, because the success of the offense relies up front with the offensive line. When asked if the confidence of the team has changed since the first time the Raiders faced the Chargers, Henderson said it hadn't. "Right, right. It doesn't ever change with the quarterback or anything like that."
Another left tackle, who got his first start on the right side last week, also isn't deterred with the Raiders' inability to run the ball. Khalif Barnes expects to start on Sunday and is confident that his performance will be much better than it was last week. "That’s our strength, but during the course of the game there are things that can limit or hinder that," said Barnes about the run game. "Sometimes you get turnovers, or you get down fast early, then sometimes you have to throw to get back into those games."
Barnes understands what a lack of protection in the passing game can do to the offense. On the first play against the Jets, he allowed a sack to JaMarcus Russell that turned into a fumble recovered by New York at the Raiders' four yard line. Normally, the tackle gets over a loss and a bad game within 24 hours, but this week he admitted it took a little longer. "I did all my mourning on Sunday afternoon, Monday and Tuesday, so it’s a little more than 24, but I’m in to San Diego now."
Much of the blame has been put on Russell this season. While there is much blame that rightly falls on the third-year quarterback's shoulders, a closer look at some of the stats shows he's not alone. The Raiders are ranked 26th in quarterback sacks allowed (20) and 19th in quarterback hits allowed (34). Those aren't good numbers without even playing half their games this season.
It's not just the offensive line dropping the ball, figuratively speaking. It's the wide receivers dropping the ball--literally. Rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy is tied for second in the league with six drops on the season. Being second isn't a good thing when it comes to drops, it's a category that you don't want to be ranked in. The Raiders, as a team, are tied for sixth in dropped passes with 16 on the season.
Just to be clear, a dropped pass isn't one of those patented Russell throws that you need to be 10-feet tall to get to. Dropped balls are passes that the receiver gets both hands on and should have caught. When teams don't respect the pass, they load up the box to stop the run.
The passing game isn't the only culprit for the poor running. As we saw against both New York teams, getting behind has hurt as well. "We came out good the first game against San Diego and stuck with the run just about all game," said the former Louisville product Michael Bush on Thursday.
"When we got down, we had to change it up. That's the main thing with this offense. We can't get down early point-wise. If we do that, then we're going to have to throw the ball. But if we stay consistent, and we do stay on the them, we do have a good run game."
With that in mind, starting the game off running might be the way to go. If the Raiders are able to establish the run, then they'll finally see some success with their play-action fakes--a play that rarely works when a team is down by a large margin.
If we don't see the Raiders make a good-faith effort to establish the run on Sunday, there's only one guy to blame and it's not the guy with 'Russell' stenciled on his back.